As much as we enjoyed watching the 2011-12 Los Angeles Lakers, despite the criticism we heaped upon them for an inconsistent season and a second-round ouster, we're almost relieved in a way that they quickly got to their offseason in the second week of May.
Indirectly, it allowed the team's front office to deal an All-Star center for an All-NBA center, not long after picking up perhaps the best point guard of the last 20 years for a pair of crummy draft picks and a ruddy trade exception. Quite directly, it allowed Kobe Bryant to act as go-to calming influence on Team USA, and Pau Gasol to do some fantastic charity work with UNICEF (all while, whatevs, bringing home a nicely spun silver medal for Spain during the 2012 Olympics).
Pau looked, and forgive my crass tone, more or less beat to hell when the season ended six months ago. A needless NBA lockout was quickly followed with a signed-off on trade that was set to send Gasol to Houston three weeks before the campaign started, only to embarrassingly send the All-Star forward back to Los Angeles once the NBA arbitrarily decided to throw its weight around. A newish Laker offense turned the big man's all-around gifts into an afterthought, sadly, and trade rumors persisted until Los Angeles dealt for Dwight Howard in early August.
Unbowed, Spain's UNICEF ambassador took to Chad on Thursday for a week-long fact-finding mission that he hopes will raise awareness for malnutrition crises that plague that country; one of nine that are part of the Sahel region that dots the middle part of Africa between the Red Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina picked up on Gasol's crusade on Friday:
There, he will help and observe UNICEF officials provide vaccinations and food at feeding and medical nutritional centers throughout the region. UNICEF says the Sahel region has at least 1.1 million children that will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The United Nations has said about 18 million people are affected by a drought and food crisis in the nine countries of the Sahel region.
"UNICEF started warning last year that this situation could happen and began to work on prevention and treatment," Gasol said in a statement, "But not all children in need across the Sahel have been reached. I'm in Chad to remind people that 1 million children are at risk in the Sahel because of the nutritional crisis and that it is possible to end malnutrition."
In the past, I've been accused of bias when begging both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers to run the ball through Pau Gasol more often. And while it's true that I prefer to see basketball run from the inside-out, with Gasol's expert passing touch at the apex of a triangle-based system, that insistence has more to do with Gasol's gifts than it does preference for low or high-post play.
There might be a bias after this, though. Pau Gasol is to be adored, on court and off. Follow his work on Twitter, and visit UNICEF's website to help to contribute to Gasol's mission.
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