It's weird, lifting someone to immortalization, someone who seems so...grounded.
But then again—generals are remembered just the same as emperors.
Pau Gasol, as kind and genuine, as human as he is, is also legendary and he is about to be a Hall of Famer.
This past March on the night his jersey was going to be floating up into the rafters, the tunnel in Crypto.com Arena was understandably lined with media. There were so many wires on the ground, and they acted as a barrier for the people who were holding the cameras they were attached to.
Pau was running about 20 minutes late that night; the L.A. traffic spares no one, not even two-time NBA champions.
The anticipation of Pau’s arrival cultivated a serene silence. There were soft whispers of introductions here and there, but overall, everyone maintained a heightened focus on the corner of the hallway where Gasol would soon emerge.
When he did, there was a stir of energy, clicks of cameras, shuffling feet, glares of lighting equipment. Then the wires lifted and swayed and the bodies they belonged to filed into a group that followed behind No. 16.
He was wearing a navy-blue suit, with a light lavender shirt, an eggplant-colored tie, and his championship rings on each hand. He walked with a glide, like the floor was moving with him. And if you happened to come into his line of sight, it didn’t feel like panic, like “Oh my God, my favorite athlete is right in front of me, I’m going to lose my mind.” When you looked into his eyes, it felt like when you see a familiar face in a crowded room; it felt reassuring.
The feeling is reminiscent of the scene in Gladiator when Maximus Decimus Meridius and the swordsmen battle the barbarians at the Colosseum—Pau’s Lakers teammates actually deemed him the Spaniard, inspired by Maximus—Maximus and his men stand in the center of the arena, dressed from head to toe in their armor, completely unsure of what’s about to come out of the gates that surround them on all sides. There was a serene silence among them too.
Then Maximus calmly explains, “Any of you ever been in the army? You can help me. Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? We stay together, we survive.”
And even as the chariots spun around them and arrows struck from every direction, penetrating their shields and penetrating their men, Maximus didn’t flinch and his voice didn’t falter, “Come together. Stay close. As one,” he said. He didn’t stop reassuring them.
The obvious similarity between Maximus and Pau is they are both natives of Spain, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s more than the fact Pau could finish at the rim with both hands as Maximus could maneuver his sword with both as well. The nickname really resonates because they share a likeness of character, an inner strength fed by a deep morality. Both men are equally strong and fearless, and devoted and full of love.
And interestingly, again like Maximus, Pau’s strength was contested. A subject that was used to question Gasol’s basketball prowess was his kind nature.
But rebounds and blocked shots are tough guy numbers, and the seven-footer was proficient on the boards and an above-average shot blocker. He averaged 1.7 per game in his career, along with 17 points. 9.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Pau is just the 36th player in NBA History to reach 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds.
He was a big man with a guard-like vision, perfectly equipped to run the Lakers' fast break from time to time. Let us never forget his behind-the-back, through-the-legs dime to Trevor Ariza in 2009.
Instead of mauling the rim and roaring from high above to assert his dominance on offense, he chose a more subtle way to inflict suffering; he produced some of the most inventive passes, playing from both the high and low post, and giving his teammates opportunities for easy buckets. The only seven-footers who have more assists than him are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.
But because Pau didn’t play like a traditional big man, there were some people who called him soft.
Why do we even talk about athletes that way? So what if a player is a better fit as a general than a soldier—you need both to win the war.
And if you want to talk about taking over in battle, if you want to talk about winning the war, let’s talk about Pau Gasol in the Playoffs.
Over the course of his six-and-a-half seasons as a Laker, Pau propelled the Purple and Gold to victory in the battles of Game Sevens three different times: In 2009 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, in the Western Conference First Round of 2012 against the Denver Nuggets, and most notably in the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
Funnily enough, the 2010 Finals share some semblance to the final battle between Maximus and Rome’s tyrannical emperor, Commodus; it was riddled with revenge.
Two years prior, the Lakers conceded to Boston after six games in the Finals.
The title was going to be theirs; it was dangerously in reach, they were going to be on their way home, but a historic Game Four comeback by the Celtics changed the trajectory of the series.
In 2010, Pau was back in the arena and there was only one ending to this battle he would accept. He notched a double-double, 19 points and 18 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks—and the Lakers lifted their 16th championship banner.
It's these attributes that lifted Pau to the Hall of Fame. But they are not the things that prove his strength. No.
Pau is strong because of the way he has loved and protected the Bryant family in Kobe’s absence.
He's strong because he champions women to be seen and heard and respected in sports. In a 2018 Players’ Tribune article, Pau addressed the controversial topic of female coaches in the NBA, specifically Becky Hammon. He wrote:
“...I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
And at this year’s NBA All-Star Game, the six-time All-Star was the recipient of The Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award for his considerable contributions to the advancement of girls' and women’s basketball, and his continued advocacy for the WNBA; advocacy that extends to equity, he is also an investor in the WNBA’s recent capital raise.
He’s strong because of the way he makes people believe in themselves.
As a European player, Pau went No. 3 in the NBA Draft. This was unheard of and heavily speculated, the only other top-five European pick was Rik Smits in the 1988 Draft at No. 2. Many believed European players shouldn't go top five because the top five picks are reserved for franchise players, and they believed that Euro players wouldn’t have what it takes. But look how many European players are chosen high in the draft now and elevate their team—just as Pau had done.
His strength is marked by so many things.
All Pau Gasol has done in his life is going to echo in eternity—on and off the court.