Another special moment in my basketball career! #NewBeginning #Thankful
That’s the caption under an Instagram photo of Pau Gasol signing his new contract in Chicago.
It’s been over a week since news broke of Gasol’s decision to join Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls for a three-year $22M contract. Despite three-year $29M and two-year $23M offers from the Lakers, the largest of any offers he received, he knew it was time to go, and by all accounts so did everyone else; from every NBA analyst who covered his career here in L.A. to every Laker fan in Southern California.
We’ve been given so many chances to bid the Spaniard farewell in his years since the last Laker championship in 2010. We were prepared to say good-bye in 2012 until the Chris Paul trade was vetoed. In the last four ringless years, from each off-season to the mid-season trade deadline, Gasol’s name was dragged through one trade rumor after another. His departure was constantly imminent. It was never a question of if. It was always a question of when and how, and this summer, everyone got their answer.
While Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James engulfed the media with their “stay or go” show, Gasol’s time of discernment was a quiet one, signaled only by his occasional social media shares – walking through Central Park, barbeques with his family, traveling through Jerusalem, sitting on the beach, listening to classical music. In the way that every play he makes on the court is a cognitive collation of thoughts, so too was his process in free agency. His primary goal wasn’t to be wined and dined by teams vying for his services; and then subsequently be offered an unreasonably lucrative contract. His focus was on joining a team that could (and would) use his talents and abilities to win an NBA title sooner than later, and everyone knows that it just isn’t this Laker team.
While Pau Gasol leaves behind a host of great memories in his time in the purple and gold uniform, he also takes with him invaluable commodities that won’t easily be replaced.
The model teammate – a big brother and friend, Gasol was seen during games encouraging every player, from Kobe Bryant to the last benchwarmer sitting on the floor because there weren’t enough seats on the sidelines. He is as malleable a person as they come, molding himself into whatever you need in order to make the team a good one. Play outside 17 feet away from the basket? Check. Come off the bench so the new coach can test the effectiveness of a new line-up? No problem. Benched in the closing minutes of a game despite being one of the best players on the team? No arguments here. And when Derek Fisher was traded in 2012, who was left to be Bryant’s sole confidante? The Spaniard, naturally.
The gracious leader – some people lead with their voices, some with their actions. Gasol leads with a balance of both. Despite being the subject of trade talks in his last few years with the Lakers, Gasol maintained a focus not many could achieve in his position. He heard every rumor, all the while trying to keep his senses, and his psyche, in tact; focused on leading a hapless team that couldn’t figure out their identity after 2011’s elimination from the post-season and the disastrous injury-riddled seasons after it. Through it all, Gasol’s humility shone through and he showed his teammates, most of them younger than he, a thing or two about keeping things in perspective. Were the trade rumors hurtful and insulting? Yes. But should that take away from your love for the game or your teammates? No.
A class act – if there’s one term that’s been used on Gasol the most it’s classy. He is as classy a human being as they come. Him being a model teammate and a gracious leader – they all come from this singular quality. You don’t have to meet Pau Gasol in person to know how much respect he shows each person he meets.
24 hours after he posted that photo of him signing the new contract, Gasol posted another picture of himself with new teammate, Nicola Mitoric, sporting White Sox jerseys at a Sox game. He even threw the first pitch. Seems only yesterday Gasol was wearing a royal blue and white jersey, throwing the first pitch at a Dodger game. Times have sure changed.
It isn’t 2008 anymore, the year Gasol helped turn a mediocre Laker team into an NBA finals team.
It isn’t 2009 either, the year that Gasol won his first NBA title.
It isn’t 2010, when the Lakers defeated their heated rivals, the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.
It is now 2014, and Pau Gasol is no longer a Laker.
We dreaded his exit it for years, but hoped that by some twist of free agency fate, we could keep him in Los Angeles to wear a purple and gold uniform until his retirement. But after all the trade talk he had to endure, the seasons he spent wondering if he had played his last game as a Laker, Gasol actually got to leave on his own accord, which is exactly the kind of departure he deserved.