Pau Gasol sits down with MARCA on the day it presents its campus, which will be held from July 3 to 9 in Barcelona. The former player reviews the ACB season that ended with Madrid’s victory over Barcelona, the rise of Bàsquet Girona and acknowledges the admiration he feels for his friend Rafael Nadal. He saw him win his fourteenth Roland Garros title live exactly 18 days ago.
Ask. A year ago he was debating whether to continue as a basketball player. He finally decided to hang up his boots. Has he missed his sport and competition a lot?
Response. On the one hand yes and on the other no. I had two years of uncertainty, not knowing if I could play again for even a second. I was able to play again for a few months with Barça and with the national team and finish at the Tokyo Games. I was very clear that my career could have ended two years earlier. I was determined and lucky to be able to finish on track. I ended up very calm and at peace in that moment. But of course there are times when you miss the competition because it is something that I had done for so many years and that gave me so much. You have to know how to convert all that success into things that are equally or more important, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
P. If it had been the circumstance that Bàsquet Girona had risen to the Endesa League before your retirement, would you have thought of playing with your brother Marc?
R. Everything that is with my brother or with my family excites me. We were able to do it for many summers in the national team or me in the stands and him on the track, or both of us in the stands or in a restaurant.
PP You are the vice president of Girona. How did you experience the ascent?
R. With great enthusiasm and emotion. See how a city lives and enjoys with the team, with basketball, with soccer. I think it’s the first time in history that two teams from the same city have been promoted at the same time. It has been a joy to be there and support the team in the way that I have been able and I have been asked and I will continue to do so. The challenge and the opportunity to create a total professional ACB structure and build a sustainable and long-term project to continue exciting the city is presented.
P. Are you going to get involved at a sports level in the reinforcements for the next season in the Endesa League?
R. It depends on what Marc tells me. I’m going to get involved in everything Marc tells me and asks of me and I can help. As long as I can contribute what I can, be it A, B or C, I’ll be there. The project is very transversal because there is a very important basic idea, in which the entire Girona region is contemplated to be involved… And also seek ties with Uni Girona. Let’s see how much more it can grow and where Marc wants to take it.
Q. In Tokyo, a golden cycle ended in the basketball team that won practically everything. How do you see the new national team that will have its first big test in the next European?
R. The team has been renewed. It is a younger generation, with the opportunity to create a different nucleus. But I have the hope and the illusion that the identity and the legacy that we have left the previous generation will be maintained. That spirit of struggle, of competitiveness, of union, of family, of humility, that is maintained. Whatever the result, that always gives you a plus. I hope everything goes very well, now they have to walk, to make their own way.
P. Your last years of career were marked by a foot injury. Rafael Nadal has been suffering from an ailment in the same area for some time and continues to win. How do you assess that he has won his fourteenth Roland Garros at 36 years old?
R. It is extraordinary and it is something that seems superhuman. It is difficult to understand what he has, what he feels, only he knows that. What is evident is that the foot is important and has created pain and creates significant pain. What happens is that with his mental strength, his ability to overcome, he knows how to deal with pain, a heart that does not fit in his chest, because it makes him overcome things that only he can overcome in the world. What he’s doing is incredible and it’s hard to take in. I feel deep admiration and respect, constant support… As a friend, what I have always said is that he can enjoy everything he has achieved so far in the sports field after this stage is over. May he not condition the rest of his life on a physical level and on a level of well-being and quality of life.
P. Does it put you on the list of candidates for the best athlete in history?
R. Definitely. There is no debate on that point. By numbers it is, he has 22 Grand Slams. But, above all, what I like about Rafa is what he has transmitted from the first day until today: normality, humanity, humility. And all with the extraordinary successes of him. He has always remained faithful to his roots, to his family, to the values with which he has grown up. And that is very important as a message for the following generations.
P. Last Sunday, Madrid was proclaimed champion of the domestic competition against Barcelona. You were in the first game. How did you see it?
R. I saw the first match at the Palau and the others I followed on television. Madrid arrived with more strength and cohesion than Barcelona. It is a pity because it is an opportunity that has not been taken advantage of after dominating much of the season. They have not finished well and Madrid showed a greater competitive spirit than Barça in the final stretch. You have to do self-analysis and self-criticism so that next year the result is different.
Q. Many think that there was a turning point in Jasikevicius’ team after losing the Euroleague semifinal to Madrid in Belgrade. Do you agree?
R. It has been seen that after the Final Four the team was affected and there have been things that have happened that have affected and that is shown on the track. I am not one to point fingers at anyone but to talk about things and solve them. Everyone has to do their job to create the atmosphere that is reflected in key moments of the season. I would have liked the result to have been different, but you have to learn from this. Lack of motivation has not been because both the players and the coaching staff want to win. The last two campaigns have been first in the regular phase, but whoever is in the best moment at the end ends up winning. This is what has happened in the NBA where the final was played by the Warriors and the Celtics.