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The Power Of Pau
LEE JENKINS
March 29, 2010
A philanthropic, opera-loving, multilingual former medical school student, Lakers power forward Pau Gasol has a game that is as refined and varied as his tastes
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March 29, 2010

The Power Of Pau

A philanthropic, opera-loving, multilingual former medical school student, Lakers power forward Pau Gasol has a game that is as refined and varied as his tastes

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Marisa and Agusti cheered that play from section 103 at the FedEx Forum, where they have spent more time than they ever imagined. After Pau was traded, his parents planned to follow him to Los Angeles, and Agusti secured a job there at a health-care company. Even though the Grizzlies had obtained Marc's rights, he was a free agent and expected to re-sign with his Spanish team, Akasvayu Girona, where he was the ACB League MVP.

When Marc returned to Memphis instead, the Gasols decided to stay, having developed a taste for barbecue and Beale Street. "I know it's different than where we're from," Agusti said, "but we love it here." The Gasols still live in the same house in Germantown. Agusti works online for Grifols, the health-care company that hired him in L.A. Marisa volunteers at St. Jude. Adriá is a sophomore on the basketball team at Lausanne, already measuring 6'8". "He's built like Pau," says Lausanne head coach Kenneth White, "with a mean streak like Marc." Adriá's skills have not yet caught up to his size, and it is premature to call him a prospect. But the Gasol boys are late bloomers.

Pau chose medical school, not because he didn't like basketball but because he truly showed more potential as a doctor. He played only two games for FC Barcelona in 1998--99 and rejoiced when he got to throw an inbounds pass. The next year he was forced to drop out of med school because of road trips, but he still sat on the bench and scored just 4.2 points per game. "He wasn't strong enough," says coach Aito Garcia Reneses. In 2000 Barcelona signed former Heat center Rony Seikaly to start at power forward, but he clashed with Reneses and left the team during a road trip to London early in the season. Gasol was promptly handed Seikaly's spot, and six months later he was the highest-drafted European player of all time. "Everybody in Europe was asking me, 'How is this possible?'" Reneses said. "'How did we not see this coming?'"

Gasol had to grow into his body, and when he did, his quickness and range made him a mismatch for every power forward he faced. More than 40 NBA scouts attended the annual Copa Del Rey tournament in 2001, which features the top eight Spanish teams, and Gasol led Barcelona to the title while being named MVP. "I remember him raising the trophy," said Walt Szczerbiak, the U.S. ambassador for the ACB League, "and he almost hit the king of Spain in the face." A new basketball monarch was born.

Gasol was Michael Jordan in Spain but just another 7-footer in the NBA, at least until he supersized his job market. Los Angeles is a cozy destination for a foreign player, mainly because Bryant spent much of his childhood in Italy, where he developed an appreciation for the European game. Gasol and Bryant speak Spanish on the court so opponents do not know what they are thinking. They stage shooting contests to see who has the better left hand. Even when Gasol points out that Lakers post players need more touches, which Bryant could interpret as criticism, it creates no friction. Gasol has become, in Hubie Brown's words, "the perfect Robin for Batman."

He fits just as well with coach Phil Jackson, devouring the Ernest Hemingway novels that Jackson hands out and then analyzing Hemingway's depictions of early-20th-century Spain. Jackson and Gasol conflict only over practice times, which Gasol wants pushed back, to accommodate what Jackson terms "the Iberian lifestyle."

The Lakers' European flair is part of the reason they are so successful—and, their critics would say, so soft. That tired label, worn at some point by almost every foreign player in the NBA, was affixed to Gasol when the Lakers bowed in the 2008 Finals, when Celtics center Kendrick Perkins appeared to swallow him alive. After the series, and after Gasol's subsequent exit interview at the Lakers' practice facility, he stopped in the weight room, a place he had never spent much time. "I am committing right now to getting stronger," he told the trainers. Gasol lifted more in the next year than in the previous 27 combined, and when the 2009 Finals rolled around, he absorbed body blows from Magic center Dwight Howard and even dished out a few of his own as the Lakers outlasted Orlando.

Gasol is proud of his newfound muscle, but it will never be what defines him, what makes the music. Coaches talk about teaching his post moves and his passes to their sons, of catching themselves watching in wonder from the bench. "There are other players who can do the same things as Pau," says Reneses. "But for some reason it's just not as nice to look at."

Grace and fundamentals do not usually make highlights, but you can find them if you look. Take for instance a game against the Pacers in early March, midway through the first quarter, the Lakers biding time until the playoffs. Gasol takes an entry pass from Fisher in the post, fakes to his left, dashes to his right, finishes with his left. Next possession he takes an overhead pass from Bryant at the elbow, looks over the top of the defense, lobs to Bynum for a layup. Two possessions later he holds the ball on the block, waits for a double team, threads a bounce pass to swingman Ron Artest cutting down the middle for a dunk.

Three plays. Sixty-four seconds. Beautiful things.

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