Frosted Flakes, Medicine & Penelope Cruz20+ Questions with Pau Gasol

Whether you’re talking about food, basketball, medicine or what have you, Lakers forward Pau Gasol generally has something interesting to offer.

We caught up with the 2008-09 All-Star in his hotel room – while he was waiting for some pasta with marinara sauce (entrée No. 1), grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes (entrée No. 2), a coke (he had plenty of water at shootaround) and a banana (for dessert) – to see what was on his mind.

MT: Let’s begin with a no-nonsense question. What’s your favorite cereal?
Gasol: Frosted Flakes. That’s easy. Also, Corn Flakes … with sugar. I guess that’s basically Frosted Flakes, but I started eating them when I was very young in Spain.

MT: Tony the Tiger, huh. What about your favorite meal?
Gasol: Sushi. I love toro, I love sea urchin, I love salmon … All kinds really. Seafood is big part of Mediterranean culture, and I grew up eating it in Barcelona.

MT: How about your least-favorite food?
Gasol: I don’t like really spicy food. I can’t really eat it, because it kills my tongue and my taste. I just don’t like it. There are spices in Barcelona, but they’re not really hot.

MT: OK, still on the food bit. What’s your favorite restaurant?
Gasol: I’d have to go with Nobu. There’s one in L.A., but they’re also growing around the world. In Barcelona, my favorite place is Shunka. It’s a Japanese restaurant where you can get sushi and plenty of other food as well. They have everything, and it’s amazing.

MT: What non-basketball sport do you enjoy the most, and who’s your favorite athlete in that sport?
Gasol: Tennis. My favorite player is Rafael Nadal, who’s from Mallorca in Spain. We’re pretty tight.

MT: You ever hit with the current best player in the world?
Gasol: We’ve never really hit the tennis ball around, but my game is OK. I used to play quite a bit during the summers, and it’s a good offseason workout. Rafa likes soccer and is more into it than he is basketball; He’s a big Real Madrid fan. He can shoot a little bit, however. After tennis comes soccer, and my team is F.C. Barcelona.

MT: He has some raw athletic ability, that’s for sure. Moving on, what’s your favorite TV show?
Gasol: “Friends.” I also liked “Sanford and Son,” which was very funny to me, and I used to watch “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” I know the intro song. “In West Philadelphia, born and raised…”

MT: Rachel or Monica?
Gasol: Actually my favorite of the girls is Phoebe. She’s the goofy and creative one. Of the guys, Chandler and Joey were more entertaining to me than Ross.

MT: Your favorite actors and actresses?
Gasol: Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey and Anthony Hopkins for actors, and Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron and Salma Hayek for actresses.

MT: You probably know Salma Hayek, don’t you…
Gasol: Actually I know Penelope Cruz better. I like her sister Monica (google images link), too.

MT: How about your favorite movie? American made?
Gasol: I love “Braveheart” and “Gladiator.”

MT: I know you’re a big reader, Pau. What’s your favorite book?
Gasol: It’s called “La Cathedral Del Mar.” It’s about the history of how one of the main cathedrals in Barcelona was built. There’s a story involving characters that makes it very interesting to read. It’s similar to another favorite of mine, “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. Both are over 1,000 pages, but you get a great deal of information from them in the historical fiction genre. I also like mystery novels and fiction, combined with a touch of reality. I just like learning. I also enjoy books from Ryszard Kapuœciñski, a Polish man known by some as the “Father of Journalism.” He was a foreign correspondent who would tell you what his experiences were from where he was doing his reporting, and wrote books that gave a really interesting historical look of what went on in places like Africa. I’m interested in Africa, particularly countries I’ve been to like South Africa and Angola. He talks about his experiences in those countries in two of his books, such as the Civil War in South Africa.

MT: I’m sure you could have a conversation with D.J. Mbenga about what’s going on in Africa, particularly in his country, Congo. Let’s switch to one of your favorite topics: Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.
Gasol: I’m very happy with where Marc is right now. What an improvement he’s made over the course of the years; he’s turning into a great basketball player. He got the chance to play when a player got hurt on the Spanish national team in 2006 when we were getting ready for the World Championships. He worked so hard and fought, gained a lot of confidence and we won the tournament. From that point on, he’s turned into a great player, and it just makes me very proud of my brother.

MT: Give us another story about your brother...
Gasol: A funny story is from this year: When we played in Memphis the first time, the refs called a technical foul on Marc even though he didn’t say anything but just jumped at a call they made. My first reaction was like, “What the heck did you call that for?” But then I remembered and was like, “Oh yeah, good call.”

MT: You’ve talked often about how close-knit you are with your family. Any memories stick out?
Gasol: I have so many great memories with my family, such as when my two brothers were born. But one great moment was when we all moved as a family to Memphis. The unity we had was really special.

MT: Tell us about your youngest brother, Adria.
Gasol: My brother is 15, and he’s about 6-4. He really wasn’t into basketball because he had to watch so many games of me and my brother Mark. Adria kind of got tired of it because it took him away playing time at home and from doing what kids would usually want to do. He kind of got bored. But he’s getting into it now, and at the same time he is very good at school. He’s very good with computers, kind of a geek. He’ll definitely be very tall and see if that helps him out. If he wants to play he will, if not, he’ll be good at something else because he’s very smart.

MT: Your mother is a physician and your father a hospital administrator. Was education emphasized before sports as you grew up?
Gasol: Yes, it was always “Do your work before you play.” They wanted me to keep my options open, to make sure studying was a big priority over basketball because you’re not sure that sports will work out. So I stayed in school as long as I could and should have even though it was hard my first and last years in college to do both medical school and professional basketball.

MT: Maybe just a bit? Think about LeBron James as a medical student during his rookie year with the Cavs...
Gasol: Well, it was really hard, but it made me strong and tough as a person. I matured a lot and learned to value a lot of things because I put so much hard work into both medicine and basketball. But I had to make a choice and I did. Over the years I found out how hard medicine was, what a big sacrifice it is to get all the way through it. There’s a reason doctors are mostly well paid. It’s very, very hard.

MT: It’s common to hear people complain about the extremely high salaries NBA players receive, though one counter argument I use is that if you’re one of the top 430 or so of anything in the world, you’re deserving of money, particularly if people are choosing to support your craft. Yet and still, should doctors, for example, be paid much more than pro athletes?
Gasol: Probably. If I were one of the top doctors in the world I don’t know where that’d be economically, but I’d be very satisfied to help many, many people no matter what my specialty was. That’s something you can only feel by being a doctor. When you see some of the TV shows, experiences or talk to doctor friends, it’s an amazing thing, and I’m sure they’re well appreciated. But yes, doctors probably should be paid more than athletes based on the principle, but we hopefully bring a lot of people happiness and distraction and entertainment. But we’re not saving anybody’s lives. Medicine is really amazing to me and it always inspired and motivated me.

MT: What’s your favorite city in the world to visit that’s not named Barcelona?
Gasol: Vancouver, Canada. I like it more than anywhere in Europe, because I’ve been around Europe so often. In Vancouver, I was very surprised and pleased by the city. It had a big effect on me.

MT: Ironically, you almost lived there, as the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis the year before you were drafted.
Gasol: Funny how that worked out.

MT: What’s your favorite thing to wear?
Gasol: I’m into just wearing jeans, really casual. I like to be comfortable and have low body activity.

MT: Finally Pau, your mind seems pretty locked into a single goal right now…
Gasol: Yes, the only goal on my mind right now is to do what it takes to help our team win a championship. That’s all that’s on my mind. We want to give it our best shot. Last year was unexpectedly very close, but this year it’s kind of expected and desired.