Pau Gasol in India
Q + A: ‘No, I don’t sleep with the championship trophy!’
by Karan Madhok / @hoopistani
The first thing that drew my attention toward Pau Gasol was how little attention he commands. Scheduled to start his only day in New Delhi with some media interaction, Gasol inconspicuously entered the VIP lobby and walked through to the meeting rooms. No entourage, agents, body guards, fanfare, nothing. Just a solitary friend who waited for him outside. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a 7-footer, Gasol would have passed by virtually unnoticed. Midway through his interaction inside the meeting room, he rushed out to quickly have breakfast with his friend in a corner, in the same lobby area.
India has had a big summer in terms of basketball and NBA promotion, from the visit of Dwight Howard, to the expansion of NBA’s recreational leagues around the country. And, of course, there was the big news that dropped a few months ago that IMG-Reliance and the NBA plan to build infrastructure, train players, and help to eventually launch a professional league in the country. The arrival of Pau Gasol, a Laker (India’s favorite team — blame the TV programmers!), a world champion, and one of the most skilled big men in the game, beefed up the summer’s basketball events in the sub-continent.
Gasol’s trip to India, from August 23-28, was primarily a journey to the community in India through the ‘NBA Cares’ program. As an ambassador for the NBA, he visited several schools and held workshops in Mumbai and Delhi with young children to promote healthy living through basketball. “The community in India should see that the NBA is involved in a positive way,” he says. “It is not just about the sport but also about social work.”
Gasol took a tour of Mumbai and conducted two clinics during his stay there. He conducted a clinic at the Mastan YMCA in hoop-crazed Nagpada on August 25 and at the St. Dominic Savio High School in Andheri East on the 26th. His appearance in the Nagpada region in particular was of special significance: Nagpada is largely a poor, Muslim-dominated area where people live amongst the close-quartered chawl housing settlements, and it’s an area which has also been home to some of the greatest players in Indian basketball history.
In New Delhi, Gasol continued the NBA Cares events, teaching basketball drills and entertaining children at the Father Agnel’s School and at the Delhi Public School (DPS) at Mathura Road on August 27. The NBA’s Director of Basketball Operations (India) Troy Justice and Indian basketball’s legendary player and coach Shiba Maggon also assisted Gasol in his clinics.
Gasol again turned into a quiet crowd-pleaser in Delhi, speaking softly and letting his skills do the talking. He worked with the kids on dribbling drills, showed off his pivot, Hakeem-esque fadeaway, and of course, did a variety of dunks at the DPS basketball court, including doing a “jumpman” style dunk over a hapless kid in a ‘Starbury’ t-shirt!
When asked about who he feels is the best basketball player in the world, Gasol didn’t hesitate to answer: “I gotta go with my teammate Kobe Bryant!” When asked if he, a Barcelona native, hates La Liga rivals Real Madrid, he gave a semi-diplomatic response: “I’m not a hateful person. I don’t hate Madrid. I don’t hate the Celtics, either. I don’t like them, but no, I don’t hate them!”
Another special feature of Gasol’s visit to India was that he brought along the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy, which he won with the Lakers for the second year running this past June. This was the first time that the trophy was brought to Indian soil, and it garnered almost as much attention as the superstar player himself. Gasol unveiled it during his clinics in Mumbai and New Delhi much to the delight of the young NBA fans in the crowds.
But back to that same hotel lobby, where I finally got a chance to have a Q + A session with legendary Spaniard. Humble and gracious, it was almost like he has forgotten that he’s a two-time, reigning NBA champion, reigning World Champion (and MVP), and generally, awesomely talented. But, don’t let the humility fool you, behind it lay a quiet confidence to keep succeeding and keep cementing his legacy. Gasol talked about Ricky Rubio, the USA team, and the World Championships, the future of India and world basketball, the Lakers, and about carrying around an NBA trophy.