When someone is built like Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol (7 feet tall) or has the storied professional career that he has had (four-time All-Star, two-time NBA Champion, NBA Rookie of the Year in 2002, two Olympic Silver Medals with the Spanish national basketball team), it may be tempting to define him solely based on his contributions to basketball. But that would be a mistake.
“I’m not a one-dimensional type of person,” Gasol said.
I recently sat down with the Lakers Center-Forward in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where we dug into everything from his unconventional journey from medical student to the NBA and his commitment to philanthropy, as well as a Spanish meat and cheese plate.
Far removed from the usual quick post game sound-bite interviews, we see the man who speaks five languages, scrubs in on scoliosis surgeries at L.A. Children’s Hospital in his free time, and makes a point to tweet in both English and Spanish in an effort to connect with as many fans around the world as possible.
A sports icon in his native country of Spain, Gasol spoke of how fortunate he felt to be able to continue playing in both the U.S. and on the Spanish national team. “I see myself as a world person… a global kind-of human being. But I do have my roots in Spain and I love my country and my city Barcelona. But also, the more time I spend here [in the U.S.] … I feel like I also belong here and a part of me is also from here.”
When I asked him about his connection to the U.S. Latino community specifically, he said “When I first got here in the States, I always felt a great support and love from the Latino community… Just to be able to hear someone speaking your native language, it was really rewarding and comforting and I really appreciated it… Even though I’m from Spain, it’s not like I’m from Mexico or South America, I think there was definitely a strong bond and connection there and I was proud to be able to relate and communicate and connect that way with all the Latino community here.”
What’s the surprising thing that helps Gasol get through especially tense times? Opera. “It’s beautiful, it’s calming as well. I like to find that balance with my hectic life. So these types of activities- artistic, melody, musical- really help me calm down and regroup.”
Keeping everything in perspective is important to Gasol, which has driven his commitment to giving back and led him to found the Gasol Foundation with his younger brother Memphis Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol. Together, they are working to empower youth to live healthier lives by focusing on nutrition and increased physical activity. Hearing him speak about the foundation, it’s clear how much this work means to him personally, especially his interaction with children from disadvantaged communities.
“We wanted that to be part of our legacy as people so after we leave this world, hopefully our foundation will have done great things for children,” Gasol said.
On his experience with the Gasol Foundation and as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2003, he adds “It leaves me with a sense of perspective. With a sense of how fortunate I am but at the same time it keeps me grounded… You remember what you’ve seen and how many people are suffering.”
The word “legacy” came up several times during the interview so I asked him what he hoped would be his own. “Continue to make an impact as much as I can," he said. "On children, on future generations, on sports. Be a role model, a leader, an ambassador. That’s what I envision myself being after I’m done playing."
Born and raised in Spain, Lara is a digital producer and writer for Fusion — covering stories in culture and technology as well as in-depth environmental issues across the globe.