Despite Sad End, a Fond Farewell Is Needed for Pau Gasol

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Despite Sad End, a Fond Farewell Is Needed for Pau Gasol
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
If Pau Gasol is truly finished as a Laker, he will be warmly remembered by Lakers fans.

It's a melancholy thought, but Pau Gasol may never suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers again.

If that's the case, the big Spaniard will be sorely missed in L.A.

Truly, it's been a joy to watch Gasol's fluid, cerebral game up close for the past six-and-a-half years. Though he seems to always be taken for granted, Gasol has been one of the handful of premier big men in the league this century.

And one of the most unique too.

At his peak, there was almost nothing that Gasol couldn't do.

He could score from the post, off the dribble or as a face-up jump shooter. He could facilitate from the block or the elbow. He could play pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. He could anchor a defense with his rebounding and rim protection.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
Pau Gasol ranks up there with Tim Duncan as one of the best bigs in the league over the past decade.

Since Gasol came into the league, he is the only player besides Kevin Garnett to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and 1.5 blocks a game for an entire season.

He was an All-Star in each of his first three full campaigns with the Lakers—making the All-NBA Second and Third Teams each of those years as well—and finished second in the league behind only LeBron James in total win shares in 2011.

Gasol's arrival in Los Angeles reinvigorated the franchise mere months after Kobe Bryant's trade demands had brought it to the brink of collapse.

It also propelled the Lakers to three consecutive NBA Finals and back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.

He was the perfect complement to Bryant, an unselfish basketball genius who could absorb Bryant's public whippings in the media without causing any turmoil in the locker room.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Gasol helped friend and teammate Kobe Bryant win championships No. 4 and 5.

Bryant himself recognized and appreciated this remarkable quality in Gasol, writing in the foreword to Gasol's book that "If I could choose my brother," it would be Gasol, and that "if [Gasol's] organization ever let him down, he would hold his head up high" and "would not lash out or let himself become entangled in the drama."

The consummate professional, Gasol has never let constant trade speculation get to him. Not even this season's unmitigated disaster has kept him from giving his utmost effort in competing every night and trying to mentor the team's young players.

Unlike the majority of NBA stars, Gasol has never been one for chest-thumping, mean-mugging, or stank-facing.

That—combined with his thoughtful, intellectual persona—has stuck the "soft" label on him throughout his career. 

But "soft" players don't muscle their way to 18 rebounds (nine on the offensive end alone) in Game 7 of the Finals, as Gasol did in 2010's title-clincher against the Boston Celtics.

There was always a competitive fire smoldering just under the surface that allowed Gasol to perform at such a high level. 

That quiet, humble, reflective side is the reason Gasol is so beloved though.

Fans cheer as Gasol makes what could be his final home appearance at the Staples Center.

In what could have been his final home appearance on Sunday night, Gasol—who was unable to take the court—took time after the game to connect with the fans. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and blew the Lakers faithful a kiss before heading into the locker room.

“I always appreciate the fans,” an emotional Gasol told ESPN's J.A. Adande afterward. “The last couple of years I didn’t know if I was going to be back. This year with even more reason, because now I’m a free agent. It’s just a way of me appreciating everyone and our fans.” 

And the fans reciprocated that appreciation, showering Gasol with cheers as he was shown on the Jumbotron late in the fourth quarter.

It's not the storybook ending he deserves, but fans will always cherish the chapter Gasol authored in Lakers lore.

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