BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 18: Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on before a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 18, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

MikeCheck: Gasol’s legacy on and off court culminates in Grizzlies’ No. 33 lifted to rafters

MEMPHIS – As the most decorated player in franchise history, Marc Gasol never hesitated to do whatever it took to selflessly carry the Memphis Grizzlies through their greatest era.

But when he enters FedExForum on Saturday night, it might be the most uncomfortable spot he’s ever been in throughout his professional basketball career.

That’s because the spotlight, reflections, fanfare and attention will be exclusively on Gasol.

“Throughout everything, it’s never been about me,” Gasol insisted. “It’s been about, ‘How can I help the process, how can we help each other, get to our very best? It’s been about us being honest with each other, and putting in the work collectively, day in and day out.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 5: Brothers Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers waits to resume game action at Staples Center on April 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

On this day, Gasol’s impact and work throughout a 14-year professional career will land his Grizzlies No. 33 jersey into the rafters in retirement at FedExForum.

The franchise’s career leader in minutes, blocks, rebounds and free-throw attempts during his time in Memphis from 2008-2019, Gasol partnered with forward Zach Randolph, guard Mike Conley and swingman Tony Allen to form the beloved Core Four.

Those Grizzlies teams engineered the Grit’N’Grind era in which Memphis made seven straight playoff appearances and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013. 

Gasol, regarded as one of the most versatile centers in NBA history, guided the way as a three-time NBA All-Star, two-time Olympic silver medalist (Spain), a 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the Toronto Raptors 2019 NBA championship team.

But it was Gasol’s tenure in Memphis that truly defined his career on and off the court. From a chubby high school standout in Memphis emerging from older brother Pau’s shadow to piecing together a future Hall of Fame career of his own, Gasol’s legacy is intact.

During the Grizzlies game Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Gasol will join Randolph as the second player in franchise history to have his jersey immortalized in Memphis. Gasol, who officially retired from professional basketball last year, spoke with Grind City Media about his life, legacy and mission in this next phase of his phenomenal career.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 07: (L-R) Marc Gasol smiles with his brother Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during his jersey retirement ceremony at halftime in the game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on March 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

GCM: Your parents, a doctor and nurse, set a tremendous example with community service and dedication. What impact did their work have on you growing up and eventually forming your own mission to help others in Memphis, Spain and throughout the world?

GASOL: They obviously set an example without meaning to because that’s what they believed in. They believed in service for others, doing that for their careers as doctors and my dad as a nurse. We saw it every day. We saw the late nights that my mom wouldn’t come home because she had to go to people’s homes who couldn’t make it to the hospital. She would do that over and over. That’s just in their soul.  It's something you see, and it’s not necessarily explained. Instead, you just see the example they set day in and day out.

GCM: What’s it like for you these days in retirement as an owner of a Spanish pro basketball franchise? How have you used the franchise to bring together your passion and philanthropic interests?

GASOL: I like to give an opportunity if they want it bad enough and if they’re willing to do the commitment, then it’s possible. This has just been about giving them the chance and instilling the confidence necessary, right? Because we often want to do something but we can lack confidence or consistency, so we want to give a platform to families with the foundation work. That’s crucial.

And in the professional world, with the basketball club, it’s pretty much the same. The foundation, it’s an LLC and it’s an entertainment company all in one. So, you’re able to reach and impact so many lives through this beautiful sport of basketball. You also learn a lot and the DNA of the franchise evolves every month.

Pau Gasol from Spain of San Antonio Spurs and Marc Gasol from Spain of Memphis Grizzlies during the charity and friendly match Pau Gasol vs Marc Gasol, with European and American NBA players to help young basketball players and developing teams in Fontajau Pavillion, Girona on 8 of July of 2018.

GCM: You’re also doing a lot of work teaching the game to youth in Spain and across the world. How much has being a parent helped you become a better youth coach?

GASOL: It’s the ultimate process in life to become a parent. For me, it’s a continuous test. You go through your life seeing how your parents did it, and now, you become a parent and try to have a positive impact on your kids. It changes completely your perspective. You become just like a secondary, supporting cast member. You’re not the main character anymore. It’s all about how you can help the kids deal with the mistakes they have to make through life and to meet life head on with the confidence they’ll need. 

GCM: That’s a delicate balance, right?

GASOL: You can’t just prevent them from making mistakes like they’re living in a plastic bubble. Life is not always going to be fair, but you teach them how they’re going to react to things that will happen. It’s giving them the confidence to confront those things and the strength to get through them. That’s my main purpose at this moment.

GCM: What’s the best thing about life right now as Marc Gasol?

GASOL: Being (daughter) Julia’s (daughter) and (son) Luca’s dad. Just going to 9-year-old birthday parties and being with their classmates who don’t know anything about basketball. It’s a nice transition into the normal life. I enjoy sleeping much better now because I don’t play anymore. My obsession with basketball wasn’t always healthy, so I get to sleep a lot better throughout the year. Those little changes are important. I’ve enjoyed it and gave everything to it. But being able to sleep at night, waking up and taking the kids to school – all those little things that are important to me right now. It’s crucial.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 31: Marc Gasol hugs his family as wife Cristina Blesa looks on at the cinema where he has just announced his retirement after 20 years in basketball on January 31, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish center hit big career highs, scoring three All-Star selections, grabbing an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors, and being named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13.

GCM: So, you’ve transitioned seamlessly from help defense on NBA superstars to helping with nightly grade-school homework projects?

GASOL: Yeah, yeah! I’m right there. But they don’t have as much homework as I used to have. The educational system has changed for the better in some things. Everything is more project-based. I help and they teach me more than I teach them. A lot of things I’ve kept at the back of the drawer now, I’m refreshing them and teaching them ways of doing things. And I enjoy that. But overall, I know that you’ll learn more from them than they’re going to learn from you. Just how you act around them is your main job at the moment.

GCM: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from following Pau’s Gasol’s journey?

GASOL: From a very young age, I was always the quiet kid in the back just watching and learning from him. I just gathered all the information I could without ever knowing when I was going to need it. I did that when Pau first arrived in Memphis, and I would watch Pau and Shane (Battier) interact and try to create a culture here. Memphis didn’t have an NBA basketball history or culture. So, I was seeing those two young kids come in wanting to change things, and how (coach) Hubie Brown had an impact on the team and franchise. It was a long process to change things. From there to the end of Pau’s career when he retired and transitioned into his next phase, it’s just the human aspect of it.

GCM: Did that prepare you for moments like the one you’ll experience Saturday when your jersey is retired, as family, friends and thousands of fans pay their respect?

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 11: Tony Allen #9, Marc Gasol #33, Mike Conley #11 and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies pose for a group photo on April 11, 2017 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.

GASOL: You learn and see what really matters at the end is not the same as what mattered during the process. In the process, everything is wins and losses. And you have to be that way for you to be great. You have to be at a certain level of craziness. But in the end, when everything is said and done, you see it was all about human relationships and how you’re going to impact everyday life. What I saw most was how Pau cared. And at his Hall of Fame ceremony last year, I saw Dirk (Nowitzki) speak about the same things. Becky Hammon and Coach (Greg) Popovich and Dwyane Wade, they weren’t up there talking about wins and losses or all those things we care about during the journey. They spoke about relationships.

GCM: And speaking of relationships, there aren’t many bonds in NBA history as strong as the ones you established with Mike, Tony and Zach as Grizzlies’ teammates.

GASOL: When you look into each other’s eyes, everything goes back to our bond and who we are. It’s crazy that whenever I see Zach, Tony or Mike, there’s something in your system that just brings you back instantly to those connections. It’s truly like a family reunion because you’ve been through so much together, good and bad. The trust level connects on a much, much deeper level than some other relationships you may have. You’ve seen the true character of each other. Being truthful and honest about the work you’re putting in, that’s what we were able to do with our group of guys. We were always so honest with each other, where we were able to create a bond that will last forever.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 21: Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 and Desmond Bane #22 high five Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies during Round 1 Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 21, 2022 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

GCM: Jaren Jackson Jr. is the lone remaining link from the era you anchored to the current NextGen group of Grizzlies also powered by Ja Morant and Desmond Bane. How have you seen Jaren and this group build on the foundation your Grit’N’Grind Grizzlies established?

GASOL: It’s good to see everyone does it their own way. You don’t have to do it the same way as before. I think guys have more freedom to be themselves, and they’re comfortable doing so. There are many ways to lead, and you don’t have to lead the way you were led. I like that about Jaren and this group. They have their own identity; their own personalities and they want to win that way. It’s figuring out how to put everything together and be consistent. But they have the talent. It’s great to see. They’re fun to watch. And I love seeing when (Jaren) has those nights when the stat line is filled. I can’t do anything but smile because he has a huge impact on both ends. It’s now about when we’re going to put it all together and get everybody healthy and ready. Because the potential is through the roof.