Pau Gasol was born in 1980, the child of two amateur basketball players. At age 16, his abundant talent became apparent as he signed for Cornellà’s youth academy. A move to Barcelona soon followed, and he began playing for the Barça Basket second team that same year. After winning the European under-18 Championships with Spain, the future seemed bright for the young Catalan, but nobody could have predicted just how bright it really was.
Bursting onto the NBA scene with a 3rd overall draft pick in 2001, Gasol joined the Memphis Grizzlies. Averaging 17.6 points a game, Pau won NBA Rookie of the Year in 2002. Moreover, he made his All-Star team debut in 2006.
A dynamic combination of the rigid positional play of European Basketball and the increasing fluidity of the NBA, Pau quickly became one of the leagues most consistent players. However, it was his 2008 trade to the Los Angeles Lakers that allowed him to become one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.
From his debut in 2008, Pau clicked almost instantly with Kobe Bryant. The 7’1 center provided additional firepower for the historic Lakers team, and led the team in rebounds. After an incredible playoff run, Gasol became the first Spainiard to reach the NBA finals.
The legacy of Pau will likely be quantified in records, trophies and awards. But perhaps his most important contribution is the rapid development of Spanish basketball that he spearheaded. Much like the Spain sides of Vicente del Bosque in football, Pau Gasol turned the country’s love and talent for the sport into results. Pau led the Spain team to a win at the 2006 FIBA World Championships, and was named MVP. He secured a win at EuroBasket in 2009, and improved Spanish investment in basketball with his success.
More important than his work on the court was his personality off it. After hearing about the HIV diagnosis of Magic Johnson in 1991, an eleven year old Pau decided that he wanted to cure HIV. He attended medical school, and remained interested in surgery for the rest of his life. In 2018, he published an open letter defending the role of female coaches in the NBA, and launched a pioneering study on the effects of childhood obesity.
Pau Gasol retires as both Barça and NBA legend. Not only for his incredible performances on the court, but his work off of it. He revolutionized Spanish basketball, and has earned a well earned place among Europe’s basketball greats.