I haven’t spent a ton of time around Pau Gasol. A few practices between playoff games in Thunder-Laker series in 2010 and 2012.
But in some ways, I feel like I know Gasol about as well as I know some of the long-time Thunders. That’s because of the Laker culture, which doesn’t really try to muzzle players and really doesn’t worry about what any of them say. I’m not saying that’s good and I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s what is.
Spend five minutes interviewing Gasol, even in a pack of reporters, and you’ll get more insight than you will covering the Thunder daily for a month. The Boomers are conditioned to say virtually nothing. Gasol and his old band of Lakers — Kobe, Metta World Chaos, Derek Fisher — had all kinds of interesting things to say.
And those precious few minutes with Gasol are what led me to believe that the Thunder’s recruitment of Gasol always was a longshot. Not because the Thunder isn’t a legitimate NBA title contender. Not because the limited salary space available for the Thunder would scare off Gasol.
But spend any time at all with Gasol, and it was clear he preferred cosmopolitan cities. Born and raised in Barcelona. Became an NBA icon in Los Angeles. Yes, Gasol spent 61/2 seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies. But there was little doubt that Gasol reveled playing in Los Angeles.
Gasol’s demeanor, his world view, was tailored for a Metropolis. Not a hardscrabble city like Memphis. Not a frontier city like OKC. A New York, a Chicago, an LA. That’s why it was no surprise when Gasol chose to sign with the Bulls.
When word leaked that the Thunder brass was lobbying Gasol, including talk that OKC was a place he would enjoy living, I knew it was a lost cause. Remember the old saying about shopping in exclusive stores? If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it? Well, if you have to convince Gasol that your city meets his standards, you’ve lost the cause already.
It was a good effort. It was a worthy endeavor. But the truth is, the Thunder had little hope of signing Gasol. Most NBA players don’t discriminate much on geography. They like warm weather, and beaches are nice, and the bright lights of New York and LA have an advantage. But culture and cosmopolitan status affect few. Pau Gasol is one of the few.