Apr 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) handles the ball against San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and power forward Tim Duncan (21) in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Pau Gasol: The Reluctant Superstar

For an athlete, sometimes a player’s best quality can be exactly what causes him to fall short in the perception of their career.


Pau Gasol is a lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame. His NBA and International accomplishments stand alongside  that of any of the greatest big men to ever play the game.


Consider this:


Career Averages

Tim Duncan –   20.2 ppg, 11.2 reb, 3.1 assts, 50.7 fg%, 15.4 fga, 69.3 ft%, .7 stls, 2.2 blks

Kevin Garnett – 19.1 ppg, 10.5 reb, 3.9 assts, 49.8 fg%, 15.4 fga, 79 ft%, 1.3 stls, 1.5 blks

Dirk Nowitzki – 22.6 ppg, 8.2 reb, 2.6 assts, 47.5 fg%, 16.7 fga, 87.7 ft%, .9 stls, .9 blks

Pau Gasol –     18.4 ppg, 9.2 reb, 3.3 assts, 51.8 fg%, 13.5 fga, 75 ft%, .5 stls, 1.6 blks

Kevin Mchale – 17.9 ppg, 7.3 reb, 1.7 assts, 55.4% fg%, 12.7 fga, 79.8 ft%, .4 stls, 1.7 blks


Statistics alone don’t tell the story of a career no matter how the new hoops punditry gives deep existential meaning to analytics. This comparison shows that across the board Pau Gasol is on par with the best to ever do it at his position. His all around game speaks to the brilliance of his skill set. The number attached to Gasol’s career that jumps out the most is 13.5. As in shot attempts per game. For his career.


Superstar status in the NBA is measured by winning, money and carte blanche with the ball, in that order. That forms the foundation of respect players are ultimately judged by.The rare few who possess all three are in the top tier of legends. Magic. Mike. Kobe. Lebron.


Those lacking one are considered lesser legends. Some, who didn’t win big, end up like a Karl Malone, revered but considered a notch below other greats. Those that came up short financially like Scottie Pippen, never got their due, from the media, their peers, or even the fans.


Those lacking two are often the league’s most high profile targets of scorn. The most common instance is the very good player who is paid like a superstar but doesn’t deliver the results associated with that status. They are usually stars of perpetually mediocre teams and get to shoot to their hearts desire.


They inevitably get paid commensurate with their inflated statistics, but for all their numbers they don’t affect winning. Juwan Howard or Gilbert Arenas come to mind. This is the unfortunate circumstance of a 30 team league.


Pau Gasol won his championships, took a team from nothing to the playoffs and made a ton of money. However, he is that rare superstar that never took what was his to take. With all of his otherworldly talent and skill he never felt the necessity to dominate in the way the NBA expects of its top players.


It is a star driven league after all. His unselfishness has made him a great teammate but lessened the impression of him as an all time great. Which he is.


Gasol had his own team with the Memphis Grizzlies and even then never took 15 shots per game in a season. He shared with the likes of Mike Miller and Bonzi Wells. He put up practically the same stellar and efficient numbers year after year. But he never shot enough, never played aggressively enough in a league where the best players need to display a healthy selfishness.


All he could muster was the purgatory of being a border-line All Star on a borderline Playoff team. The Grizzlies made the playoffs in consecutive years but never won a game in either series.


There was never a moment during his time there that Gasol took over the team and demanded the ball or carried the team offensively for a stretch. It was seemingly not his nature and maybe that’s the reason it didnt work out.


But just when you think Gasol wasn’t capable of dominance, he returned to International play and a different narrative emerged. He might be the most dominant player ever in European play.


1998- FIBA Europe Under 18 Championship

1999- FIBA Europe Under 19 Championship

2001- MVP, Spanish League Champions

2004- Leading scorer in the Olympics

2006- MVP, FIBA World Champions

2008- FIBA Europe Player of the Year, Olympic Silver Medal

2009- FIBA Europe Player of the Year, Eurobasket Champions and MVP, NBA Champions

2010- NBA Champions

2011- Eurobasket Champions

2012- Olympic Silver Medal


So which is it? Is he the passive star of Memphis Grizzlies fame and the 2008 Finals and 2011 Playoffs with the Lakers? Or is he the dominant player of the 2009 Finals whose performance led to a whispering campaign that he deserved Finals MVP?


Its an important issue for him to figure out even at this late stage of his career. He just suffered through a two-year stretch where the Lakers pushed him aside for two young big men less accomplished than he. He didn’t handle it well but yet didn’t demand his respect. No other great player in recent memory has been treated in such a fashion. But Gasol himself is to blame.


All hardships in time pass and Pau Gasol has ended up again incredibly, the focal point of the Lakers’ plans next season. Will he reassert himself as a top player again? Or will he fade slowly into retirement leaving us all to ponder a resume that is undeniable but a career that left more questions than answers?


For the Lakers sake, they better hope the big Spaniard’s wounded pride fuels him to prove critics wrong once again. If there’s ever a time to finally go for yours Pau, its this year.

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