Sunday, 22 February 2015
PAU GASOL Feature-BULLFIGHTER
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
United in the centre of the Lakers basketball court bullseye, Chicago Bull, Pau Gasol stands alone. Surrounded by stars...and we aren't just talking about those ones circling the Lakers logo mid-court. Two of those sweet sixteen literally belonging to this number 16. Looking down on him are the numbers of greats. 13, 34, 33, 32, 52, 44, 22, 25, 42. It all adds up to Wilt, Shaq, Kareem, Magic, Wilkes, West, Baylor, Gail Goodrich and names all Worthy like the voice of a Chick. Looking down only in rafter stature at a man who deserves his place. More than this moment of fame running out of the locker room corridor he used to call home when not a visitor. More like the hall for the man that was the next great Lakers big-man in the Minneapolis and Mikan to Hollywood hoops history. Making the perspiration sole of his sneakers and passion of heart and soul mark on this court like Julius Randle will one day do, going harder in the paint. Just when everybody was in a purple haze and golden debate over move making flops Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard in this town of big pictures. Even if some don't see him on the NBA Mount Rushmore, tell that to the Spanish side of the greater Los Angeles area heading downtown to a 18,000 plus capacity STAPLES arena. Centre in the Centre, surrounded by stars and nothing but applause from every hand that's raised out of every seat in this sold out house. All for a man who used to call this Californian spot home. Loyally and O'Brien royally even though from fan to front office, they all tried to turf him out, via trade, or "someone" better. But don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'till its gone? Especially when this man, via ironically a trade, was more than the missing Rasheed Wallace piece mid-season (and the Lakers should know all about that Detroit Piston) that gave the post-Shaquille, death of a dynasty Lakers, not one, but two championships. The difference maker without an MVP...and you want to talk about Most Improved? Number 24's greatest dynamic duo partner and friend, the latter just co-existing more than number 34. The one man from all the championship chasing ups and downs from Lamar Odom to Steve Nash that they should have never traded like Derek Fisher. The inside present that opened up their outside chance to return to their storied status versus the Celtics. A winner through and through, like the shades of purple and gold that will always run through his veins in some form, even if diluted by others disrespect. The same people now all smiles and cheers like its all good...and in some ways it is. Even though he should be receiving this S.O. for his own to the ceiling celebration moment as a Laker lifer..who knows? Maybe one day. One way or another. When you're the one you just know. Even when their not cheering. Kobe Bryant looks on...with unwavering pride. In this minute he knows his place.
Standing in the centre circle once again, he's no longer alone. The ball goes up, followed by his outstretched hand and the one of another just like his. Just like before the whole world of this arena is watching here weeks later as he's on the worlds biggest stage now. In the planets most famous arena of the Mecca of Madison Square Garden. Even taking the light off the neon hub and tourist/entertainment core of the waking, watching world in Times Square, just a few blocks over in New York City. Surrounded by every wide eye in the arena, taking their Stub Hub sought after, hundred and thousands of dollars worth and earned seats. Surrounded by stars, All-Stars once again, Pau is one again too. But this is not only his magnificent moment in this comeback season. Surrounded by names like LeBron, Carmelo, Curry and Wall, the name on the back of the jersey of the man rising up with him for this balls tip off reads 'Gasol' too. But this is no All-Star uniform laundry mix-up. The one reading 16 is bordered by the special All-Star back of the uniform named 'Pau Gasol' for the East. Whilst his competitor out West's back reads 'Marc' above his 33 and surname. These Spanish siblings and brothers in arms made All-Star history in this moment as the first brothers to start this honoured, hallmark game. An epic entry for a storied legacy of National Basketball Association families from the Barry brothers to the Walton's. These guys have come far. From court capital, Barca born boys to dribbling in Memphis. From dominating for the Basketball reigning, superstar Barcelona sister equivalent of the soccer starring Nou Camp fielders to showing the former Vancouver Grizzlies a shaggy hair and bearded future for the rock and roll Tennessee town, that the slicked back hair and suede shoes of Elvis Presley made king famous. Both these court sketches of Spain brought more jazz to this beautiful game like Miles Davis. Both played for Memphis. Both where held under contract in El Segundo by the Los Angeles Lakers. As a matter of fact the draft pick for Marc ended up being part of the package deal trade (that at first, before hindsight was seemingly seen as unfair) that brought in the power of Pau and all the gasoline of Gasol that fuelled the Lake shows Showtime for the next two Laker championships. Here's betting the Lakers wished they kept Marc of the Gasol name too, as well as Pau, like an unfair Chris Paul trade nix. Or just imagine if the Grizzlies out in Memphis had both brother bears thank you very much. Then that would be some storybook, storied NBA, hardwood classic history for your books. Especially since this sibling rivalry has gone from Marc proving he wasn't just Pau's little brother in bettering him, to this year the elder Pau having a season just as great, if not better than best big-man in the league Marc this year. Still, you don't have to "settle" for just an evenly matched up All-Star game on valentines weekend to see this showing of brotherly love together. Their alignment for the second strongest in the world Spanish national side has been a real bullseye to the tune of European occupation and two silver medals for the two gold stars. Making FIBA just as important to the rest of the basketball world as the initials N.B.A. Plus with the teammate likes of the flair of Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and even Serge Ibaka this team still has the potential of beating the dream of Team U.S. for worlds best wake up call.
A growling bear holds the ball in the centre circle that a young, shaggy hair and beardless, twenty something Pau Gasol stands in, as he receives a Stern warning. That being that he could be one of the greatest basketball players of tomorrow in todays league as commissioner David hands him the NBA's 'Rookie Of The Year' trophy for his 17.6 points and 8.9 rebound average and franchise face turning leverage. The only non-American to win this R.O.Y. honour for another record in 2002. The 3rd pick of the 2001 draft was selected by the now league best, Atlanta Hawks, but this 7 foot, 250 pounds when sweating, Power Forward/Centre tweener would never spread his wings in Georgia brown. Those being clipped by the Grizzlies who brought this Hawk down to their town as fast as 'Welcome to Atlanta' became 'You Are Now Leaving...', goodbye! With a trade for another, then more-established star big-man Shareef Abdur-Rahim and draft caps swapped to the hat tall West. Gasol would face off with the in prime, hunks of trees in the in prime Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Chris Webber of the constantly contending Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings respectively, just for starters. The skinny on this rooks scouting report, wrote him off as underweight, radars and experience and border lines. Downright unfair though, the Grizzlies saw him as more. More then the next proving everybody wrong, writing off Dirk Nowitzki too as a player in his own right. Regardless of nationality. Becoming the all-time leading scorer and record holder in field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive, defensive, and total rebounds, blocked shots, turnovers for his seven seal of stellar seasons for a now decades plus, already rich history of the growling and growing Grizzlies franchise. Worthy of a jersey retirement here, especially if the Lakers don't do the right thing. Gasol became a great before he even pulled on a Lakers or Bulls jersey, or lifted Larry O'Brien or his own name back into the elite. Now this in-prime, 34 year old is one of the best players this association has ever seen, let alone international ones, big-men or big-game winners.
Now the snarling face of the infamous Chicago Bull in the middle of the United Centre looks re-charged for an even stronger stampede. The same face that the G.O.A.T., greatest of all-time Michael Jordan fell into. Exhausted, emotional, game-ball in hand, face buried in it, to the floor as the 90's golden era Bulls won another of their six championships in the NBA's 90's coming out party. Now Benny the Bull faces the matador from Spain seeing red in crimson court vision. Ready to proudly in defiance hold the red flag until this franchise leaves other teams waving home white in surrendering defeat to the W. The Bullfighter, charged off equal parts previous team traded revenge and new job security and refreshed season safety redemption. Motivated in this game of two halves, one part hurt, the other a more positive form of passion. Ready to change his season of wind in the gale force city. Looking for glory like Common after February. Rapping up more than an old school mic check. Ready for Scoop to write his testimonial. Before he hopes to help engrave another O'Brien as a real contender again despite the struggles. You need that kind of necessary experience to have the makings of a champion. Yet alone a dynasty again without the Zen of Phil. Laker or Bull. Hollywood or bull####. For the greater good of the end result its more than a start. It means more than it all. More than the one, Derrick Rose coming back from more injuries than Kobe. Or even future star of service Jimmy Butler. Even reigning Defensive Player Of The Year Joakim Noah's career arc isn't taking them as far as this right now. But he with his pole position, post playing, power partner forms a nice teammate duo inside, to go with a terrific team across the board of valued vets like Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks, Nazr Mohammed and on and off Bull lifer Kirk Hinrich and hopefully the return of Mike Dunleavy. All determined to keep Thibs at the end of the bench and their playoff chips on the floor at the end of May. All a complete team thanks to the man that makes it that much Maguire, like a perfect sports agent. More than a 20 and 10 assurance of a threat, the 18.4 points and 12.1 rebound averaging Gasol has a real nice and underrated 2.9 assists to go with that and how about those career highs in blocks (9) and points (43) on a year where he was supposed to be done? Well this is it! Resurgence in the words of H.G. Taking a time machine back to the full beard and long hair, slick youthful exuberant player he was in Memphis...or maybe that's just the free straight shave they offer in downtown Chi's Macy's department store. Now the crust of this deep dish can expect meals on the house anywhere he goes in the Windy City like R. Kelly believing he can fly in the 90's. Because this guys footing the bill every night when it comes to big numbers. But will this all add up to prevailing in a final seven game series? Gather in the standing room of the United Centre next to all those rafter banners and that victory number 23. Because you might be able to see the man in the middle like M.J. holding centre court like Nadal, holding something that from here looks like victory. As the Bulls eye looks up to its knockout round, prize fighter.