Viva Barcelona

It’s a city of the Mediterranean Sea … The mountains … A confluence of new age and Gothic architecture … Unique cuisine … And, most of all, of a vibrant people.

It’s Barcelona.

Simply say the word, and Pau Gasol is ready to wax poetic.

“It’s an amazing city that has so much to offer,” he offered. “You have pretty much everything without it being a super congested city … I love being there.”

Click here to hear Pau Gasol talk with
Mike Trudell about FC Barcelona's visit

The topic came up, of course, as the team on which Gasol grew up - Regal FC Barcelona - is in Los Angeles to play against the Lakers Saturday evening at STAPLES Center at 7:30 p.m.*
*The Lakers will play at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday as well no matter if they win or lose on Saturday.

We sat down with Gasol earlier this week after practice to talk more about his upbringing with FC Barca, this weekend’s game and his city of birth.
Click on the box to the right to take a listen.

Now, if you have yet to learn enough about Barcelona, here’s a quick history of Gasol’s basketball past in Northeastern Spain.

Basketball in Barcelona
Like many young Spaniards watching the 1992 Olympics, Pau Gasol was inspired. It’s not that Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are responsible for Gasol’s current success (well, OK … maybe a little), but The Dream Team certainly pushed kids all around the world to start bouncing an orange ball.

It was at the age of 16 that Gasol first starting playing with F.C. Barcelona – a club known for having one of the world’s premier soccer teams – on its youth team. Fast forward two years later, when Gasol helped the team win the 1998 Albert Schweitzer Tournament and the 1998 European Junior Championship. As Gasol mentioned in our interview, his best friend Juan Carlos Navarro was the superior player when they met at 16, but it didn’t take Pau too long to catch up.

Indeed, Gasol was named MVP of the Spanish National Cup (Copa del Rey) after leading his squad to the title, and had a breakout year at the professional level in 2000-01 as a 20-year-old playing for the full side (“side” is like “team” in Europe). He averaged 11.3 points and 5.2 boards in 23.8 minutes, and promptly entered the NBA Draft as an early-entry candidate at a time when teams remained skeptical about international talent.

He should have gone No. 1.

Instead, Washington took high schooler Kwame Brown first and Chicago took teen Tyson Chandler at No. 2. Even at No. 3, Gasol was a risky pick to the public as no non-great-basketball-mind had seen him play, but it turned out to be an absolute no-brainer. Pau went on to average 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.06 blocks to run away with Rookie of the Year honors, and open the door for Houston to take Yao Ming at No. 1 overall the following year.

Another thing you heard Pau mention in the audio interview is that he’d like to retire ultimately in Barcelona … But not just to the beach. He’d like to play there after his NBA career comes to a conclusion, which to me is somewhat analogous to David Beckham’s current place on the L.A. Galaxy – but only in terms of stage of sports career. The bigger reason, of course, is that Pau absolutely loves Barcelona.

If you’ve been there, even for a day, you understand why.

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