The list of legends who have played for the Los Angeles Lakers just goes on and on...and on and on. But that doesn't stop it from growing as new players earn their way into the pantheon.
Pau Gasol has done exactly that, even if he isn't a lock for the Hall of Fame and has only spent a little over five seasons with the organization. The Spanish seven-footer has emerged as one of the greats in the illustrious franchise's history for so many reasons, after all.
His play on the court is terrific, but Gasol has also emerged as one of the game's leading humanitarians. On the heels of his efforts to help out the Philippines (more on that later), it's become abundantly clear—again—that he deserves entry into that aforementioned pantheon.
Let's break down the many reasons.
For an organization like the Lakers, titles are still the ultimate goal.
Winning seasons are nice, especially if they come at the expense of the other teams in the Pacific Division. It's thrilling to advance a few rounds into the playoffs, sometimes more definitively than in other years. But those accomplishments pale in comparison to the allure of being the last team standing and getting to hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of a season.
Throughout NBA history, the Lakers have been in a class of two when it comes to championships.
The Boston Celtics have racked up 17 titles, led by the dominant forces that were Bill Russell and Larry Bird, and that's one more than Los Angeles has earned.
That said, 16 is still far more than any other team in the league, as the Chicago Bulls are No. 3 on the list, checking in at six championships, all of which were earned by Michael Jordan and Co. Beyond that, only the San Antonio Spurs have more than three.
It can't be discounted that Gasol has been such a big part of Lakers history.
He was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Lake Show during the middle of the 2007-08 campaign, and it only took him a year before helping the team to a title.
Nope. Gasol and the Lakers were back-to-back champions in 2009 and 2010, and it's not like he was just along for the ride. During the two playoff runs, the Spaniard averaged 18.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 steals and 2.0 blocks while shooting 55.8 percent from the field.
If it wasn't for the sheer dominance of Kobe Bryant, we may be talking about a big man with two Finals MVPs to his name as well.
The On-Court Prowess
We also can't overlook just how good Gasol has been since joining the Lakers.
Including this season, he's averaged 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 78.5 percent at the charity stripe. According to Basketball-Reference, he has a PER of 21.5 since throwing on a purple and gold uniform.
Not too shabby, huh?
But it's about more than the numbers for Pau. It always has been.
Due to his versatility, he's been able to adapt to any spot in the lineup and any role he's asked to play by all of the different coaches that have roamed the sidelines of the Staples Center. He's consistently switched between power forward and center with nary a complaint (well, maybe one or two subtle ones), and he can capably function as a low-post scorer on the blocks or step out to the elbow and become a facilitating hub for the offense.
Gasol stretches the court with his jumper, but he also shrinks it when he starts going to work with his back to the basket. It's a major part of the reason he's been named to three All-Star teams during his five full seasons in L.A.
In the history of the Lakers franchise—a history littered with Hall of Famers and All-Stars—only six players have ever averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists for an entire season:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, six times
- Elgin Baylor, 11 times
- Wilt Chamberlain, three times
- George Mikan, twice
- Shaquille O'Neal, four times
- Pau Gasol, three times
How's that for a nice list to be on? It's hard to argue with that company, as the other five players are unquestioned Hall of Famers (you're crazy if you don't think Shaq will get in on the first ballot as soon as he's eligible).
Even though Gasol was never the alpha male for the Lakers, he didn't need to be. His versatility and consistent production still leaves him as one of the all-time greats at his position, and it's taken him only a handful of seasons to leave his mark on this historic organization.
But with Gasol, a legacy can't be confined to one's actions on the court.
This is what helps Pau stand apart. It differentiates him from the crowd of players who have managed to make an on-court impact without fully accepting their potential role in the community.
Professional athletes have the ability to make a monumental impact if they so choose. They have the profile to deliver messages, the money to make things happen and the fanbase to create a shining example.
Gasol realized this. And he acted.
Apologies in advance for the length of this quote from UNICEF's official website, but it's the only way to accurately represent just how much work the big man has done with the organization throughout his career:
Iraq is the fifth country Pau Gasol has visited as an ambassador for UNICEF. The first trip was in 2005 to South Africa where he visited an HIV and AIDS project. A similar visit to Angola followed in 2007.
His third trip was in 2010 to Ethiopia, where he decided to become personally involved with the Pau Project through Schools for Africa, an initiative of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, UNICEF and Peter Kramer Foundation for children's schooling.
Pau Project has been reflected in a documentary produced by laSexta and since its inception has, among other achievements, helped 12,000 children return to school and 160 teachers and 15,000 parents trained. Apart from its direct link with Ethiopia, Pau Project has driven campaigns and initiatives for child survival and development, particularly in support of UNICEF's nutrition and health programs for the prevention of malnutrition and action in humanitarian crises as the Horn of Africa (2011) and the Sahel (2012).
Pau Gasol collaborates with UNICEF both in Spain and in the United States where he lives.
Doesn't your heart just grow a couple sizes when you read that? This is a man who lets his actions speak as loud as his words, and he's at it again during the 2013-14 NBA season.
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the tropical storm that has thrown parts of the Philippines into disarray, Gasol has promised to donate $1,000 for every point he scores Nov. 22 against the Golden State Warriors. He reveals his full plan on Crowdrise.com, asking for others to make donations of varying amounts (h/t Andy Bailey).
Gasol's generosity has a way of spurring others on too, as seen by former coach Phil Jackson's joining his challenge:
Here's hoping Gasol not only scores at least 30 points for the 45th time in his career but somehow also manages to set a career-high mark by dropping 45 big ones on the Dubs. Regardless of the donation amount, it's still the thought and willingness to pledge that counts.
Beyond the community service and charity work, Gasol has established himself as a lifelong Laker, even if this is only his sixth full season in Tinseltown.
He's done so by becoming close with Kobe Bryant, maintaining a constant air of professionalism and never publicly complaining when he's been thrust into trade rumors or been made into a scapegoat for the failures of the Purple and Gold.
ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne recently wrote about Gasol's new book, Life/Vida, revealing a few choice quotes to the public, as it won't be officially released until Nov. 26:
Bryant writes [about Gasol]...'if his 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.' That 'we would both face adversity in our professions, so we would talk about our lives and our careers and the pressures of our celebrity' and that 'our bond would be fortified by a trust only brothers share.'
How's that for a set of choice quotes from the Mamba? It's hard to imagine Bryant, who was asked to write a foreword for the book, speaking such praiseworthy words about any other teammate he's played with.
Shelburne also relays a quote from Gasol himself:
What is an injury? What's a trade rumor or a potential change of teams? What's it like to play for a coach who doesn't believe in me or trust my abilities 100 percent?
To me those are little bumps in the road. They are part of my profession and position, but they will pass, and the next day is a new day. When I look at the big picture and put things in perspective, I ask myself, 'Are they really that hard? I don't think so.'
Does anything sum up the big man more accurately?
Gasol is the consummate professional, a player who accepts the changes and criticisms that go hand in hand with professional sports without breaking his stride. He plays hard, and, although he's struggled in 2013-14, he typically plays well in the face of adversity.
It's hard to imagine Lakers Nation wanting anything more than it's gotten from this big man if he chooses to leave in free agency at the conclusion of this season. Or if the Lakers choose not to offer him another contract.
Cliche as it may be, Gasol has given it his all.
And in this case, "it" refers to both his job and his ability to serve as an upstanding citizen of the world. If that doesn't help him earn a place in the L.A. basketball pantheon, nothing will.