Marc Gasol: The NBA's most underappreciated star of the past decade

Let’s peer into a parallel universe. One in which a kid named Marc from Barcelona was actually Mark from Boston. Where Gasol was on the back of a Warriors jersey and not secreted away in Memphis.

Where a goliath with multiple Olympic, World Cup and EuroBasket medals to his name was feted for being among the best bigs of his generation and not – even in the Internet-makes-even-small-markets-large – too often under-appreciated.

Maybe it’s the second brother syndrome but Marc Gasol Saez has never garnered the same magnitude of love as Pau, even at an age of 32 embarking on a new NBA season that will round him up to an even ten years in the league.

Your loss. No matter.

Keep on Pushing

He does not factor external hype into the personal pride that has driven him from a second round summons in the Draft, onward via a trade against his sibling, to someone for whom a mere three NBA All Star is numerical nonsense.

“Obviously you can appreciate what you’ve accomplished,” he tells GiveMeSport. “But you always want more as a player. You always strive for more. You can have that satisfaction.

“But not complacency. I don’t want to be the best centre. I want to be the best player. You always chase more. You want to dominate more and have a bigger impact.”

Coaches and peers recognise and respect his high basketball IQ and his dynamism, enough that he has a Defensive Player of the Year away plus an All-NBA First Team garland from 2015.

It’s the versatility that kills, the scouts often warn, a little bit of everything adding up to a lot.

“You try to do whatever the coach demands – obviously within my limits,” he acknowledges. “If he wants me to be a more traditional five, post-up, inside, roll, be a roller. If he wants me to be a shoulder roller, I can do that. If he wants me to play all the way to the three-point line, then I can also manage that.

“It’s making yourself valuable so you can be on court as much as possible.”

Veteran Presence

Coming off a campaign that brought career-highs by significant leaps in points (19.5) and assists (4.6), it suggests his stock has never been greater.

Useful as Memphis prepare to head down a fresh track with the summer departures of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen that robbed the Grizzlies of their greatest sources of grind.

Two pillars remain in Gasol and Mike Conley. On their shoulders rest so much. “That’s definitely a first,” the Spaniard proclaims. “But we have to make the most out of it. The roles change and grow as years go on.”

The constant, of course, is that he will have to battle the best of the biggest each night if they are to stay above water amid the torrents of the West.

It is no coincidence that the bulk of NBA title contenders lie in the Conference but so do the premier centres – or forwards masquerading in the middle.

Gasol’s list of toughest foes reads like the Who’s Who of power and potency.

“Offensively, DeMarcus (Cousins) has a lot of tools. Other guys like Hassan (Whiteside) can be a problem. DeAndre (Jordan) can be a problem. Jusuf Nurkic I think is really good. (Nikola) Jokic can be really good.

“Karl-Anthony Towns has a lot of tools offensively and I think we’ll see him play more at the five this year. Pau can been a really tough guy to guard when he comes in the middle and then also stretches out to the three-point line.”

Different strokes are needed for different folks, he adds.

“It depends the system teams bring. If they’re trying to be more physical with you. Or have guys who go around you. So you have to attack on both ends and takes something away on the offensive end while putting pressure on the other end.”

It speaks volumes that so many on his radar have followed the Gasol brothers across the Pond.

That Europe is a rich mine of talent will also leave a gaping hole when the FIBA World Cup qualifiers tip off in November.

It will be a strange sight not to see either Gasol line up for La Roja and it is an absence which the younger hugely regrets.

The shift of many international games into mid-season windows has put up a giant block for NBA players turning out for their countries, the United States included, outside of sporadic summer action.

That philosophical change, the veteran of the 2016 world championship-winning crew claims, runs contrary to national sides acting as a shop window for the sport, whether in Spain and elsewhere.

“It’s hard. Because what I don’t want is the fan base to lose the momentum. We don’t have that many basketball fans. We’ve grown, sure, but we don’t want to put a hit on it by confusing the fans with ‘who’s going to play when?’ That sends the wrong message to the kids.

“And for me, that’s the most important part: motivating and inspiring the young ones.”

Instead it’s confusing, he says. “By having different teams. Why is this guy playing here but not there? Because of some conflict at the very top.

“I think we all need to sit down and make it work for everybody and have the best teams possible out there because it’s good for the sport.”

Hard talking is required, he suggests, rather than photo opportunities or posturing.

Catalan Independence

Ditto, Gasol declares, in the other battle for control presently weighing on his mind: the political tussle being fought between Madrid and Barcelona over the future of his native Catalunya which might yet lead to its separation from Spain.

Talk of independence is a delicate topic, fraught with perils, as the UK learnt during Scotland’s referendum campaign.

Gasol, celebrated in all corners of his homeland, concedes he must choose his words carefully.

“Because it can be used either way,” he says. “But what is needed is dialogue. That’s the only way things get accomplished. And to have a real dialogue, everybody has to go into the table and listen and talk.

“As a sportsman, as a public figure, we don’t have the magic recipe. That’s not our job. It’s like me telling a doctor how to conduct surgery. I can ask him to fix it but I can’t tell him how. So we need the leaders of all the political parties to sit down – but last under the umbrella of respect.

“We need to do a better job, especially for the next generation. We have to set an example.”

Because there is no parallel universe, just one in which we need to strive to better and communicate to the full.

“Just like in basketball,” Gasol affirms, “that’s something we tend to forget.”

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