Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, and Tim Duncan.
Pau Gasol doesn’t belong on that list. That’s what you’re thinking. Not the guy who was a bonafide sidekick for the best part of his career. Maybe he belongs on the list for best white guys, not from the U.S. Or the ‘Worst Best Franchise Player Ever’ list. Maybe some funniest memes list but not next to those names. Not on the list above. Not with the likes of Duncan and Kareem. That’s a stretch. That’s what you’re thinking.
This is a list of all the NBA players to finish their careers with over 20,000 points, over 10,000 rebounds, and just over 75 assists short of 4,000. So maybe Pau Gasol was severely underrated?
I always loved stories of how Kobe Bryant hung his 2008 Olympic Gold medal in Pau Gasol’s locker. When Pau confronted him about it, instead of backtracking, Kobe reminded him that he lost to the Boston Celtics, that he lost to the U.S Redeem Team, and that he better not lose three times in a row. What happened? They became back-to-back champions! How many players would take that and actually get better?
There’s a lot of things people don’t know about Pau. He did a year in Medical School, driven to find the cure to HIV after Magic’s public retirement. He was the first International player to win Rookie Of The Year since 1953, which doesn’t even sound right when reading it. It took him three seasons to finally miss a game after a foot injury in 2004. He took the Grizzlies to their first-ever playoffs three years in a row but always came up short against championship-caliber teams led by Duncan, Nash, and Nowitzki. He never was given his own great supporting cast but never complained and dragged the Grizzlies as far as to 49 wins in 2006, with the second-leading scorer being Mike Miller at 13.7 points per game, all while having the best defense in the league. He became the 10th fastest player to reach 5000 points and 500 blocks since 1973-74. But obviously, it was in L.A where Gasol finally got recognized for his talents.
Here are the Top 4 Best Pau Gasol Moments.
1. First playoff game as a Lakers
It goes without saying that this was Gasol’s first chance of ever winning a playoff game – let alone a series. Going up against a 50 win Nuggets team and a forgotten defensive gem in Marcus Camby (1 year after winning Defensive Player Of The Year, third-year straight season of leading the league in blocks), Gasol was finally unleashed. 36 points while clobbering 16 boards, 8 dimes, and 3 blocks is a hell of a welcoming party. All while the Grizzlies would not make the playoffs again until 2011.
2. Taking down the Spurs
There’s a badge of honor to any team that beats the San Antonio Spurs any year when Tim Duncan is part of the equation. Coming off their championship beat down in Cleveland the year prior, the 56 win Spurs team lost to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the first round. In the series-clinching Game 5, Gasol stood toe-to-toe with Duncan and secured 19 rebounds for the win. That was the first time the Lakers went to the second round since Kobe had Shaq in 2003-04. I wonder what changed for the Lakers?
3. Paul fills in the blank
‘Saving’ is too strong of a word. So when I need to explain it, I’ll come up with something a little better. In 2010, OKC was one of the best teams ever led by a 21-year-old (06 Cavaliers, 94 Magic, 85 Bulls are the best options, you take your pick). The Lakers battled them for six games, with the final match going right down to the wire. Down by one with 3.4 seconds on the clock, Kobe drove right for a baseline fade away, but it was short. Then there comes Gasol reading it perfectly for the put-back to ‘bail out’ Kobe and win the game.
4. Gasol saves Kobe
The 2010 NBA Finals were legendary for several reasons. It was a finals rematch of 2008, plus it was the last LAKERS-CELTICS Finals, if anything. Before the series, the Lakers had still yet to win a Game 7 against Boston. But for Gasol specifically, he had been called by some as ‘soft’ after the 2008 Celtics defeat. People mistook his finesse and post craftiness as ‘being afraid of contact’. Even after the 2009 Finals, when Pau outscored the most physical player in the game – people (mostly Boston Fans, to be fair) still called the All-Star fragile. So in Game 7, guess who lifted the most when things got tough? Gasol was the only starting Laker to have a positive plus-minus, dropping 19 points and 18 rebounds against the antithesis of soft basketball, Kevin Garnett. Gasol undisputedly outplayed him on top of it, putting up series averages of 18.6, 11.6, 3.6 with 2.6 blocks compared to Garnett’s 15.3, 5.6, 3.0, with 1.3 blocks. Gasol got the last laugh.
See, Gasol always had more in him but sacrificed for the overall team – a true characteristic of a winner. When Kobe was injured for the start of the 2010-11 season, Gasol put up 25.3 points on 52.5 percent shooting while stuffing the stat sheet for 10.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists as the Lakers started 3–0. When Mike D’Antoni took over and demoted Gasol to a spot-up shooter, away from the post where he was most dangerous, he put up 13.7 points along with 8.7 rebounds the first year, leading to a general assertion that he was just washed up. Two seasons later, when he went to Chicago, he easily put up 18.5 and 11.8 rebounds a night as a 34-year-old.
Because that’s what Gasol did, he would step back to get others involved for the sake of the team and step up when it was his time to take over. Many fans judge players by the totality of their production every night but fail to grasp the complexity of empty stats. Empty stats are not just the best player’s points on the worst team but also relate to the role player’s stats on the best team. All All-Stars can score on the best championship team, but not all All-Stars can make the right pass, give up open shots, make the one-percenters to be on the championship team. Gasol epitomized what it took to be a great player and deserves to have his jersey hung in the rafters.