SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Pau Gasol is at the end of what has been an extraordinary playing career. He’s won multiple championships in Spain, multiple championships in the NBA, a World Cup title, three Olympic medals. He has nothing left to prove.
It begs the question: Why is he at the Tokyo Olympics?
The answer: The 41-year-old is going out on his terms.
A stress fracture in his left foot required surgery, derailed the end of his NBA career and had him seriously contemplating retirement until he was able to get back on the court with FC Barcelona this past season and help that club win the Spanish League title. And now, one final Olympic run.
“I love the game,” Gasol said. “I wanted to finish my career playing. I had such an incredible, extraordinary career that I didn’t want the injury to finish it for me. And it was a very difficult and challenging injury. So, I set myself this goal to get back on the floor and potentially play the Olympics again with my national team — and I worked my butt off to do it.”
Spain (2-0) plays Slovenia (2-0) on Sunday for the top spot in Group C. Both teams have already clinched quarterfinal berths. Gasol is playing meaningful minutes for Spain, averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds on 62% shooting in the first two contests at the Olympics.
“I’m very happy for him,” said Marc Gasol, Pau's younger brother and fellow NBA and Spain national team veteran. “I’m proud of him. He didn’t have to do this. He’s made everything you can do as a professional athlete. He’s a role model in every level that you can be, as a human being and as an athlete.”
These Olympics were postponed for a year because of the pandemic, and virus-related issues are still affecting every aspect of the Tokyo Games. Daily testing regimens are in effect, athletes are dealing with strict rules about where they can go and most venues have no fans in the seats.
If not for that postponement, Pau Gasol wouldn’t be in these Olympics. His foot wasn’t ready a year ago. He needed more time to continue recovery from surgery and that, combined with the isolation that the pandemic required, only made a tough task more difficult.