Pau Gasol prepares for All-Star history


Feb 14

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The 2015 NBA All-Star game Sunday in New York City brings with it some of the best visual delights the game can offer with the defending league MVPs in LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the special shooting and panache of Stephen Curry and James Harden and the veteran savvy of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul.

But there are only two players who bring history, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol.

The Bulls center and the Memphis Grizzlies’ center will open the game with the most famous center jump in All-Star history, the first time brothers will start against one another for on opposing sides in the NBA All-Star game.

“It’s hard to put in words, honestly,” said Marc. “It’s a pretty indescribable feeling. It means so much. Pau’s career has gone one way and my career has gone a completely different way. But we’ll both meet at the jump ball. I don’t think it matters who wins (the tip). But I think we’re both going to go for it no matter what we say now.”

It’s a truly remarkable story of the two big kids from suburban Barcelona, Spain traveling widely divergent basketball paths to success and this most unexpected collision.

And the way this season has gone, it perhaps can only be exceeded by a meeting in the NBA Finals. Which is not out of the question, amazingly enough, as Pau’s Bulls come into the All-Star break playing well with four straight wins and a victory over James’ Cavaliers. And Marc’s Grizzlies stand second in the Western Conference to the Golden State Warriors, though with a fearsome front court.

That’s where Marc has emerged as a former Defensive Player of the Year while older brother Pau is one of the most accomplished and skilled big men in NBA history, winning two championships with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson’s Lakers and having a resurgent season. Pau is averaging 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds while leading the NBA in double/doubles.

“To be here in an All-Star setting with everything that’s going on and my brother and I being in the All-Star game as starters, everything is just incredible,” said Pau. “This (Sheraton) was the hotel where I stayed when I was drafted first in the NBA in 2001. To be here now as an All-Star 14 years later with my brother and everyone here covering this moment is quite incredible. He had a different path (from me) for sure. He had to work really hard and make sacrifices to overcome certain things over the course of his career. He’s done incredible. His path has been remarkable, worth talking about it. I give him a lot of credit for it because he’s a one-of-a-kind player. His story should be very inspiring to a lot of people. I’m just very proud of Marc. He has become not just a great basketball player, but a great man as well. I love who he is and what he does on and off the court.”

Though prepared to face eye to eye Sunday—though Pau always says he never looks into the eyes of his jump ball opponent—the brothers could not be more different not only in the paths they traveled to arrive as All-Stars but the personalities that drove them.

Pau was the prodigy, coming into the NBA in 2001 as a No. 3 overall draft pick Rookie of the Year, a multiple All-Star whose 2008 trade to the Lakers was condemned league wide amidst calls for an investigation on the notion it was changing the balance of power because Pau was so good.

Pau was serious minded, quiet, a pre-med student whose hobbies include the opera. His reading list is the envy of an English major. He is cultured and refined.

Marc is boisterous and outgoing, blue collar in the vernacular of the middle class, more comfortable with a Big Mac than Morton’s.

“Marc was the extrovert,” recalled Herb Rudoy, the Chicago attorney who represented both Gasols when they came to the NBA. “Pau is reserved. Marc was the funny guy, happy go lucky. Pau is serious.

“Both really good, nice guys,” said Rudoy. “Pau was always really good, a smart player. Marc was heavy at first, over 300 pounds. Really big, but he liked to play. He had skills, also. Probably the best thing to happen to him was to go to Memphis (traded for his brother Pau). There was no pressure and he could develop and he did.”

When Pau was drafted and acquired by the Grizzlies, his family, his mother a doctor and father a nurse administrator along with Marc and their younger brother, moved to Memphis and got a home to live together. Not exactly the classic NBA player lifestyle. But they are a close family, the brothers always competing as brothers do.

“It’s fun. It’s competitive,” said Pau about facing his brother on the worldwide famous basketball stage in arguably the game’s most famous venue. “It’s physical. We both like to win. Sometimes he wins. Sometime I win. We go at it. We don’t take it lightly. We’re both very talented players. So it’s hard for one to dominate.”

Pau began to rescue the franchise which started in Vancouver, going to three playoffs but being swept each time. Marc dribbled between McDonalds and teenaged fun found anywhere. Eventually, Marc chose to leave Memphis and his family to play basketball in Spain and begin the career path that would lead to their Sunday faceoff with Marc not only a rival star but this summer to be probably the most sought after free agent.

That development was the surprise with Marc the big, overweight, fun loving kid in high school in Memphis, an imposing player but hardly considered an NBA prospect. Jerry West was Grizzlies general manager and his son played with Marc at the small Luasanne school team. It was successful, but even the great talent evaluator West didn’t see Marc as a top pro or even modest. Marc was a 48th pick in the draft by the Lakers and eventually traded for Pau in a 2008 deal in which Memphis mostly sought financial relief. The Grizzlies received Marc, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and draft picks. The league wide consensus was the Grizzlies were swindled, gave the Lakers a title (or two) and should be punished for their lack of competitive desire. You don’t hear that any more.

“I didn’t quite enjoy watching him play in high school because it was ridiculous,” said Pau. “When he made the transition to Memphis, to high school, playing at that level in private school was not very challenging and he gained a lot of weight those two years. To the point where he had to make a decision: ‘I have to go back. I have to get out of here.’ I am very proud, always been very proud of my brother, what he’s been able to do as a person let alone as a pro basketball player. How far he’s come, what he’s able to deal with. Who he is today, what he’s become as a man and as a basketball player. I enjoy watching him play and I always have.”

Both are starting All-Stars for the first time, so it follows that both are playing perhaps as well as ever.

Marc, though a Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging a career high in points at 18.3. He’s also averaging 8.1 rebounds and his team is a title contender for the first time. Pau is a tick above in scoring at 18.4 points per game. He is averaging a career high 12.1 rebounds and at career bests in three-point shooting and blocks. After averaging missing about 25 games per season the last two years with injuries, Pau has been a sturdy and regular contributor for the Bulls.

“It means that I’m playing at a high level and that I’m doing something special individually,” Pau said about being an All-Star starter for the first time in his career. “I’m helping my team win. When you perform at a high level and put up well balanced numbers, you’re helping your team win. I try to work hard and play as good as I can to help my team. Sometimes I come up with individual recognition. But I’m concentrating on the team, always.”

Similarly with Marc, who has been the fulcrum around the success of the Grizzlies. Since he returned from injury last January, the Grizzlies have been the winningest team in the NBA. And headed with his brother for not only for a dream come true but a dream neither could ever imagine.

“We know how fortunate we are to be in the position we are right now,” said Marc. “We understand that and we enjoy it. Every time we get to play against one another, even though we are extra competitive and we both want to win, we are super respectful to one another. At the same time we understand how lucky we are and the position we are in. It doesn’t happen very often.”

So Sunday will be East vs West, Pau vs Marc to get their team a win, Gasol vs Gasol.

“I may not jump Marc just to make the league angry,” joked West coach Steve Kerr. “I may have Steph Curry jump center against Gasol just to ruin that sibling moment.”

Kerr paused with the large group of international media in attendance. The Gasol matchup is a huge story in Europe and especially Spain. There were record size gatherings of Spanish media at the interviews sessions for Marc and Pau Friday and Saturday.

“Hopefully the sarcasm I use will be understood,” Kerr laughed. “It will be fun. I love both players. Marc is a brilliant, amazing passer and fun to watch. Pau with all he’s done in the league over the years is terrific. It will be fun to see them go against one another.”

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