Kobe Bryant: Gasol "is one of the best in the world"

Basketball experts look back over Spaniard's golden decade

It's been a glorious 10 years for basketball player Pau Gasol, one of only a handful of Spaniards to make it into the NBA.

He joined the American league in 2001 after playing a key role in Barcelona's victory in the final of the King's Cup against Real Madrid that year, aged just 20.

"In that final it was clear that we were in the presence of a great player," says Antonio Maceiras, the then-director general of Barcelona, adding: "He is in a different league compared to any other player that has emerged since."

Kevin Wilson is the New York Knicks talent scout, and was at that classic final. "The King's Cup is important, and there are always a lot of US scouts on the lookout there," he says.

"It was clear that we were in the presence of a great player"
Gasol's trade to the Lakers brought about an immediate improvement

Gasol entered the 2001 NBA Draft, and was selected third overall in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks, who traded his draft rights to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

In Gasol's first season with the Grizzlies, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, and was named to the All-Rookie first team.

After a stellar career with the Grizzlies, injury saw him increasingly sidelined during the 2008 season. Halfway through the year the LA Lakers traded for Gasol in a deal involving several players and draft picks, including Kwame Brown, and the rights to Pau's brother, Marc. The result of the change brought about an immediate improvement in Gasol, to the benefit of the Lakers.

"In the 2009 season, you could see Pau was a different player right away. He was stronger, adding extra muscle in the weight room, and playing with a purpose, like a man deeply determined to show everyone he could do better than his performance in the '08 Finals," says Wilson.

When he was traded to the Lakers, Gasol became teammates with one of basketball's all-time greats, Kobe Bryant, who has nothing but good things to say about the Spaniard. During halftime of the Lakers' game against the Boston Celtics that was played on Christmas Day 2008, Bryant was interviewed by former Laker and NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

In the interview, Kobe called Gasol "one of the best in the world." Rookie of the Year, two-time All-Star, the holder of many Grizzlies' franchise records - these are just some of the many accolades to his name.

The Los Angeles Lakers' transformation from a talented, but soft, team in the 2008 NBA Finals, to a team now back-to-back champions in 2009 and 2010, is centered around one player, says Wilson: Pau Gasol.

Pau Gasol lifts the King's Cup with Barcelona in 2001.
Pau Gasol lifts the King's Cup with Barcelona in 2001.RAFAEL MARCHANTE

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