Pau Gasol reflective on past three All-Star appearances
Instead of attending the extravagant parties that make up All-Star weekend, Pau Gasol tossed and turned in his bed. Instead of dining out, he ordered room service. And instead of attending practice, Gasol remained in his room wondering if he could overcome his flu.
This was not how Pau Gasol envisioned his first All-Star appearance. In 2006 with the Memphis Grizzlies, he was selected among one of the Western Conference reserves and saw it as a next step in progression after capturing the 2001 NBA Rookie of the Year award. While some view the NBA All-Star game as a chance to finally let down their guard in what Jerry West recently called a "playground game," mingle with the league's elite and cash in on sponsored appearances, Gasol viewed his first appearance as a chance to prove he belonged. He managed to attend a Jam Session, fulfilling a sponsor responsibility before he got sick, which left him wondering up until tip time if he'd actually appear in the game.
"I wanted to play no matter what," Gasol said. "I played 13 or 14 minutes and got 12 boards or something. I didn't score one point but I had a good time."
The fact that Gasol nearly nailed down his stats (zero points and 12 rebounds in 14 minutes) showed how much the West's 122-120 loss to the East meant to him in Houston, Texas. That's no different Sunday at Staples Center when Gasol will make his fourth All-Star appearance and this time he won't have to worry about health. Instead, he can look forward to other things: the international presence of Gasol (Spain), San Antonio's Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) shows the growing influence basketball has on the international stage, Gasol playing in front of a hometown crowd and alongside teammate Kobe Bryant.
The obvious thread between his first appearance in 2006 and the three consecutive All-Star stints from 2009-2001 point to the Lakers' acquiring him from Memphis in Feb. 2008 for Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Marc Gasol, whom the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. Since that time, the Lakers have gone to three consecutive NBA Finals and have won back-to-back championships. But there's also another common thread where each of Gasol's All-Star appearances follow up on something that was missing before.
Take his simple revelation that he's most looking forward to playing with Bryant, whose insistence that he be more aggressive partly contributed to Gasol having his best statistical month of the season, averaging 21.6 points on 59.3% shooting so far in February. He didn't enjoy the same luxury last year since Bryant missed the All-Star game because of a sprained left ankle. He still provided 13 points and six rebounds in his usual unassuming yet efficient manner. Yet, he couldn't help but feel sorry for Bryant because he didn't have the chance to put up a game-winning shot in the West's 141-139 loss to the East.
Gasol held similar regrets for not being able to fully enjoy his first All-Star appearance while nursing the flu. "I told myself that I had to give myself another chance to actually enjoy being an All-Star," he said. Ironically, Gasol nearly experienced health issue prior to the 2009 game. He came down with the flu again in the Lakers' 113-109 loss Feb. 11, 2009 to Utah, but he felt healthy enough to film a cameo appearance in the show "Numb3rs" the next day and play at full strength. In the West's 146-119 win over East in Phoenix, Gasol tallied 14 points on five of seven shooting and eight rebounds in 17 minutes.
"The second one was a lot better," said Gasol, which featured him playing alongside Bryant and playing under Coach Phil Jackson. "I was able to get out and eat outside the room and the events and the actiivites and fully enjoy the whole weekend."
But there's still some unfinished business. The focus of that game rightfully centered on Bryant and Shaq winning the co-MVP award together, with Bryant scoring 27 points and Shaq adding 17, the two hugging each other and the images serving as a symbolic end to a feud that ended three years earlier. Now it will be Gasol's chance to replicate his on-court chemistry with Bryant on the Lakers to the Western Conference All-Stars.
Said Gasol: "I hope [Gregg Popovich] can put us out there and let us do our thing."
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