Pau Gasol is on the way to Toronto for the NBA All-Star Game.
It’s just another highlight stop on the way to Springfield, Massachusetts and the Basketball Hall of Fame as one of the top international players in NBA history.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver Thursday added Gasol to the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the Feb. 14 All-Star game to replace Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler. It will be Gasol’s sixth NBA All-Star game appearance.
Butler was selected by the Eastern Conference coaches to his second consecutive All-Star game. But Butler suffered a strained left knee last week. The Bulls announced Thursday Butler will be sidelined three to four weeks. Butler still is considered a 2016 All-Star and will attend the weekend festivities in Toronto. The commissioner makes injury replacements and added Gasol, whom many felt was unfairly snubbed in the coaches’ picks.
It continues to place Gasol among the elite in the NBA, if not the league’s history. It is not only his sixth All-Star appearance with his second in the Eastern Conference, but Gasol played a major role on two Los Angeles Lakers’ championship teams, was selected All-NBA four times and was a former Rookie of the Year.
Plus, Gasol is one of the most accomplished international players. He was MVP of last summer’s Eurobasket that qualified Spain with the championship for the 2016 Olympics. He led Spain’s winning 2006 FIBA World Championship team and won MVP. The U.S. finished third, which led to the revamping of USA Basketball. Pau’s Spanish team also won silver medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He scored 24 points in the gold medal game loss to the U.S. in 2012.
Gasol is averaging 17 points and 10.9 rebounds for the Bulls this season and among the NBA leaders in double/doubles, rebounds and blocks with two per game. He’s been one of the most remarkably consistent players in the NBA. Now in his 15th season at 35 years old, he has averaged between 17 and 21 points for 14 of his 15 seasons. He’s also averaged between eight and 12 rebounds in 13 seasons with two of his best rebounding seasons after he was 33 with the Bulls. Pau was the Eastern Conference All-Star starter last season against his brother Marc, who was lost for the season Thursday with a broken foot.
Pau’s story is well known, the son of a doctor and nurse administrator who at 11 years old when hearing of Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis committed himself to finding a cure. He entered medical school at 18, but eventually left to pursue his basketball career. He is an accomplished pianist, opera aficionado and philanthropist who is a regular visitor and contributor to childrens’ hospitals. Pau won the annual NBA community assist award in 2012.
Pau won the NBA writers’ J. Walter Kennedy and Magic Johnson citizenship and media professionalism awards and was a two-time Spanish league champion and European Player of the Year. He also won several other European league player of the year honors and Spanish league MVPs.
His 2009 trade from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the most significant NBA transactions of the 21st Century and led to two Lakers’ titles with Kobe Bryant. When he was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies he owned 12 franchise records. Bryant frequently lauded Gasol as the difference maker for three straight appearances in the NBA Finals. “You’d be hard pressed to find a big man with his skill set in the history of the game," Bryant has said. Bryant said when the Lakers acquired Gasol he told Phil Jackson the team just got the man to change the franchise and return to championship contention.
Yes, when you are watching Pau Gasol you are witnessing a legend of the game.
So who are the greatest international players to play in the NBA?
There’s another category of all time greats of the players who played in United States colleges, like Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Rik Smits, Detlef Schrempf, Rolando Blackman and perhaps even if you count someone like Dominique Wilkins, born in Paris to American parents or similarly Carlos Boozer in West Germany.
So the distinction becomes those players from outside the United States who played their basketball in international leagues until coming to the NBA.
Here’s one list:
1. Dirk Nowitzki: He’s become one of the all-time leading scorers in NBA history with a league MVP award, Finals MVP and leading his Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title. He’s a 13-time All-Star and 12 times all-NBA and an NBA three-point shootout champion.
2. Tony Parker: The low first round pick from France won a Finals MVP award, was an All-Star six times and played for four Spurs championship teams. He was twice FIBA player of the year.
3. Pau Gasol: Two NBA titles and three Finals appearances and only Nowitzki with more All-Star appearances. Career NBA averages of 18.3 points and just below 10 rebounds.
4. Manu Ginobili: Four championships with the Spurs and two All-Star appearances. A career scoring average of 14.1 and NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Gold medal winner in 2004 Olympics and silver in 2002 World Championships.
5. Toni Kukoc: The versatile former Bull played for three Bulls championship teams and was Sixth Man of the Year. He was perhaps the most accomplished European player ever as a three-time Euroleague champ, two-time Eurobasket and four-time Yugoslavian league and an Italian league championship. Won silver medals in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and gold in the 1990 World Championships.
6. Yao Ming: He was an eight-time All-Star. His career was cut short by foot injuries, but he was five times all-NBA, three times league rebounding leader and three times blocks leader with career averages of 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in nine seasons.
7. Vlade Divac: Although these statistics don’t matter much as they don’t include Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Divac was one of seven players with 13,000 points, 9.000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocks along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol and Hakeem Olajuwon. He was an All-Star and averaged 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in a 16-year career as one of the game’s best passing centers.
8. Peja Stojakovic: He picked up a title at the end of his career with the 2011 Mavericks. He was one of the game’s top shooters and a two-time All-Star weekend three-point champion. He was an All-Star three times with a career average of 17 in 12 seasons.
9. Marc Gasol: Pau’s brother started against him in the 2015 All-Star game, an NBA first. He’s a two-time All-Star who was traded for his brother and went on to win Defensive Player of the Year. He won silver Olympics medals in 2008 and 2012 and a gold in the 2006 World Championships. He was all-NBA first team in 2015.
10. Drazen Petrovic: More of what could have been as he died in an auto accident in 1993 after averaging more than 20 points in consecutive seasons and 15.4 points in a five-year NBA career after playing little in Portland. He won medals in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics. Others that were close included Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Andrei Kirilenko and Serge Ibaka.