The Gasol brothers reunite in Lakers-Grizzlies matchup
The last five minutes of an exhibition game usually offer nothing more than both teams counting down the clock before the monotony ends. In one case, however, it revealed the nature of Pau Gasol's relationship with his brother, Marc.
For Pau, then with the Memphis Grizzlies, the 2003 preseason game against FC Barcelona in Palau Sant Jordi held some meaning, in that the return to Spain also marked a homecoming of sorts. It also provided the chance for Pau to match up head to head with younger brother Marc. So when Marc entered the game with a little under five minutes remaining, Pau made sure to play physical. He wanted Marc to have a chance to score, but he didn't exactly want to concede a basket.
"I always remember that," Pau said Monday after practice at the Lakers' facility. "I remember that I fouled him in the post so he would shoot the two free throws. I shoved him a little bit, and he got a couple of freebies. It was a clear shove with my forearm. I try to be a good brother."
That's just one example of the nature of the Gasols' on-court relationship, which will be seen again Tuesday night when the Lakers (3-0) host the Memphis Grizzlies (2-1). The Gasols' basketball relationship seems to be based on mutual respect and physical competitiveness. Pau said last season, "I love him to death," but when the two match up, he plays to win. The brothers stay in touch by phone and watch each other's games when they can, but Pau says he avoids sharing basketball advice with Marc. And though Pau said the two don''t engage in trash talking, he took pride in telling a story during training camp about how he beat Marc one on one during the offseason.
"It's always a very competitive game," said Pau, who planned to grab sushi Monday night with Marc somewhere around Pau's Redondo Beach residence, continuing a tradition where the brother in the host city treats the other to dinner. "You always want to do well and do better than your brother."
The matchup also gives Lakers Coach Phil Jackson an excuse to needle Pau.When the Lakers acquired him from Memphis in February 2008, they traded Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Marc, whom the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. Though Pau's arrival with the Lakers helped spur three consecutive Finals appearances, two NBA championships and a consistent post presence to relieve Kobe Bryant's scoring load, Jackson to this day jokingly suggests to Pau the Lakers made a mistake.
"A lot of times we say we traded the wrong guy and tell him that Marc is a tougher, more powerful player than he is," Jackson said. Marc has averaged fewer points in seven NBA games against his brother (11.6) but more rebounds (nine) than his career averages. Marc "doesn't have the shooting touch yet, but his defense, his rebounding is very good. He gets a kick out of playing against Pau. He's actually a little more physical than Pau is. I like to bring it to [Pau's] awareness."
Pau certainly was aware, and he immediately defended himself.
"I don't think he believes that, but obviously he's always picking," said Gasol, who was named Western Conference player of the week for the seventh time in his career thanks to a team-leading 25.3 points on 52.5% shooting and 10.3 rebounds in 38.3 minutes per contest. "He's always trying to have a good time, and we have fun playing around with each other. There's certain things that are a little touchier. Most of the time I just try to ignore [it], because otherwise he would continue, and it's not a battle I'd want to be a part of."
But Pau's defense regarding his brother shows he's sensitive to the comparisons. He became testy last season when a reporter asked if he could envision Marc surpassing him as a player. Now in his third NBA season, Marc has career averages of 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game and garnered NBA all-rookie second-team honors following the 2008-09 season. Pau has averaged 18.8 points and nine rebounds in his 10-year career that's included two NBA championships, three All-Star appearances, remaining the Grizzlies' all-time leader in 12 statistical categories, including points (8,966), rebounds (4,096) and blocks (877) and winning 2001-02 Rookie of the Year.
"I think it's tough," Pau said at the time. "Marc is going to be himself. I don't think his goal has to be better than me. He has to be as best as he can be. I hope he can achieve and accomplish what I accomplished."
Marc has a long ways to go before he reaches that point. But at least, according to Pau, Marc is not just seen as his little brother anymore. The comparisons seemed inevitable when Marc played high school basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis the same year Pau signed as a rookie in 2001 with the Grizzlies; when his arrival in 2004 with FC Barcelona came three years after Pau left the team; and when the two teamed up in the 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2009 FIBA European Championships, the 2006 FIBA World Championship and the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the Spanish national team.
All the reflection after Monday's practice led Pau to say, "I always think how fortunate we are as a family to have two brothers playing the NBA." But once he hits the hardwood Tuesday night, he won't be too sentimental.
"It's not that I hope that he misses, but obviously if it comes to a certain shot or a certain point, I hope he misses it so we win the game," Pau said of Marc. "First things first, I want to win the game no matter what. That's my main priority. Then, hopefully, I play better than him. That's my second priority, and that's it. That's all that I need."
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Photo: Centers Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies chat before the 2009 West All-Star team began practice. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / EPA