“No way you can imagine (this kind of career),” acknowledged Gasol, the native of Barcelona. “There was one Spanish player who played in the NBA before me, and he played briefly, Fernando Martin (24 games in 1986-87 for Portland). So it was something very hard to picture. I think it was unreachable, pretty much, at the time. But I had the opportunity; some of the scouts trusted my ability. I was drafted number three (in 2001), which rushed my decision to come. I was going to wait another year, but here we are.
The story in some respects Sunday at the first NBA All-Star game played outside the United States is the story of the international sports icon, NBA champion and perennial All-Star who probably is playing in his last NBA All-Star game. Yes, Kobe Bryant, also. ”Just proud, proud and humbled by everything I’ve been able to accomplish,” Bulls center Pau Gasol said as he prepared for his sixth All-Star game. “I’m still playing at a very, very high level and recognized for it. I could never have dreamed of a career like this. But the fact is it’s been an incredible journey and I intend to prolong it for a few more years and I am definitely proud.
“It’s special,” Gasol said of playing in Sunday’s game. “One of the reasons I was excited to make it in the first place. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be present and witness that moment because Kobe is a special guy and special player and had a tremendous career and we have a unique friendship and relationship. “It’s really nice to be here and be part of the All-Star game with Kobe and the relationship we’ve developed over the years,” Gasol added. “One of my biggest disappointments of not being selected by the coaches directly was I wasn’t going to be here for that, and now that I am, I am happy to be part of this moment.”
Q: Do you look back and think about the impact you might have had from that dunk contest and what it meant not only for Canada basketball but in terms of where it stands in NBA history now? VC: No, not then. Now I do. I say I didn’t because I wasn’t established myself. I was so caught up in wanting to show everybody what I can do. And I knew who I was representing. But I knew that would take care of itself if I did my job and do what I want to do. I mean, I was fulfilling a dream. I always wanted to be in the dunk contest, and I wanted to show the world, this is what I can do. People had an idea but they didn’t really know. And I had to show them.