The two-time NBA champ steps into the “Boardroom Spotlight” to discuss his impact on pro basketball ahead of his new documentary series on Amazon Prime Video.
Over an incredible 18-year career that should land him in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Pau Gasol won two NBA championships, made four All-NBA appearances and six All-Star teams, was Rookie of the Year in 2001-02, and was a key member of the Spanish national team’s rise to the medal stand. The 41-year-old made one final appearance with Spain at the Tokyo Olympics over the summer before officially retiring from the game.
In Pau Gasol: It’s About the Journey, a four-episode documentary series premiering on Prime Video on Friday from Prime and RTG Features, the seven-foot-tall icon chronicles his final months as a pro player and how an elite athlete says goodbye to the game he loves.
In an interview with Boardroom, Gasol discussed his playing career, his relationship with the late Kobe Bryant, and how he views his impact on the sport.
Pau Gasol played for some incredible, memorable teams over the years. He was on two title-winners with the Los Angeles Lakers, played on the Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose-led Bulls, and joined the Spurs in the final days of the Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili era. It wasn’t exactly easy for him to choose a favorite team.
“It would be unfair to many other teams that I’ve been on and I loved being a part of. It’s almost like the question of what is your favorite championship or accomplishment in your career,” Gasol told Boardroom. “I think every team that I’ve been a part of has contributed in helping me be the player and person that I am. Obviously, you remember the teams that you win with the most, the championship teams, because of what you go through, the grind, the work, the process, the journey, and the outcome. But I don’t know if there’s a team per se that I would put over all the other ones.”
And if Gasol does remember the teams he wins with the most, there’s probably no player he’ll remember more than Bryant.
It was the friendship and relationship the two shared both on and off the court that Gasol holds so dearly. The lunches and dinners. The one-on-one conversations outside of basketball. It was the ability to get to know Kobe and connect with him on a higher intellectual and personal level that Gasol enjoyed and valued so much.
“Obviously I appreciated and I respected and I admired so much the work ethic, the dedication, the preparation into him being one of the best players of all time, and probably the best player during a long period of time in the NBA,” Gasol said.
The Black Mamba was a reference, inspiration, and role model for so many current NBA players, Gasol said, creating an era within the NBA and cementing a legacy that will live on despite his tragic and untimely death.
“Besides the professional and basketball stuff,” Gasol said, “I’ve always appreciated the personal relationship, the family relationship that now has translated into Vanessa and the girls being very, very close to me and my family.”
Family is something Gasol will of course get to focus on more now that his playing career has come to a close. But when asked via Zoom how he impacted the game during his career, he couldn’t help but talk in the present tense, rather than past: He tries to be himself and tries to be impactful on and off the floor.
“I try to be a good teammate. I try to make my teammates better,” Gasol said. “I think that’s what makes a player go from good to great.”
Gasol was a pioneering influence in basketball as just the second Spanish-born player to ever reach the NBA. Today, there are six current Spanish-born players and close to 20 all-time. His role is one that he does not take lightly. He said he tries to use his success on the court to help others, especially children, whether with local hospitals, with UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador for 18 years, or with his foundation that aims to fight the childhood obesity epidemic.
“You know you want to feel like you’re opening doors for others, like you’re paving the way for the next generation, whether it’s in a profession, a career and with your life,” Gasol said. “And that’s kind of what I try to do in basketball and outside of it, and will continue to do the rest of my life for as long as I live.”
How Gasol transitions to the rest of his life is a major focus of the series, and how the film portrays values and principles that are applicable to life beyond sports.
“Basketball has just been my professional career for a time. It doesn’t define me as a person,” he said. “I’ve just been so lucky that I played a sport that is highly recognized and highly rewarded. And that just provided me with more opportunities to reach more people. And then you move on, which is what I’m doing, right? So hopefully a lot of people will take something they can use and apply in their lives.”