The Lakers have gone 151-51 (.747) since the trade, winning 10 playoff series and reaching three Finals. They had the best record in the Western Conference this season (57-25), and Gasol averaged 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds.
Marc, meanwhile, is down to 265 pounds and averaged 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 58.1% for Memphis, with an undefendable '80s skyhook and a first step that would make Pau proud. "Little brothers have to go their own way sometimes," Marc says. "But Pau has always been the best example for me to follow."
PAU'S PATH SEEMED SIMPLE, AT FIRST. HE 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.
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.
Gasol was a star 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 in 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 was affixed to Gasol when the Lakers bowed in the 2008 Finals, when Celtics center Kendrick Perkins appeared to swallow him alive. After the season Gasol dedicated himself to working out in the weight room, a place in which he had never spent much time. He is proud of his newfound muscle, but it will never be what defines him, what makes the music. "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.