Bulls' Gasol brings his commitment to children's health to Chicago
By Adam Fluck | 12.05.2014
As the seven-foot, 250-pound veteran approached the table, he couldn’t help but notice it was constructed for young children. Loaded with crayons and paper, the table was low to the ground and surrounded by several small chairs suitable for someone a fraction of his size.
Pau Gasol, however, didn’t flinch for a second, and effortlessly slid his frame onto one of the seats. And for the next few hours on Thursday evening, he brightened the day for patients at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Forget that Gasol had racked up 48 points and 28 rebounds in 86 minutes over his team’s two games—the first in Chicago and the other in Charlotte—the previous two evenings. While no one would have faulted him for taking a well-deserved night off to recuperate, Gasol instead chose to come to Lurie, a place where he knows he will receive more than he gives.
“It’s about my commitment to children and organizations that are doing so much good for children and their families,” explained Gasol. “I told Lurie’s I would go because it was a scheduled day off. Of course I didn’t anticipate the double overtime game (on Tuesday versus the Mavericks).
“I knew I was going to be tired either way,” Gasol continued. “But going to the hospital and interacting with the children, bringing them hope and joy and putting a smile on their faces... it’s energizing to me. It’s really rewarding. So if I’m tired, it’s nothing compared to what they’re going through. It’s inspiring for me to make these visits.”
The Bulls have an ongoing relationship with Lurie Children’s, a state-of-the-art hospital located in downtown Chicago. Players and staff visit patients and their families at Lurie Children’s, and the team has partnered with the hospital to renovate, redecorate and rename a space in the Family Life Center, now known as the Chicago Bulls Charities Teen Lounge.
Hospital visits are hardly anything new for Gasol, who has a long track record of such endeavors. In March of 2010, he announced a partnership with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where he was involved in community outreach initiatives on behalf of the hospital and interactions with patients. During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, he participated in the Hoops for St. Jude program, making a donation for every point he scored. Currently, Gasol serves as a Hoops for St. Jude ambassador.
That Gasol’s parents—his mother, Marisa, as a physician, and father, Agusti, as a hospital administrator—both worked in the medical field certainly had something to do with it, he acknowledged.
“I watched as I grew up both of my parents and their work, as well as the way they took care of us and the importance of health overall,” said Gasol. “I got into medical school (University of Barcelona at the age of 18) and it’s one of my passions. To be able to cure people and give them a chance at life... there is nothing without health and nothing more powerful than health and being healthy.
“I’m touched by children in a big way,” Gasol added of his current focus. “They’re so vulnerable and innocent and they have so much ahead of them. I just try to be encouraging and reinforcing when it comes to their situation and hopefully help them through the healing process.”
Gasol, 34, is certain that if he were not a basketball player, he’d be a doctor. He’s known as much since November 7, 1991, the day Lakers superstar Magic Johnson announced he had tested positive for HIV. The news hit Gasol, then 11 years old, hard and he was determined to one day find a cure for AIDS. His development into one of the best young players in Europe, however, led him to a life of basketball and eventually the NBA.
Watching him interact with the young patients, it’s clear that his commitment couldn’t be any more sincere and genuine. Whether it’s conversing with a little boy about his interests or simply coloring alongside a little girl, there is no mistaking Gasol’s impact on these visits. But for as much as the children gain from his presence and encouragement, Gasol comes away impressed and inspired by the young patients.
“They have incredible strength and will,” said Gasol. “They’re going through difficult situations. Sometimes, it’s a life or death situation and they find a way to stay positive, stay strong. They look forward to being healthy and back with their friends, going back to school and being able to play basketball or whatever sport they like. Whatever it might be, they look forward to their future. So they’re absolutely resilient about it and hopefully they have a loving family that nurtures them throughout the process, as well as a great hospital with a great staff.”
With roughly six weeks of the 2014-15 season in the books, Gasol has already established himself as a leader on the court for the Bulls. A two-time NBA champion, Gasol has proven to be a leader who is about winning. Gasol knows he won’t always be a basketball player, but he can always be someone who touches and improves the lives of others.
“To me, in the big picture it’s more important being a leader off the court and being the best person that you can be,” said Gasol. “At the end of the day, basketball is just a vehicle. It’s a tool that allows me to get into a lot of doors and have a lot of impact in different areas with different people. When basketball is over, you need to continue to stay loyal to yourself. Basketball, as I said, it’s temporary. What you have to stay true to is yourself as a person and make sure you build on that as you move forward with your life.”