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El Correo Interview with Pau Gasol

This interview was originally published in the Spanish newspaper El Correo, Sunday April 21, 2002. The Grizzlies would like to thank Jesús Llorente and El Correo for allowing us to publish their interview.

The Pyramid´s Secret
by Jesús Llorente (aka Migala - On the Boards)

Gasol pivots vs. Portland.
(Noemí PLanas)/>
Pau Gasol brushes me with his left elbow as he and a Memphis Grizzlies representative make their way through journalists and cheerleaders over to Pau's Amigos, his fan club. The fan club is a Grizzlies initiative to reaffirm his popularity among Tennessee’s youngest Hispanics. Pau, whose smile is most sincere, signs T-shirts, postcards and tickets while teenagers hoot "Good luck, man" or "Eat 'em up, Pau". As I witness this I'm checking my arm for consequences of its encounter with the Catalan idol. I think about how Pau is not only heftier (possibly the product of a diet of hamburgers and barbecue sauce, but also of long hours spent at the gym), but also about how on the court he’s devoured many fine NBA players during a seemingly endless season that is finally over.

A few hours before, at Rhodes College’s gymnasium where Gasol and his teammates practice for home games, what impressed me the most were his incredibly long arms. These arms, according to the veteran Spanish TV program “Informe Semanal” where he and his family were interviewed, missed someone very special. Someone he’d left behind when leaving Barcelona for a new life. Pau had to choose between love and his profession, at age 21 this was very clear, but it still was a painful move. “I don’t like talking about those things. A player should talk about his sports life, his work. It was the first time they asked me that sort of question and I wasn’t expecting it. I don’t know who told them about that. Next time I’ll be prepared.” Pau Gasol gave up Barcelona for Memphis, flamenco-pop for Elvis Presley and bread with tomato for dry southern style ribs. What hasn’t changed is his discreet and affable character. If you’re looking for big headlines, you aren’t going to find them here.

- On the Playstation game NBA Live 2002 Pau Gasol is given a medium-low quality, much inferior to that which you have demonstrated in the real games. On it you rank lower than so many players that haven’t lived up to expectations this year or are just plain inferior. ¿Do you think that reflects the lack of confidence they had for you around here? It’s normal, because people didn’t know me or anything about me. People in Memphis and a few other teams did, but at a commercial or popular level I was virtually unknown. This is a very competitive society. The first way of competing is placing yourself under your possibilities to force you to fight harder and earn recognition with a lot of effort.

- Have you received any helpful advice during your season with the Grizzlies? Yes, from a lot of people: coaches, players with the Grizzlies or other teams. What you have to do, above all, is listen. There are very wise and veteran people around here, and the most valuable thing in the NBA and outside of it is respect, knowing how to listen to those who know more than you.

- Have your first impressions about the team and the city been confirmed with time or is there anything that has surprised you? When I first arrived here in late September everything was new, all I did was practice and practice. I didn’t know anyone outside of the team. Little by little I started settling in, adapting, getting used to how things work around here and now I’m doing well. I feel very comfortable here.

If we give credit to his grandmother’s claim, Pau will be the indisputable “Rocker” of the year. The gracious elderly woman placed her grandson above most Elvis impersonators. That of course, seemed like a sacrilege in the city of Sun Studios and Graceland. Luckily what Gasol will be, if American media concedes it, is “Rookie of the Year”, meaning the best newcomer to the best basketball league in the world. And not just because of his statistics (by far the best among the new players of 2001-2002), but because of his attitude, his ambition and the way he’s managed to adapt to the requirements of a different kind of playing and living. There are those, especially in European basketball, who believe that NBA is merely a circus, another form of entertainment among the vast smorgasbord available to the average American on a daily basis, a place where technique and brains are less important than speed and power. Pau believes that “it’s not a circus, but a huge business has grown around the sport that is basketball. Rather than a circus it’s a well organized and dazzling competition”. Whether it is a circus or not, there are a great amount of Spaniards who follow the games in real time through or even through secret webcams. There are Spaniards who participate in chats commenting the games at hours when most should be in bed. Hispanic presence on the Memphis Grizzlies message board (the 5th most visited this season) outweighs American presence. “It’s great that there are so many people hooked on sports. I’m conscious that there are supporters following everything I do and that because of time differences they stay up until four or five a.m. I’m glad to have this recognition, though I don’t want to make such a big deal of it. I’ve been in Memphis for less than a year, I do my job well and maybe it shouldn’t be given that much importance” says Pau, adding that he barely has time to surf the Internet if it isn’t to send e-mail. Rumor has it that he participates in the Spanish message board for his team, and than he even posts messages and answers fans without revealing his identity. He denies this and seems annoyed by the question “after training and games I try to disconnect as much as possible. It’s not hard for me, and I try to live my life. Though after games I do look at my statistics, to see what I did right and what I did wrong, what I should improve. I’m not the typical player that forgets who he played against last week.” Pau confesses that there have been many lies printed about him in the press “but the worst ones are when they quote things that you haven’t said. Phrases, words that hurt you, because they refer to other people”

Going back to basketball, Gasol believes that he will be the first in a series of Spanish players to cross the Atlantic, he mentions Juan Carlos Navarro (FC Barcelona), Raúl López (Real Madrid) and Felipe Reyes (Estudiantes) as those with the most potential to prove that their generation will make its impression. With 82 games on his record, sometimes playing in a position that is not his own (“it doesn’t really matter, some of the best players in the league are forwards and I’ve acquired toughness and aggressiveness “). He does feel capable of giving some advice: “if you have the opportunity to come here and take that step, knowing that it’ll be a tough year and that you’re going to have to work hard, with much patience and conviction. Your coach and your teammates have to realize from the beginning that you didn’t come here to play 10 games, or to be on the court for a total of 100 minutes, but to make a name for yourself and earn their respect. Certainly, the most important thing is to be in the right frame of mind and give your best at practice” Gasol is very conscious of the work ethic of the country he is employed in, an immense nation with its pros and cons, its myths and its contradictions; that believes in humility and the capacity to give it 150%. And also in sacrificing yourself for others, participating in the community not only as a player but as a person. “That’s the way it is” he answers smiling “and you have to adapt”. In between his magnificent games against the Nuggets and the Trail Blazers just two weeks ago, Pau was at a school telling students (most of them the children of Hispanics) about life in Barcelona and what it was like for someone to have to move to a new country, a new culture, a new way of life. This is a situation in which many Europeans are likely to lose it, but not him. Pau, when referring to himself, is modest and ambitious at the same time. And that – apart from his points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots per game – is what has earned him the respect of those who believe that basketball is not just a sport, a game or a competition, but also a good metaphor for life, with it’s ups and downs and many intangibles.