The Center of the Court

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of MemphiSport.

Since being drafted with the 48th overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2007 NBA Draft, Marc Gasol has been on ascent to becoming one of the best and well-rounded centers in the league.

When his older brother Pau was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001, Marc and his family moved to the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Tenn. Marc would play prep basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School, earning Division II “Mr. Basketball” honors after a senior season in which he averaged 26 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.

After graduating high school, Gasol chose to return to his native Spain, where he spent four seasons with FC Barcelona (2004–2006) and Akasvayu Girona (2006–2008) before being drafted into the NBA.

On February 1, 2008, his draft rights were traded to Memphis by the Lakers as part of a trade package that sent Marc’s older brother Pau to Los Angeles. It was the only deal in the history of the NBA that featured two brothers being dealt by opposing teams.

The deal was widely scrutinized as being a scenario in which Memphis was giving up Pau Gasol, an all-star, for virtually nothing in return. Despite the criticism, Marc would sign a contract with the Grizzlies on June 23, 2008.

The younger Gasol defied critics and produced immediately in the NBA, averaging 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 53 percent from the floor—a franchise record. He upped his numbers the following season, averaging just under 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Since then, he has continued to outgrow Pau’s shadow and forge a unique identity for himself both on and off the court. While Marc very much loves and respects his brother, he’s the first to tell you that their games are not similar and that he doesn’t have much of a desire to play alongside his brother.

Throughout his maturation process and the improvement of his game, Gasol has built a passionate following in Memphis. When his brother was traded away just four years ago, many thought it may the downfall of the Grizzlies. Instead, Memphis has thrived.

In Marc’s first year in Memphis, the Grizzlies turned in a 24-58 record. The next season showed marked improvement with a record of 40-42, but the team still missed the playoffs and the city of Memphis remained largely uninterested and unimpressed.

However, the Grizzlies brought in Zach Randolph from free agency prior to the beginning of the 2010-11 season, and everything changed. After adding Randolph to the mix, Gasol’s number fell slightly during the 2010-11 regular season, but he turned it up to an all-star level in the playoffs. The Spaniard averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the postseason as the Grizzlies won their first ever playoff series.

Picking up where he left off last year in the playoffs, Gasol has averaged a regular season career-best of 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game so far this season—numbers that earned him an All-Star nod. Through all of it, Marc is emerging as his own unique personality.

MemphiSport How do you expect the return of Zach Randolph to impact your game?

GASOL He’s going to help us. We’re going to have to be a little patient. Like I said before, it’s going to be an adjustment for everyone—for him and for the team. We’re going to try to get him acclimated and try to do it as smoothly as possible.

MemphiSport What are you trying to work to improve for the rest of the season?

GASOL We just have to be better. We can be better at a lot of things. We just have to improve. We are okay now, but I still think we have a lot of room to improve. So, it’s going to take a little time and a lot of work, but I think we can make it.

MemphiSport Do you feel as though you get more respect now that you are an All-Star?

GASOL I don’t look at it that way. The only respect I care about is the respect of my teammates and coaching staff. And then respect from the city. But, that’s the only thing I really care about.

MemphiSport Since you have deep Memphis roots, do you see yourself as a tour guide of sorts for the team?

GASOL Oh yea. We were talking about that earlier actually because we are going to practice at Rhodes College and the guys were asking me where that is and everything. It’s unique and nice to be from here and to have grown up here. It’s very nice actually.

MemphiSport Do your parents still live in Memphis?

GASOL No, they actually just moved back (to Spain). But, they were here for 10-and-a-half years.

MemphiSport Is Memphis home to you or is Spain still where you say you’re from?

GASOL It’s just different places, you know what I mean? I’ve been (in Memphis) now for six years of my life. I’ve been in Spain for the rest—for 21 years. But, I consider Memphis one of my homes for sure. I grew up here and spent a lot of time in this town. I became who I am here, too.

MemphiSport What’s different now that you’re back in Memphis compared to during high school?

GASOL Well, it’s a big difference. When I came for the first time, I barely spoke English. I didn’t know anything. I was a young kid. I didn’t have any plans or know what I was going to be in life. I was just a young kid doing young kid kinds of things.

MemphiSport When did you first realize you might have a chance to be in the NBA?

GASOL  It was probably in my last season in Spain before I came over (to the United States). My team was going bankrupt, so I was actually going to have to go to another team. And, then the Grizzlies got my rights in the trade with the Lakers for Pau (Gasol). So, it was a good opportunity to go back to a place that I was really familiar with and a franchise that my family was attached to. It was a good chance for me to start a career in the NBA.

MemphiSport Was it an odd family dynamic knowing you were, in a sense, replacing your brother in Memphis?

GASOL Definitely not. I always said that I would love to play for Memphis if Pau wasn’t here. So, that was kind of a neat thing to happen. I was happy.

MemphiSport What’s your favorite thing about Memphis?

GASOL The small stuff. There are places here downtown that I love. There is so much soul here—so much history. You may overlook things sometimes because you don’t even know. But, once you sit down with people and Memphians and you listen to stories about who has been there, you have a respect for it. Just that and the history and music—I just love it.

MemphiSport Would you say the Grizzlies team work ethic is an embodiment of the city’s spirit?

GASOL Yeah. A blue collar city and a blue collar team. We believe that. You know, especially with the times we are going through right now. Last season, it was a unique moment for us to peak at that time in the playoffs at the same time as there was so much trouble in the city. It was neat. It’s not just that, though. You look at stuff like St. Jude—there are so many things that happen here in Memphis that people don’t realize you can be a part of.

MemphiSport How often do you still talk to your brother?

GASOL Pretty often. Not every day but pretty often.

MemphiSport Do you talk about basketball with Pau?

GASOL Not at all. The closest thing to basketball that we talk about is just asking ‘How is your body’ and that type of thing.

MemphiSport What’s been your favorite memory so far in the NBA?

GASOL Last year in the playoffs for sure. It was special.

MemphiSport What was your favorite thing during the All-Star weekend?

GASOL I couldn’t pick one. So many things went on that I couldn’t really pick one.


Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport.  Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

-Photos by Justin Ford

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