In February 2008, the Grizzlies shook the NBA landscape by trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers for an expiring contract, a 76ers assistant coach, a rookie point guard who had more turnovers than assists, two future first-round picks and the rights to a second-round pick who was playing in Europe had no plans to ever join the NBA.
Outside Los Angeles, many were livid. Rumors swirled former Grizzlies executive Jerry West facilitated the deal to his former team. It seemed the Lakers had stolen the missing piece to a championship, giving up scraps for a star.
“What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension,” he told SI.com “There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I’d like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.”
That European player with no plans to play in the NBA? Marc Gasol.
As the rest of the league struggled to grasp the trade, Marc believed he understood at least one aspect – why he was included.
“I thought that the Grizzlies knew me better because Pau was here, and Pau was talking to the guys how well I was playing that year and so and so,” said Marc, who was then playing with Akasvayu Girona in Spain . “And I don’t think the Lakers knew how I was playing there.”
Did Pau see something the rest of us hadn’t yet?
“Loving my brother, I saw that he had potential to turn into a great player,” Pau said.
As few others in NBA circles shared that optimism, criticism of the trade as one-sided indirectly demeaned Marc’s value. Pau said he was too focused on the Lakers to worry about that perception. Marc wasn’t bothered by it, either.
“I know my rights got traded, but I didn’t see myself as part of the trade,” Marc said. “I thought that the organization, the Lakers, didn’t know much about me – and nobody at that time, even I think the Grizzlies or anybody, even myself, could see it going to where it is today.”
Where it is today: Pau and Marc Gasol have become the first brothers in NBA history to start an All-Star game.
With Pau’s 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011 selections and Marc’s 2012 berth, the Gasols had already joined Tom and Dick Van Arsdale as the only brothers to make an NBA All-Star game. But neither Van Arsdale twin started an All-Star game, let alone both in one year. Pau (now with the Bulls) and Marc (still with the Grizzlies) are also each starting for the first time.
The recognition has even the well-spoken pair rambling a bit. Pau said the honor made him “beyond, beyond proud and thrilled and honored and thankful and all of the above.” Said Marc: “It’s hard to understand what it means and how many things we accomplished and where we come from and all the way through up to here and how many people were behind this voting and how many people helped us get to where we’re at.”
Since they were traded for each other, their careers have gone nearly as well as either could have hoped.
Pau won two titles and made three All-Star games with the Lakers. Marc became an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year with the Grizzlies, helping them reach the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
Their 2015 levels might be even more incredible.
Marc, averaging a career-high 19.1 points with 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, is an MVP candidate and arguably the NBA’s top big man. Not bad for someone who didn’t change his plans about staying in Europe until he saw his Spanish club going bankrupt.
Pau is having a resurgent season in Chicago, averaging 18.3 points (his most in five years), 11.8 rebounds (a career-high) and 2.1 blocks (his most in eight years) per game. At an age and with a résumé that would make many content, Pau is playing with even more passion. If his numbers hold, he’d be the third-oldest player to average 18-11 behind only Robert Parish and Wilt Chamberlain.
This is Pau’s first All-Star berth in four seasons. At 34, he’s hardly the oldest player to become an All-Star. But many of those aging players were legacy All-Stars, players selected year after year. Only Johnny Green, who made it at 37 while playing for the 1971 Cincinnati Royals, played three years without an All-Star appearance and then got one at such an old age.
The brothers are doing it in different ways – Pau is longer and a better scorer, and Marc is more defensive-minded and physical – but they’re both having awesome seasons. If they weren’t voted starters by fans, their conferences’ coaches should have (and likely would have) made them reserves.
Yet, neither made the All-Star game the last two years. So, they discussed getting together for the break this February. Marc figured they’d spend a quiet weekend somewhere, playing board games and cards.
“Even when we’re playing Monopoly or we’re playing Uno or we’re playing charades, we want to win. We’re playing ping pong or pool, whatever we’re doing,” Marc said. “…We both know it’s competitive, even though we might not show it. We might laugh it off, but it’s in our DNA. We can’t do anything about it.”
Instead, they’ll take that same competitive spirit to New York for the All-Star game for a head-to-head meeting on the court.
“We know each other’s games so well that it’s not easy,” Marc said. “We’ve got to come up with new tricks and new counters for us to score, because I know he’s not going let me score easily. And he knows for sure – for damn sure – I’m not going to let him score.”
“We have so much respect for each other and know how much one another care about the game that we barely even talk,” Marc said. “We barely make eye contact.”
Marc figures they’ll have a little more fun with each other during the All-Star game, and he’s particularly looking forward to meeting his brother at center court for the opening tip.
“It’s going to be a hell of a moment, that’s for sure,” Marc said. “And it’s going to be something that’s a picture for the rest of lives, just like many others. But this one kind of symbolizes a lot of things and summarizes two different ways of doing things and getting to the same spot.”