Cáceres, Real Madrid and a bloody appendicitis

On March 7, the Los Angeles Lakers will retire Pau Gasol’s number 16, which will rise on the roof of the pavilion alongside, in purple and gold, some of the most emblematic in the history of basketball: Magic Johnson’s 32, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the 33rd, Kobe Bryant on the 8th and 24th, Wilt Chamberlain on the 13th, Elgin Baylor on the 22nd, Jerry West on the 44th, Shaquille O’Neal on the 34th… It will be a historic day for sports Spanish, the tribute to a few years that forever changed our basketball, the pinnacle of the best of ours and one of the best European players in all of history. This is the story of the years, the titles and the glory of Pau Gasol in the Los Angeles Lakers. Years of purple and gold.

FIRST PART: The first thing, of course, was the transfer

SECOND PART: Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett

THIRD PART: A number 3 draft pick in three cities

FOURTH PART: Cáceres, Real Madrid and a bloody appendicitis

whatBecause Did Pau Gasol accelerate his jump to the NBA, who finally gave nothing to turn 21? The answer is still written in the season before his debut with the Memphis Grizzlies, 2000-01, and a devastating explosion, exponential growth -game by game, week by week- that put the turbo to what would have been, in any case, an inevitable process.

Simply, that inevitable future on the other side of the Atlantic seemed somewhat further away, not so ready, just a few months before that June 27, 2001 in which he was selected with the pick 3 pick when he was still 20 years old. Reality, a question of faculties and talent, ran over any forecast. Six days before the draft, he won the League at the Raimundo Saporta in Madrid and in what ended up being his farewell to European club basketball before his return to Barça, to close the circle of his career with the achievement of the 2020 League- 21, exactly twenty years after the previous one. The one that resized him as a global emerging star. A player generational in full blast.

In that 2000-01 season, Pau won the League and the Cup with Barcelona and was MVP in both finals. He could have added the Euroleague but Barça, although they were favourites, fell in the round of 16 playoff against Benetton: 0-2 despite starting as favourites. But Nacho Rodríguez and Sarunas Jasikevicius (who trained Pau in 2021) were touched and Gasol himself could not play the series because he was recovering from appendicitis. that was the only thorn in a great year that, in Europe, ended in defeat against the Italian team that included Jorge Garbajosa (president of the FEB and close friend of Pau), Pittis, Nicola, Marcus Brown…

JORGE GARBAJOSA is president of the FEB and former teammate of Pau in the Spanish National Team: “I was at Benetton, and we ran into them in the Euroleague. We managed to beat them, but because Pau had appendicitis. If not, I don’t know how the story would have been (laughs)”.

Pau did already know what it was like to play a Final Four. In 2000 he was in Thessaloniki, where Barça fell in the semifinals (65-51) against Maccabi. At 19 years old, Pau played 7 minutes and added 2 points and 2 rebounds. He had debuted in ACB on January 17, 1999, in Cáceres. In the following season, 1999-00, he definitively jumped to the first team, and one after that came his corkage. The problems between Aíto and the center Rony Seikaly, who had arrived as a signing with historical projection and was a disappointment to remember, opened up his minutes in the inside game after weeks playing as a forward, a position in which there were Arturas Karnisovas and Rodrigo De La Fuente.

Pau dazzled in the Malaga Cup, where melted against Real Madrid (80-77) with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a PIR of 39. And then he repeated MVP in the League, a 3-0 win from Barça to the whites in which Pau shone especially in the last game, in rival territory: 22 points, 10 rebounds and a stretch to remember in the third quarter, in which he scored 12 points for his team to break the game (from 46-46 to 51-59) after a great first half by Alberto Herreros. A triple by Gasol made it 57-74, which was already final. pau He was champion, then he achieved bronze with Spain in the European Championship in Turkey 2001 and then… he went to the NBA.

JUAN CARLOS NAVARRO is in charge of the basketball section of Barcelona. Also a legend of Pau Gasol, he is a close friend of Pau Gasol with whom he shared a dressing room at Barça, the Grizzlies and, of course, the National Team: “We met when he arrived at Barça. I was already at the club and he came from Cornellá, when he was 15 or 16 years old, I don’t know if he was a junior in his first year or a cadet in his second year. At first it was not all shot. He was the new one, maybe he was a little removed from the core that we had been playing together for years. But I tried to help him, we got along very well, we went out together, we did things other than basketball. In the concentrations we played cards, as later in the Selection with the pocha. We went to the movies, we played tennis, which we also liked a lot, to have dinner and have a drink… Between Vane, my wife, and I took him around”.

ANTONI DAIMIEL is a journalist specializing in the NBA since 1995: “I was live in Malaga, in the Cup, and I had the definitive feeling that he was a special player, super dominant. In that Cup he had a feeling that I have rarely had live in terms of a player who was so dominant in everything that happened on the court, in any situation and in any position ”.

JUAN CARLOS NAVARRO: “At first you could see that he had a lot of talent and a lot of ease with the ball, but he was very skinny. It was difficult for him, above all, to play in the inside positions because they took him off the court and he went further out. But you already saw his mentality, and the physical change afterwards was essential for his career.

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JORGE GARBAJOSA: “I remember seeing the evolution of Pau and saying ‘?what is this?’. From the beginning of the season, he almost didn’t play because Rony Seikaly was there and suddenly he thought ‘?what is this, what is this?’. First of all, he is a very young boy who is obvious, who is seen to have a lot of potential and who is physically made to play basketball. One match, okay. But two, three, four… host, which dominates the competition. It impacts you a lot.”

JUAN CARLOS NAVARRO: “Once he played in the first team… the Seikaly thing happened and he took the opportunity at the first moment. Then the Copa del Rey… there you could already see that he was gaining confidence every day, he was already more mature. So he didn’t surprise us.”

SERGIO SCARIOLO is the Spain coach and one of the best coaches in the history of FIBA ​​basketball: “The final of the Málaga Cup… almost alone turned the game around and gave Barça victory. And in the League final, also against Madrid, he already demonstrated the conditions of a top player at a European level ”.

AMAYA VALDEMORO is surely the best player in the history of Spanish basketball. She was a three-time WNBA champion (1998-2000) with the Houston Comets.: “The impact of Pau that season was such that we all knew what was going to happen. I was sorry, after the barbarity we saw in that Copa del Rey. At that time, there were still players who waited a bit before leaving.

The beginning of the legend of the Júniors de Oro

If you continue retracing the path that ended with Pau Gasol’s shirt retired by the Lakers, you will always, inevitably, arrive at Lisbon 1999, the U-19 World Cup in which the legend of the Júnior de Oro was born, the generation that forever transformed Spanish basketball: Pau, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes, José Manuel Calderón, Raúl López… That team, coached by Charly Sáinz de Aja, who won the gold medal after defeating the Almighty United States (94-87). A historic milestone for a group of players who had achieved continental gold a year earlier, at the Junior European Championship in Varna. AND that he would hang twelve medals with the Absolute between 2001 and 2017 (The 2019 World Cup was the first championship in almost two decades without any of its members). The generation that broke down impossible walls until then: the gold from Japan, the two Olympic silvers (2008, 2012) after fighting one on one against that redeem team of the United States, which is already a legend, the victory against France and its 27,000 fans in the Lille cauldron in 2015…

JOSÉ MANUEL CALDERÓN played in the NBA between 2005 and 2019 and was a teammate of Pau Gasol in the Spanish National Team: “My first memory of Pau is the first concentration in the lower categories of the National Team, it must have been around 1995 or 1996. He arrived for the first time and we were all surprised by his height, by how thin he was… and because in those first years that he came with us, in basketball you could see the future, but not the present. Our conversations were of children of that time. What they put on TV, series, other sports, what each one of us was doing in our championships… Pau sang a lot, he has a good voice. We would ask him to sing, and I remember he sang ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ a lot. Our heads were not yet in the NBA, of course.

Sergio Scariolo: “I had just arrived at Real Madrid and had lived as a spectator and admirer the adventure of this group of boys who had something special and who played that junior final against the United States in Portugal. Pau didn’t have much prominence but it was my first contact with the existence of this boy, who still had a lot to grow and improve, especially on a physical level, but was obviously already pointing out important ways”.

CHUS BUENO, now general manager of Legends in Spain and Portugal, worked for the FEB and was Vice President of Business for the NBA for Europe, the Middle East and Africa: “When I was in the Federation, we saw that it was a very good generation but we could not imagine that it would be so, so good. But then the 1998 European Championship, when they won the Junior World Cup defeating the United States, and the way they did it… I remember watching that game and saying ‘what an outrage, what an ability to compete’. You think we have a future but you leave it there, ‘we have a future’. The Sydney Games arrive and a key moment, the 2001 European Championship. When we were in Turkey with Pau, Navarro and Raúl we saw that as young as they were, they were already dominating European basketball. That’s when we realized that things were going to change a lot. For me they had a huge impact even in my professional life. When I was with them at the rallies, I would sneak into the rooms when they were playing pocha… you would listen to how they talked and think, forgive me the expression, ‘these bastards are going to break the mould’. His ambition knew no limits. You were with them at the 2008 Games and they made jokes about who was going to defend LeBron James… I always told myself that I wish I could keep a little bit of that DNA, suck from there to be more competitive in life, no afraid of breaking the mold. I think that is what that generation contributed the most to us, in the hands of Pau and Juan Carlos Navarro, but above all of Pau. They came to break the mold and have had a great impact on society”.

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