Pau Gasol and Amar'e Stoudemire (Jeff Gross/Getty)As second banana for the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol has alternately been praised and criticized for his performance, with little room for any middle ground. When the Lakers win, it's usually because Gasol helped dominate the paint, whether by scoring or protecting the rim. When they lose, it's commonly believed that he shied away from those responsibilities. That's earned him a reputation as sometimes playing soft, which in turn has made many wonder if Gasol can still be a part of a contending Lakers team.
At the same time, Gasol is as talented as all but a few big men in the league, to the point where a lot of the criticism goes overboard. So why are people so harsh on the Spaniard? Well, if you ask Pau himself, it's because they're jealous. From an interview with 790 The Ticket in Miami (via Sports Radio Interviews and PBT):
Why do you think Kendrick Perkins and Amare Stoudemire call you a soft player?
"Sometimes I believe it is guys just talking for the heck of talking. They got nothing better to say and other times I believe there is a little bit of jealousy at times, but I can't really control what other people say. I can control what I do and what I have been doing throughout my career, which has been very successful and help my team beat better teams. That is as much as I can control and that's what I focus 100% on, so the rest of the stuff is a couple of guys talking here or there. It does not affect me or interfere with my life."
So it doesn't bother you?
"Like I said I am a competitive guy. I always try to give my best effort. Some nights it works better than others, but again it is something that it is brought up after three consecutive finals and two championships. Those thoughts kind of went away with the two championships, but again I play. I play as hard as I can and I do a pretty good job for the most part and I can live with that."
It's good that Pau feels comfortable with himself; he truly has accomplished a lot in this league and deserves credit for it. It's weird that his two championships haven't shielded him from prolonged criticism, because a ring typically validates a player in a way no one can criticize.
So, yes, maybe jealousy is it play. On the other hand, that sort of reasoning gives so little credit to the other party that it comes off as its own sort of irrational attack. Jealously can definitely infect people who haven't accomplished what others have, but there are plenty of other logical reasons at play. For instance, maybe guys like Perkins and Stoudemire simply feel like they need to earn any possible advantage against Gasol and resorted to these tactics to gain it. Mind games rarely connect to established events — they're mostly about creating a different reality where psychology can get the better of a man.
The point being that it's not worth debating whether which group is right here. When other players talk smack about Gasol's toughness and he responds, the back-and-forth is about more than observed data.