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Pau Gasol Purges The "F" Word From His Resume

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 15, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers kisses the Larry O'Brien trophy in the locker room after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

No por mucho madrugar amenece mas temprano.

Time must take its course.


For years, its seven letters topped his resume in underlined, bold print. Its indignity shaped his reputation.

He waited and worked for 12 months until, at long last, he could destroy it and toss its shaken remains across an ocean and in the center of Madrid.

FAILURE.

His detractors may continue to dub him a velvety seven-footer in a land of ogres and beasts. Anti-Lakers extremists jealous of the team's 15th title may eschew adjectives like "downy" and "ductile."

After a 14 point, 15 rebound, four block performance in a 99-86 Game Five Finals clincher, Pau Gasol exorcised his own demons and played spine-chilling sidekick to series MVP Kobe Bryant.

These creatures snarled, hooted, snickered and taunted the Spaniard until his scruffy beard and haircut became refuges of last resort.

Can such a tall man hide behind his face?

Success builds character, failure reveals it.

Gasol's pro basketball career was marked by the latter, until now.

The 2008 gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics.

The 2007 Eurobasket championship against Russia.

The 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Three first-round exits with the moribund Memphis Grizzlies.

The 2008 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.

No athlete answered more questions about his mental toughness, mandhood, and courage than Gasol after that 39-point degradation in Boston last year.

With a meager 10-shot average and mediocre, if uninspired defense, observers viewed him as a catalyst for the Lakers humbling six-game exit.

From abasement to amazement, the gifted forward carried the Lakers when Kobe Bryant could not and earned his second All-Star selection and first All-NBA nod.

His morphology was little more than him demanding the ball in more situations and making the most of his touches.

He possessed this talent in Memphis but lacked sufficient support or the assistance of the right system.

Hubie Brown and Lionel Hollins had nothing on Phil Jackson. Mike Miller, a sixth man award winner and terrific shooter in his own right, was no alpha dog.

In Bryant, Gasol found a transcendent superstar who could wear the franchise tag while allowing him to showcase his faculties.

In the Lakers, he found a stumbling franchise in need of a placebo for a several-year championship drought.

He became that cure.

For opponents, his presence in the middle acted as a bubonic plague of spin moves, dunks, and crisp post passes.

Last year, Gasol tasted the air at the top of the mountain but fell hard from its peak. Sunday night, he joined his teammates in sucking it up like a buoyant but haywire vacuum.

His large and assuming role in a dagger of a 13-point victory had left Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard, and Rashard Lewis breathless and scrambling for answers.

"I don't know what to say," was Orlando's post-annihilation theme.

Do Gasol's playoff averages of 18 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists begin to encapsulate his impact, considering that such a talented roster with so many scorers limited his touches?

He was underutilized in the 2008 Finals and in the lowest moments of the Lakers 2009 playoff run. He now kisses the gold ball because he made sure he produced when his teammates did dump him the ball.

He averaged 58 percent shooting through four playoff rounds and a staggering 60 percent in the NBA Finals.

Howard, the defensive player of the year, and the athletic Lewis, tried to check him.

Oh, they tried and tried and tried. But they could get no satisfaction.

One moment in the Lakers run explains Gasol's importance above all other moments.

Then, in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals at Denver's Pepsi Center, Bryant did the unthinkable. He hunched over, gasping for air, and admitted fatigue.

Kobe. Tired. Out of gas. What?

In three of the biggest possessions of the fourth quarter of that 103-97 Lakers win, he pounded the ball to his Spanish teammate, and Gasol responded with a lefty hook, a baseline jumper, and a dunk.

That trio of scores allowed Bryant to rest up and conjure just enough strength and energy to nail the coffin-shutting three-pointer.

Gasol also helped Bryant steal Game Three in the previous series against the Houston Rockets.

Did either challenger have a chance after losing those first contests at home?

When the Lakers needed to break the habit of playing with house money, they looked to Gasol for a sure bet.

At times, Lamar Odom seemed to carry the Lakers on his bad back with his own versatility.

The team might be short three victories, including Game Four of the Finals, without Trevor Ariza's thievery and shooting.

Still, Gasol served as the captain's chief navigator.

Bryant wouldn't be here without him.

For 12 months, many wondered whether Gasol was tough enough to wear a ring.

He didn't need to grit his teeth or snarl like a Doberman, commit flagrant fouls or engage in unsportsmanlike conduct to give those skeptics a powerful answer.

Those who wanted him to be Dennis Rodman will have to settle for the Spanish Scottie Pippen.

He did it the same way he always had. He backed defenders down in the low block and left them defenseless either with a tough move and score or with a bullet pass to an open teammate.

This time, unlike at his former career stops, he didn't have to be numero uno.

As a second option, he flourished and floored the competition.

For years, its seven letters topped his resume. Now, after letting time take its course, a new word with eight letters screams in bold, underlined print.

CHAMPION.

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