Pau Gasol in India
Q + A: ‘No, I don’t sleep with the championship trophy!’
SLAM: How does it feel to be in India? Is this your first time here?
Pau Gasol: Yes it is my first time. It is very exciting to get to know this country and promote basketball. It has been an intense and enjoyable experience so far.
SLAM: How would you compare your homeland — Spain, not L.A.! — to India?
PG: Well, each country is different from the other in its customs, cultures, tradition and people. India is growing rapidly — but I hope to come back here and have time to explore it for myself later.
SLAM: On Spain — How do you think they will perform in the World Championships? (The interview was conducted one day before the Championships tipped off.– Ed.) Obviously, they will miss you, but are they still favorites?
PG: I think they will do well — there is a lot of competition at the Championships, and it’s not going to be easy. We have a good team and good players. We have performed well so far in the practice games, winning each game convincingly, and only losing one game to the US, that by 1 point. I will be going to watch them play in Turkey during the latter stages of the competition.
SLAM: Why have you decided to skip out of this tournament?
PG: It’s just fatigue… I have been playing a lot of basketball lately, and have been busy with the national team almost every offseason. It is important for me to get this rest this offseason because I honestly felt physically, as well as mentally, completely worn out. I really needed a summer away from basketball because I have a long-term plan to continue playing at the high level I have been playing for my team for several more years.
SLAM: Of course, there is a lot of hype surrounding Spain’s next “big thing,” Ricky Rubio. Do you think he can be a success in the NBA?
PG: Ricky will do well — he’s a very hard worker, and although he’s really young, he has always been very mature for his age. He’s extremely gifted — there are few players in the world who see the game like he does. He’s a great point guard and I really like playing in with him.
SLAM: What about the US team? How do you see them performing in the Championships?
PG: USA is loaded with guards. They are a speedy team who will be hard to beat. There is a lot of young talent there. They are strong, and will be tough to beat, but they are not unbeatable. Anything can happen in the World Championships — one game can change everything.
SLAM: Coming back to India — What do you feel we need to do here to improve our level of basketball to be able to compete on the International stage (India’s men’s team is ranked 52nd on the FIBA rankings)? Countries like China, although not world-beaters, are now good enough to at least compete with the best in the world — how can we reach that goal here?
PG: India needs to involve the youngsters to experience the excitement of basketball. Basketball is an attractive game. To promote the game here, they have to start with the youngest children, and give them the infrastructure, resources and opportunities to play. Furthermore, India should continue working with school kids, and create competitive school and grassroots leagues around the country.
SLAM: How did Spain grow to be a basketball superpower that it is today?
PG: In Spain, it began with a competitive league in the country, and people started to have fun watching the game. Kids went out to watch their idols and watch a good national team. There is complete satisfaction in watching great players defend your country.
SLAM: The NBA has been investing a lot of effort into developing the game in India — just two weeks ago, Dwight Howard was also in India encouraging youngsters to take up the game. What steps should the NBA take for India in the future?
PG: NBA should continue creating attention for the game, so that younger players can have a chance to see us and start to think of basketball as a real career option. This will encourage their parents to allow their children to participate, too. As the game grows, the NBA can show our other companies and partners that they should continue being involved with basketball here.
SLAM: You have brought along your NBA Championship trophy to India — Is it your most prized possession? Do you sleep with it?
PG: [Laughs] I don’t really carry it, it’s too heavy! Someone else carries it as we fly around! Obviously this trophy carries with it a lot of meaning; it is very precious to me because it’s so hard to get — But, no, I don’t sleep with it!
SLAM: Does Kobe call you every day to make sure you’re treating it right?
PG: [Laughs] No, it’s nothing like that. Now that we’re champions, we all have a trophy in our hearts which is more than a material thing. The real thing is too heavy anyway!
SLAM: Tell me about your Laker teammates — for two years, the Lakers have proven to be the best team in the League. Outside of the fact that you guys have a great roster and a great coach in Phil Jackson, what makes you tick? What should any squad — be it an amateur team in India or a pro team in the NBA — learn from the Lakers as a team?
PG: Yes, we do have a great team with great chemistry, and we all do well to play our role. It’s a great block of players that obviously starts with Kobe. We have a talented coaching staff supporting us, and have made some great new additions to the team this offseason. We’re obviously the team that everyone else wants to come hard at since we’re the champions, but it’s an exciting kind of pressure situation to be in to have the opportunity to go out and defend your title. We have a clear goal — to win a championship — and we’ll do anything to get it. It takes great dedication, discipline, sacrifice, and commitment to your goals to make your team work. And you have to remember that to accomplish that goal you have to do it as a team, do it together.
SLAM: What are the challenges that your Laker team will face in the upcoming season?
PG: Well, there is a lot of expectation on us, but it is a good position to be in. We will have tough competition this year. Many teams have gotten stronger and signed good players — their moves are an incentive and motivation for us to do better. Actually, the biggest challenge to be able to star in the League is to stay as healthy as possible. This is something you can’t always control and you need luck on your side. It’s a complicated situation. Otherwise, we as a team have to make sure to come out this season with a hungry mentality and do whatever it takes to win again.
SLAM: What about yourself? What will be your own personal challenges this season?
PG: I have to improve the little things. Since I haven’t been working with the national team this offseason, I have been able to rest and train myself to work on certain specifics of my game. I want to be prepared with the right energy and excitement when I show up for training camp at the beginning of the season.
SLAM: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on this recent championship victory, as well as your successes in the past, how do you foresee your future? You are 30 years old now — how would you like to end your career?
PG: The most important thing I feel is to end on a good note. I want to be in good shape and be healthy enough to keep giving my best for many years and become one of the top players in the world. I want to continue to win championships and continue playing at the highest level. My contract with the Lakers will expire after four years — after that, I will either look to resign or maybe explore other options. I will see how I feel then — it is hard to predict right now because every year is a different story.
SLAM: Last question — although you are here in India as an ambassador for the NBA, your international achievements have made you into an ambassador for global basketball. How do you see basketball growing around the world over the next 10 years?
PG: I feel lucky to have seen basketball grow so much already over the past 10 years. So many countries play the game well now, and so many more countries are getting harder and harder to beat. I find it amazing to see strong basketball teams out of countries I would have otherwise never expected to be competitive at the highest level. It is rewarding to see the game improve like this. I think that the game will continue to grow like this. The more international basketball gets, the better — it’s a sport that teaches good values and a healthy lifestyle!