Dear Pau Gasol,
On behalf of the Lakers fan base, front office, and coaching staff, I’d like to issue an apology. You see, we never did fully appreciate. If the coaching staff was behind you (Phil Jackson), the fans were against you. When the fans got behind you, the coaching staff betrayed you (Mike D’Antoni). And despite being brought in by the front office, they rarely truly had your back.
It started too soon, with doubts of your abilities put into question just months after your arrival when Kevin Garnett beat you down physically in the 2008 NBA Finals. However, fans did not acknowledge your fantastic play the consecutive two Finals against Dwight Howard and your revenge against Garnett. In fact, the case could have been made that YOU deserved the 2010 Finals MVP.
When you crashed and burned the following year in the playoffs against the Mavs, everyone turned on you. Phil Jackson resorted to physical motivation (unsuccessfully), fans quickly forgot everything you’d won for them, and management quickly placed you on the trading block. Famously, you were dealt to the Rockets, then undealt, for Chris Paul. When things went sour and you had to return to a team that just tried to get rid of you, you handled it with the utmost professionalism.
And really, that’s how your legacy will be defined. Few players have been, current are, nor ever will be as professional as you. Year after year, you were rumored in seemingly every trade the Lakers were involved in. They constantly used you as bait to move into the draft lottery, floated your name around for a younger asset, and most recently, nearly was dealt simply for salary cap relief.
Now, as you once again in the midst of trade discussions and the Lakers seem the most certain to deal you, this may be the final farewell. Tonight could be your last game in a Lakers jersey in front of the home crowd. It’s hard to say how the fans will react to you. Hell, you may not even make it to tonight’s game before being dealt. With the Lakers aiming to get under the luxury tax and your $19 million contract most expendable, it’s not hard to connect the dots.
But what I do know is that you’ll be back. What you’ve done for the Lakers has earned you a spot in the rafters. You’ve been a key catalyst in multiple championship teams. You’ve been nothing less than the 2nd best option for the Lakers for nearly the entirety of your stint. It was you who carried the Lakers when Kobe would go down. It was you who has held the torch this season with Bryant out for a large majority.
As the saying goes, you never truly know what you got until it’s gone. For the Lakers and their fans, that will most certainly be the case. Whether you leave tonight, tomorrow, this summer, or when you retire, you may never get the full recognition you deserve. Our fan base, we’ve been spoiled. The lineage is well-documented: Mikan, Wilt, West, Baylor, Magic, Worthy, Bryant, Shaq. Pau will join that list when he’s retired.
Hopefully by then, we’ll truly appreciate your contributions.
Signed an appreciative Lakers fan.