Despite being the USA’s professional basketball league (with the exception of the Toronto Raptors and the former Vancouver Grizzlies), the NBA is an international phenomenon. The league is watched in tens of countries, has tremendous influence in pop culture and, to play for one of its franchises, is the dream of numerous upcoming players around the world.
Over time, the globalization of the league has caused major growth in the number of players coming in from overseas, who currently represent over 20% of the NBA’s roster spots.
Stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic or Nikola Jokic have been catching headlines for a few years. Both the Greek and Serbian have won two of the last four regular season MVPs, a historical feat that gains even more importance when looking back in time since Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki were the only foreign players to ever earn the award before them.
But this does not mean that overseas-raised success in the league has only happened recently. What about the tens of players born outside of the US that left a major mark beforehand?
Among the best of them can be found the man of the hour, Pau Gasol, whose jersey retirement last Tuesday in Staples Center (making use of its former naming for nostalgia purposes) put a golden (and purple) finishing touch to a legendary career.
An honor reserved for the best:
At first sight, it might be hard to gauge the magnitude of Gasol’s accomplishment, but there have been very few players to ever receive the distinction since the league was founded 76 years ago. To put matters into perspective, around 200 numbers have been retired across the NBA and over 4700 players have played an official game, which makes the Catalonian star part of the select 4% of them to ever be granted the merit.
The ultimate goal for Gasol, entering the Hall of Fame:
After an immensely successful career in which he managed to score over twenty thousand points, make six All-Star game appearances and obtain four All-NBA nominations, the honoring of his number makes for a great second to last stop on his journey just two years after officially retiring. You have not misread since the last stop in his incredible run will be a more than deserved induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
There is plenty of reasons to be sure about it, though I rather stick with the one Kobe Bryant (who is greatly missed in nights like Tuesday) mentioned himself: neither the Lakers or the city of Los Angeles would have the 2009 and 2010 championships without Pau.
Gasol, a Spanish basketball pioneer:
Aside from everything he accomplished in several franchises, the Sant Boi-born center was one the pioneers of what would later be known as the ÑBA, the golden generation of Spanish basketball.
Thanks to Pau’s leadership (with help of players like Rudy Fernández or Juan Carlos Navarro amongst others), a country with great tradition was able to live historical moments like the 2015 All-Star game tip-off between the Gasol brothers, the 2006 world cup gold medal or the 2008 Beijing Olympics final versus Team USA.
The oldest of the Gasol family leaves behind him a hard-to-match legacy on and off the court which solidifies him as Spain’s best-ever basketball player and perhaps athlete.
Main image: @Lakers.