For the Spanish-language ‘site Marca.com, Los Angeles-based sportswriter Jesús Sánchez recently got some quality face time with Pau Gasol – enough to fill three columns’ worth of stories.
The key news for those looking ahead to the summer, a group that certainly includes Lakers fans and those cynical about the possibility of the NBA actually playing in 2011-12, is that Pau hasn’t quite announced that he will indeed play for Team Spain in the Eurobasket 2011 tournament; he is, however, expected to announce an affirmative decision upon returning to Spain sometime in June. Earlier in the week, Gasol met with national team coach Sergio Scariolo on the subject.
Of course, for those currently devoted to the NBA playoffs, just one thing regarding Pau is on the mind, i.e. “What the hell happened against the Dallas Mavericks?” Translated excerpts from Sánchez’ interview, in which Gasol talks muchly about his Lakers and a tad about an NBA lockout (Hint: Barcelona backers may prepare for giddiness now) follow.
Sánchez: Some days have passed since the Lakers’ elimination. Has the wound healed?
Gasol: It was a difficult time for many reasons. … It was disappointing. And very unpleasant outside issues were happening. I suppose that there is disappointment, pain and such, but it makes me keep that in mind ahead of next season.
What made the Lakers vulnerable?
Well, various things, various reasons that we didn’t play at the level required in this key moment of the season – Not so much in the playoffs but in the last seven games of the regular season. [In that stretch] we lost five and barely beat San Antonio and Sacramento. It was clear that things were wrong. Before then we had a very good run of games, but we never returned to that level.
You always said that this team was seasoned, experienced and had the confidence that, at the crucial moment, i.e. the playoffs, the Lakers would respond. Why didn’t you?
…A similar thing happened last year, but we rose and reached our level. This year, we just couldn’t. Everyone thought, “Let’s shift gears, we’ll accelerate, we’ll turn the key and boom.” The whole team was good, better than ever, [but we] lacked unity and cohesion to overcome the bad times: Something that’s necessary for teams like ours. The challenge of winning three consecutive rings is only possible with this quality.
Was this the worst [loss] of your career?
Maybe. … All losses hurt alike, but losing in the finals would have been worse. For me, it would have been worse.
I mean, the team played badly and expectations were high.
Yes, it was a somewhat atypical defeat and it hurts more in this regard. If you win because you played well and better your opponent, it’s otherwise. But this failure is hard to believe…
When the fourth game in Dallas ended and you were walking to the locker room, what were you thinking?
“This is shit. What shit,” I told myself continuously. It was a tough time. I never threw in the towel [during the series], I tried to stay positive, tried to keep communicating with my teammates, to be the rallying point, to say that we would respond, but the response did not come. I tried everything, but nothing worked.
After winning the first ring, you told me that it wasn’t so important, that you hadn’t discovered a cure for cancer after all. Relatively speaking, how disappointing was this loss?
I look at it like this experience is an opportunity to learn, understand and improve. … I’m looking at it from a positive standpoint. It is still difficult, but the more it hurts you, the better you are to fight it and the more you learn. At no time did I look away. I am very aware of what happened. It’s time to face it and live with it.
You have tasted success many times; what is it like to experience failure?
Failure is as much a part of life as defeat and disappointment. It is part of the evolution and maturity of the people. It makes you appreciate success even more. Defeat makes you work to get a better result.
What happened to being Pau Gasol?
[The series] was very atypical for me in many ways. At some point, I found that I could not find that spark, that energy and confidence that characterizes me and [that burden] grew larger in every game.
Did you have a crisis of confidence?
It was not about self-esteem. I collapsed. I was also a bit exhausted. I had no lack of confidence…
Were you distracted?
There were factors off the court that disturbed me and I was a little distracted.
Can you comment?
No. Stories emerged that were all lies, and I was affected. I like to mix the personal and professional, and certain people take advantage of low moments to attack…
[What happened when] Phil Jackson hit you on the chest in the third game of the series?
…I have good relationship with him. All comments and criticisms [from Jackson] I have always taken well.
But he had never done anything like that.
What happened was a rollercoaster of emotions for him. I knew it was his last year, I did not finish well, and he saw that things were out of his hands. Most of us were emotionally not ourselves. It was nothing personal, [no personal conflicts]. We all wanted to win, things were twisted and we were not able to straighten them out.
Did you feel mistreated by the American press?
I told a journalist here that I’m an easy target, I’m educated, I treat people with respect.
Why [did the media react to your play as they did]?
I do not know. I said that’s because I’m too good person and is easy to attack people who treat you well. As I am polite and nice person, I’m an easier target. I wonder what happened because when things went wrong, such as in the [2008 championship series against the Boston Celtics] and this time, the ink was loaded against me. On one hand, I’m flattered. Not that I’m given a lot of praise if things go well, but when it turns a bit sour, it’s Pau, Pau, Pau, Pau, Pau, Pau … While maintaining that I don’t have many problems, when boundaries are crossed that I consider insulting and disgusting, then it bothers me and I feel out of place.
Were the rumors about your girlfriend a reason for the Lakers’ poor performance?
I’m very emotional, and I acknowledge this. My personal life is my own, and I do not argue with anyone. The stories and rumors were used as a reason for my poor performance as a player. I do not accept or digest it well.
You were named to the all-NBA second team, putting you in the top 10 worldwide. Is that comforting?
No, not at all. It is secondary. Individual merits don’t matter if you fail. I am proud because it is historical, but it’s not my goal. My goal is to help my team win and I have not succeeded, I failed. … The truth is I do not know if a player in the history of the Lakers with my win-loss ratio. I wish I knew. But in short, I don’t want to talk. I am disappointed that my game did not help the Lakers win.
Do you think changes are necessary for the Lakers?
The core team has a lot of quality. The results are there. The franchise can make decisions and can replace parts, but I have faith in this template.
How will the Lakers fare without Phil Jackson?
The vacuum [left by Jackson’s departure] is tremendous. He will be missed at points during the season. The new coach will have a lot of responsibility because to fill this huge gap. The players have to help the new coach to achieve the objective, which is to win the ring. Anything other than the Lakers winning the title is failure: This needs to be addressed from the outset. If you do not win, it’s no good.
Tim Duncan, a legend, has assumed a secondary role in the Spurs. Do you see Kobe Bryant being able to do so, to delegate responsibility to you as he did earlier this season when trying to recover?
No. [He’ll] always be leading. Sometimes he’s more aggressive with the ball and sometimes he tries to get others involved more. We lacked the support of our other players.
How was your exit interview with [Lakers GM Mitch] Kupchak?
It was very positive, given the circumstances. What I liked about this disaster is that the [team is unified]. Nobody is talking shit to each other or saying that this roster has to change.
Magic Johnson said it best.
He is an authoritative voice on the Lakers. He wanted to help. Sure, there may be improvements made to the team…
If a lockout continues for a whole season, what you plan to do?
Well, I don’t know. I can sign with any team.
Can you afford an entire year without playing?
If the lockout could last one year, I would consider returning to Europe. Barcelona would be my first choice, but for now it’s all up in the air.