Pau Gasol was hoping Saturday night would be more than nostalgic, that his homecoming of sorts would turn into an epic celebration on Beale Street for his beloved little brother and the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Los Angeles Lakers forward hadn’t been back to the FedExForum like this, sitting in a suite among the passionate thousands of fans while his old team entered new territory, and Marc Gasol — Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, that is — was as big a reason for this historic run as any. Pau was his one-of-a-kind self, the 32-year-old who remains the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, shaking hands with those who knew him as a much younger man during his six-plus seasons with the team.
He called people by name, asked how they had been and apologized for not getting out of his seat to greet other well-wishers because, well, he’s not moving so well after having both of his knees surgically treated for tendinitis this month. The Grizzlies loss that put the San Antonio Spurs up 3-0 in the Western Conference finals dampened the local mood in what is the franchise’s first trip to the conference finals, but it did nothing to dim the pride he feels for his 28-year-old brother, whose talent was so widely dismissed when they were traded for each other in 2008.
“It’s emotional, but of course I’m happy,” Pau Gasol told USA TODAY Sports during the game. “I’m enjoying seeing him play so well and the team do so well. It’s a good feeling as a big brother.
“It’s weird, though. It’s a little awkward, but it’s the development of life. I’m in a different situation. It was a few years ago when I was here, and I spent a lot of moments of my career here. Most of it. It’s a little awkward, but at the same time it’s really rewarding to be here, to see the franchise doing so well. My brother is a key piece, so I’m just happy I was able to come here and be here to see this and experience it.