The Curious Case of Pau Gasol

We all gathered around the television.

We were witnesses. No, not to LeBron James and his pseudo-heroism. No, not to President Obama’s speech about the death of Osama Bin Laden.

We were witnesses to the mysterious case of  Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star forward, Pau Gasol.

His change wasn’t swift like swinging of an ax. It wasn’t abrupt like a green light turning straight to red. It was gradual.

It started in game 1 against New Orleans. Pau did not look like himself. We’ve seen this from him before, though. A few quarters later, we expected him to close like the champion that he is. A fadeaway shot. A strong rebound and putback. A lightning-quick spin and lefty hook off the glass.

But it never came. He shot 2 for 9 on that fateful Sunday, managing a meager 8 points, 10.8 below his season average.

Everyone has music playing in their heads. In all likelihood, what’s playing in your head is different from what’s playing in mine. But when you’re on a team, the music in every player’s head should be the same. In game 1, Pau’s music was Death Cab for Cutie when it should have been Eminem. After a while, the music faded entirely.

After game 1, everybody blamed the loss on him. They had a point. He didn’t show up. His tune rang differently. When asked about Pau’s performance in game, Kobe Bryant had carefully selected words about his All-Star teammate.

“He’s not naturally aggressive,” Bryant said. “Even if I’m tired, I’m naturally aggressive. You just have to rev him up a little bit, get him going. If the effort isn’t there, I’m not going to sit around and wait, especially in the playoffs.”

We can guess what he means by that. For years, Kobe has tried to bring the Black Swan out of Pau. And for years, he’s had mild success, at best. Like Kobe, Laker fans could forgive the occasional off-beat game from Pau. They learned to live with it. He helped them earn 2 NBA championships, so for the most part, he rests comfortably in their favor.

And then game 2 happened.

When the Laker bigs have a bad game, it’s because either (1) they didn’t get the ball enough or (2) they had a bad matchup. Since (2) is hardly ever the case, we could safely assume that it was (1). When L.A. made a concerted effort to post the Laker big men up, Pau was still nowhere to be found. He finished with the exact same point total (8) and one more shot attempt. That’s 2 for 10, in case you were wondering.

In literature, this is called a foreshadowing. In retrospect, that’s what we witnessed in games 1 and 2 of round 1. As early as then we could feel the difference between this post-season and those of the past. If this book were turned into a movie, then Don McLean’s “American Pie” would be the theme song. To find out what is wrong with the Pau Gasol, we need only look to McLean’s lyrics.

A long, long time ago

I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

And maybe they’d be happy for a while

This is the ballad of Pau Gasol. The music in his head used to make him smile. The music in his head used to make us smile. He did make us happy…for a while.

Laker fans didn’t forget, especially since both games were consecutive, but they were eager to forgive because their team won the game. They did their job. Ron Artest performed well, and Andrew Bynum played big. But it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.  It was a low-scoring, 87-78 victory, when it should have been a 102-84 victory.

It wasn’t the blowout Laker fans wanted. It wasn’t the statement Laker fans wanted. It wasn’t the performance Laker fans wanted.

And that’s when we knew. If you are anything like me, you had that gut feeling but ignored it. “They’re the Lakers,” you said to yourself. “They always do this. This. Is. Who. They. Are.”

But the more you say a word, or a phrase, the more it loses its meaning.

These words eventually lost their meaning.

We knew, but we were in denial. Something is not right with Pau we thought, but suppressed those thoughts. If the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke is reliable (and you have to assume he is), things went sour between Kobe and Pau right before the playoffs began. This explains why the two were hardly a dynamic duo throughout their brief playoff run. It also explains why Pau didn’t have a 20-point effort for that same duration.

Will Laker fans see new moments like these, or are they all but a memory now?

Kobe has music in his head. Like I said earlier-we all do. Kobe’s music is always cranked up to max, and it would be safe to say that Eminem’s “Till I Collapse” is on repeat (ala the best tribute to Kobe…ever).

I know what’s wrong with Pau. So do you.

Sure, he’s sad about his girlfriend breaking up with him. Maybe he’s even miffed about Vanessa Bryant’s involvement in what transpired. But that isn’t everything. Pau’s music died, and with it so did his vigor.

Phil Jackson all but punched him in the chest to see if he had any fight left. He didn’t. He was defeated. There wasn’t a fiery resistance in his eyes. There wasn’t even an emotional reaction. All we saw was him take the hit in the chest and continue to make excuses, looking more like a child in trouble from his teacher than a professional basketball player.

We all got up to dance

Oh but we never got the chance!

At this point, there was no more denying it. As fans, we wanted to see them come back with a huge game 3 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in round 2 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Again they buckled. Pau’s numbers in game 3 against Dallas? 12 points on 5 for 13 shooting.

The Lakers were going to lose, and all because of some more off-the-court drama. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

And so this is how it ends. We know what is wrong with Pau. His music died. Picture the movie ending with him walking down the street, alone, abandoned, and defeated.

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

No matter how hard he tried, Phil couldn’t resuscitate the heart of Pau Gasol.

No matter how hard they tried, Kobe and Pau couldn’t keep their issues off the court.

No matter how hard he tried, Pau couldn’t hear the music anymore.

Bye-bye Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry

Them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singing this will be the day that I die

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4 Responses to “The Curious Case of Pau Gasol”

  1. Mq Says:

    I hope the months off help him gather his thoughts, move on, and come back strong. He is a star and he knows it. Great blog!

  2. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    It was probably “Bad Romance” playing in his head through the playoffs instead.

  3. Sam Says:

    take it for what it’s worth but Pau said the rumors are false yesterday

    On Tuesday, Gasol called rumors of a rift between he and Bryant or a breakup with his girlfriend “absolutely false.”

    “My girlfriend and I are fine, we’re happy, we’re doing well. Kobe and I are fine,” Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com in the parking lot outside the Lakers training facility Tuesday, after his exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Phil Jackson.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/news/story?id=6522942

  4. The Chad Says:

    “Phil Jackson all but punched him in the chest to see if he had any fight left.”

    This was very significant to me. How often do we see that type of emotion or frustration from Phil Jackson? Phil Jackson did expressed exactly what we were all feeling when watching that game.

    “If the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke is reliable (and you have to assume he is), things went sour between Kobe and Pau right before the playoffs began.”

    As Sam mentioned above, there have been conflicting reports and Pau even downright denied the claims made by Bill Plaschke. Regardless, I believe that if you are being paid millions of dollars a year, you as a professional should be able to separate “business and pleasure”. I do not know about everyone else, but the minute I step out my door and head to work I leave my personal shit at the door. Is it really so wrong to expect the same from a well paid professional athlete who’s job is to entertain his fans?

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