London: Playing in the NBA as a power centre is a task assigned to the single-minded. So what in the world is Spain’s Pau Gasol doing dreaming of a career in medicine to find a cure for Aids? Truth be told, Pau had visions of finding a cure for this disease when he was 11 years old. The ambition to go out in search for that antidote still burns within his 32-year-old psyche.
For the moment, basketball is where Pau has made the cut. When he’s not weaving his way past the opposition for the LA Lakers, he is orchestrating the same movements for his native Spain.
To be a top-flight basketball professional is not for those who have added distractions on the side, certainly not interruptions like studying medicine. But Pau, who dropped out of med school after enrolling at the age of 18, is chugging along without a care in the world and pulling in the millions that make him one of the NBA’s blue-chip players playing for a team which reeks of pedigree. The essence of Pau’s story can be the script for a Hollywood film, so quirkily crafted is its storyline.
Curiously enough, in keeping with the script, Pau was named after the hospital in which he was born — Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona. While the visions of being a doctor were yet to be formed, Pau turned his attention to music. His parents thought he had musical fingers, so at the age of 13 he was tinkling out Tchaikovsky with aplomb, fingers that would hold, control and pass a basketball with equal dexterity.
By 18, as he had grown to a height of 7ft (2.13 metres), he had taken the first step to realising the dream of becoming a doctor. The burning ambition of becoming a doctor has been shelved since Pau moved to Los Angeles, but America has opened up his mind into picking up other worthy distractions: such as learning Italian and French and plonking away at the piano trying to master the works of the great French composers, and one habit that every basketball pro worth his salt must pick up: trash talk.
Pau has his own take on corporate social responsibility. Such as healthcare for children — Pau visits hospitals regularly to enquire about various ailments that kids are treated for and doctors actually believe that they are talking to one of their own.
Pau is Spain’s ambassador to Unicef specialising in Aids amongst children and he has visited Angola and South Africa to see the extent of the disease there. He is also patriotic to the core and never misses a chance to cheer on his compatriots when they represent Spain.
There is, however, the small matter of basketball that needs to be taken care of. It is in the court that Pau cashes in for the Lakers (feeding the likes of Kobe Bryant to nail down those points) and Spain (where he is the fulcrum of the scoring) as they go about trying to win a medal in London. For the record, they are making smooth progress.
The Spaniards boast the best front court in the Olympics with Pau, his brother Marc and Serge Ibaka. The trio are the biggest threat to the US in their attempt for another gold medal. And they have been giving ample evidence of this potential as Pau cuts through the opposition’s defences with the skill of a surgeon to drive, hit jumpers and finish with both hands.
Clearly for Spain, Pau Gasol is just what the doctor ordered.