Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol is revered within the NBA for both his all-around skills as a player, and myriad off the court interests. Though we’ve been privy to Pau’s offseason globetrotting either via his time spent playing international basketball with Spain’s national team, his charitable work with UNICEF, and his various social media accounts, .jpgs and blog posts don’t really do a whole lot to convey the scope of Gasol’s journeys.
This is why the man is releasing a book of photos on Nov. 26 through his website, with the profits going to the Pau Gasol Foundation. As it’s not a memoir, and Pau chose to mostly express himself through pictures, he had to rely on former teammates Juan Carlos Navarro and Kobe Bryant to write perfaces, with former coach Phil Jackson writing the foreward. That isn’t to say Gasol completely refrained from putting pen to paper, as you’ll see in a little bit, as he discusses a more recent coach that "doesn't believe in me or trust my abilities 100 percent."
As quoted by ESPN Los Angeles’ Ramona Shelburne, here’s part of Bryant’s piece:
Bryant writes that "If I could choose my brother," it would be Gasol. That "he would have the highest basketball IQ in the league" and "you'd have to search and search and you still would not find another player in the history of the game with his skill set." That "if his organization ever let him down, he would hold his head up high" and "would not lash out or let himself become entangled in the drama." That "we would both face adversity in our professions, so we would talk about our lives and our careers and the pressures of our celebrity" and that "our bond would be fortified by a trust only brothers share."
Now, remember, this is the same person in Bryant that Gasol has often had a dicey relationship on and off the court, especially during the two and a half year stretch that marked the beginning of the Lakers’ title defense in the fall of 2010, and the frustrating end to the miserable 2012-13 season. Their relationship is currently at a 2008-2010 level, though, as the two have bonded over professional setbacks like Pau’s nagging injuries and Kobe’s career-altering Achilles tear, and Dwight Howard’s unsuccessful mini-run in Los Angeles.
Jackson, who hasn’t coached the Lakers since 2011 and has seen his role with the franchise dwindle to nil in the wake of Laker owner Jim Buss’ decision to hire Mike D’Antoni instead of Jackson to lead the team, was just as thoughtful in his praise of the player he started working with midway through the 2007-08 season. In his forward, he calls Gasol “a Renaissance Man” and “a son whom I could adopt very easily and embrace." Strong words from a man who already has two grown sons.
Shelburne reports, though, that Gasol was less fawning in his praise for either Mike Brown, or Mike D’Antoni – the two coaches that have run the Lakers to varying degrees of success since Jackson left in 2011:
"What is an injury? What's a trade rumor or a potential change of teams? What's it like to play for a coach who doesn't believe in me or trust my abilities 100 percent?" Gasol writes candidly in the book, which features photographs of him right after he was nearly traded to Houston in 2011.
"To me those are little bumps in the road. They are part of my profession and position, but they will pass, and the next day is a new day. When I look at the big picture and put things in perspective, I ask myself, 'Are they really that hard? I don't think so.'"
In basketball terms? Yes, this is hard.
The aborted Gasol trade in 2011 was embarrassing. Last season was a waste. This year’s Lakers run has been hamstrung by Steve Nash’s ineffectiveness, the fact that Bryant could still be weeks away from returning, and roster parts that just seem all over the place. Gasol is averaging a double-double in only 30 minutes a night, but he’s also shooting just below 40 percent from the field, still somewhat (or, on certain nights, “completely”) marginalized by D’Antoni’s screen and roll-heavy offense.
Gasol isn’t working within basketball terms, though, which is why these things are only bumps in the road to him. Because his worldwide journey has been so significant, so informing and fulfilling and likely quite frightening and upsetting at times, not fitting into a stupid rotation on a mediocre basketball team is just part of the picture.
That doesn’t mean Gasol enjoys working outside of his typical All-Star realm, as he’s still a competitor that badly wants to win. It’s just that he knows what each minute is worth as a result of his travels and interests. And it’s also why he gets along so well with Phil Jackson (who can go from quoting scripture to Buddah to Native American anecdotes to Quentin Tarentino to Bob Dylan all in the course of a month’s worth of practices) and Kobe Bryant (who, um, curses a whole heck of a lot).
In a league and culture full of over-sharing, it’s nice to see someone that deserves attention release something like this.
(And then, in 2019, the tell-all memoir that reveals just how many teammates Kobe Bryant has made cry. Can’t wait.)
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