Los Angeles Lakers (for now, sadly) big man Pau Gasol isn't just a civic-minded nice dude that uses his significant fame to raise awareness for children's causes. No, the former medical student is actually quite enthused about the profession, especially when it dovetails in with his work with UNICEF and other children's charities. Not only did the former Memphis Grizzlies center visit Tennessee's St. Jude's hospital several times during his 2001-08 run with the Grizzlies, but the former University of Barcelona medical student also observed a spinal surgery in 2010. And, just a few weeks after his Lakers were ousted from the second round of the playoffs, Gasol decided to sit in again on a spinal surgery last Tuesday at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.
The NBA's 2011-12 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner went to great lengths to conceal his identity, but also allowed Los Angeles Times Lakers beat writer Mark Medina to take in his trip. Here's what Medina observed, as Pau watched over the procedure on 15-year-old Joshua Sandoval, who suffers from scoliosis:
During Sandoval's surgery, Gasol stood in the operating room wearing a gown, surgical mask and scrub cap. His presence hardly served as a photo opportunity. Hospital officials stayed mostly mum about his arrival to limit autograph-seekers. They guided Gasol through elaborate passageways around the hospital to keep him out of sight. Gasol didn't publicize the event, but -- when contacted by The Times -- agreed to grant access to a reporter with a video camera.
"So many people around the hospital see so many celebrities come and go," [operating surgeon Dr.] David Skaggs said. "He's the one that comes back over and over and over."
Pau told Medina that he "loved every second" of taking in Sandoval's procedure, and we love every second of reading stories like this.
Partially because it's hard to recall an NBA season tougher than Gasol's recent seven-month turn — he went from being traded away from Los Angeles to the Houston Rockets, watching as the trade was shot down by the league office, to acting as the Lakers' needless whipping boy as he played out of position at power forward with his team going out in the second season for a consecutive campaign. Worse, until the Lakers figure out what they need to do with both their payroll and their on-court contributors, Gasol will be the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason.
Even worse? Because the Lakers' front office is such a mess, Gasol might be forced into enduring the slings and arrows all over again, in 2012-13, should the team fail to find a trade partner that satisfies their need to both cut payroll and find a shooter to spread the floor.
Pau Gasol didn't mope, following his team's dismissal. He has every reason to sulk and pout and grow frustrated at a Laker lineup that doesn't use him correctly before pointing to his sub-standard (for his All-Star standard) averages in the postseason; but instead Gasol is diving into something completely fulfilling, encouraging, and incredibly cool for those lucky enough to get to brag to their friends that a cat like Pau Gasol was part of their recovery.
Wherever Pau ends up this year, that city can be sure they're getting a special breed of player, and a special breed of person.
(The Los Angeles Times posted a video of Gasol's visit, but they made great lengths on their website to point out that the images in the video are pretty graphic; par for the course considering the operation involved. Proceed with the caution that your sensibilities allow.)
UPDATE: Via our mate Dave McMenamin, Pau donated $25,000 to the same hospital on Monday after receiving the NBA's Citizenship award.