Pau Gasol and his pursuit of gold

Published July 24, 2021, 1:20 PMJon Carlos Rodriguez

Spanish legend Pau Gasol continues his quest for gold as he makes his fifth appearance in the Olympics.

There’s something calming about watching Pau Gasol play basketball.

The way he spins gracefully, his curly locks bouncing along to the beat of his footwork. The way he painstakingly sets up his jumper so that it aligns perfectly above his head.

There’s a certain relaxation to his moves—whether he’s gently hoisting a hook shot or perfectly timing a block—as if basketball to him is as easy and as natural as walking.

This is not to say that there’s a softness to Pau’s game. Watch closely and it’s quite the opposite. He is intense. With every fist pump and all-out scream, Pau Gasol is as powerful a presence on the court as your favorite loud player. He’s a perfect basketball player but not quite.

Pau bangs bodies in the paint with the strongest of them, and it would most often get him off-balanced, his limbs flailing wildly, his hair flailing wilder. But it’s never violent nor chaotic. Still, there’s a soothing sense.

I can’t explain it. All I know is that when I watch him play, everything feels right.

Then you put him in an España jersey and all the things he does great are enhanced. His fist pumps are thrice more intense. His screams? Times five in decibel.

The calmness of the Pau Gasol experience is also significantly magnified. He’s gradually turned into a steady figure on the court you don’t want to miss.

He’s been playing in the Olympics and representing Spain since 2004. Keldon Johnson, a late addition to Team USA, was only five years old then.

Pau’s got two silver medals from 2008 and 2012 and a bronze from 2016. All those times, Pau played at a level only a few occupied. He always gave Spain a fighting chance, but always ended up short in his pursuit of gold. Always inches away from perfection.

Pau is now in his forties. Bounced around a couple of NBA teams. A decade removed from his glory days in LA. He was last seen in a Milwaukee Bucks jersey, trying his best to expand his game as a corner spot-up 3 guy like Bobby Portis. It didn’t happen.

Then, out of nowhere, or perhaps inevitably, Pau returned home and grabbed a championship for FC Barcelona in the Liga ACB. It was his third Liga ACB and highly likely his last.But before Pau fades away from the basketball scene and lives his best life as Pau Gasol the father, husband, and basketball legend, there’s one more thing to check off the list: a fifth Olympic appearance.

With Spain ranked third overall in the world, there is a big chance for Pau to finally get that elusive gold. It couldn’t have come at a better time. He’s 41 with nothing to prove.

In the tuneup games leading up to Tokyo, the classic spin and hook, the familiar fist pumps, and the oddly satisfying presence of Pau Gasol on a basketball court were all there.

Maybe it’s just that. Maybe it’s not about his relentless pursuit of gold medals and championships that make him such a wonder to watch. Maybe it’s simply the pure bliss of playing basketball his way—intense, sure, and almost perfect.


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