“I come back home”. The most anticipated words for Barcelona fans came from the mouth of its main protagonist. Pau Gasol, after several days of waiting, made the news official. The Catalan signed for Barcelona until the end of the season with the aim of playing again almost two years later and extending that relationship with the club for which he was global ambassador since 2019. Injuries have been his problem. The Olympic Games with the National Team, the great encouragement of him. And, these next months until the end of the contract, a whole path full of unknowns in which he has the illusion of all national basketball.
The arrival of Pau Gasol to the ACB is a real boost for the competition. If before he already defended the title of best league in Europe, having a continental player who has made history in the world of basketball is nothing more than a new push towards the top of the rankings. But, in addition, he completes the arrival of NBA names that in recent seasons have found a new way to succeed in the Euroleague. Mirotic, Greg Monroe or, recently, another culé like Mario Hezonja. None has generated as much impact as Pau.
The eldest of the brothers will earn about 30,000 euros until the end of the current campaign. Barcelona is not going through a good economic moment to generate more debt in the club. And less considering that, according to their latest budgets, the non-football sections do not end up providing benefits. For this reason, Gasol will have a salary according to the minimum that is set in the collective agreement – it does not exceed 70,000 euros gross per year in players over 26-. Both parties benefit: the player enjoys basketball and Barça from an idol that he had been testing for a long time.
The doubt of the physique and the challenge of winning
The unknown that Pau Gasol must clear up in this new stage at Barcelona is whether he is physically prepared. Not only to compete at the highest continental level such as ACB and Euroleague, but also to make the leap with the National Team in the next Tokyo Olympic Games. And it is that few times a 40-year-old player has been seen who, after two years without competing, dares with a signing of such caliber.
The last time Pau was seen on the floor in an official game was on March 10, 2019. The Catalan was defending the Bucks’ shirt against his former, the San Antonio Spurs. They lost by 121-114. In the stands, although it may seem like an illusion, there were fans. And, on the floor, his new partner Nikola Mirotic. They both shared a wardrobe. Pau, however, finished with worse numbers: three points, three rebounds and one assist compared to ten points, four rebounds and one assist from the Spanish-Montenegrin. One more game that would be marked in Gasol’s retina for the next two years.
Since then, the pivot has only been seen on training courts with different images. Some throwing triples, others preparing his physique and, the most recent, playing a game with the regulation mask on. Nothing more. That is why his return to the first level is not going to be immediate.
Gasol will be enrolled in the Euroleague and ACB – he arrives just in time to enter the regulatory deadlines – and he will have to regain that rhythm of competition that he already knew in the NBA. He will relive in the first person the eternal debate of whether the demand is the same on the other side of the pond when there is no playoffs involved. And all when a leader like Jasikevicius decides. The Lithuanian coach has always characterized his by his tough personality and Pau, whom he knows perfectly from his time as a player, will not be an exception.
The Catalan has about four months, with Euroleague, ACB, and playoff options in both competitions, to feel like a professional basketball player again. If he did it at a high level, he would be a real heroism: 40 years, the last two injured and an adaptation against the clock in a highly demanding team like Barça.
Gasol will meet several acquaintances again. Jasikevicius as coach, although in his time they coincided as players from the same dressing room. With Nacho Rodríguez, a strong man in the section who also wore shorts on his day. And, of course, a Juan Carlos Navarro who between Barça and the National Team is inseparable from Pau. Now, the ‘Bomba’ will see him from the offices, where he is part of the organization chart of the quarry.
However, the relationship that Barcelona will be able to exploit the most is none other than the one it has with its star on the floor. The relationship with Nikola Mirotic is one of the keys to Pau’s arrival at Barcelona. The two struck up a great friendship in the NBA and their coincidence with both the Bulls and the Bucks increased their trust in each other. Curiously, the Catalan will be able to give him the witness of a great reference of the culé team this season.
Pau advised him in his first NBA seasons. Also when the possibility of signing for Barça arose. That return to Europe was not easy and Pau supported his friend. Mirotic was going to return to the ACB, but not to Real Madrid, which had seen him grow in his quarry and succeed in the first team. Moreover, it should be remembered that Barça probed Pau’s situation before the Hispano-Montenegrin. Almost two years later, the two “brothers” meet again in a Barcelona that aspires to everything and that, despite institutional weakness, wants to regain sporting glory.
The icing on the Games
Pau Gasol never hid it. The only positive part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being postponed due to Covid-19 was that he had more time to recover. The reality is that this change of date benefited a National Team that would have been seen without one of its reference players. Once the date change was confirmed, Pau began his countdown with the aim of reaching Tokyo.
The Catalan explained on several occasions what his plan was. First of all, he recovered from an injury that, having been seen in times of pandemic, had had a complicated treatment due to lack of means. The second, to return to the courts as soon as possible to pick up the rhythm of the competition. And, finally, arrive at Sergio Scariolo’s call in top form to be able to say goodbye to the National Team in style: with a medal on his chest and in some historic Games.
Without rushing, Pau had to fight hard to get through that first phase. So much so that, it should be remembered, a few months ago he left a possible withdrawal in the air. Gasol acknowledged that if he did not receive good news in November or December, perhaps he would seriously consider taking a step back from the impossibility of playing again. The Catalan overcame that small crisis and did not give any statement. It was a relief.
Soon after, the rumor phase began. Pau kept training and sharing hopeful images. No offers were known, but his two reference teams appeared on the horizon. The Lakers would be his first choice as an NBA team. Because Pau, despite his return to Spain, always gave priority to continuing in the best league in the world. After the signing of Marc Gasol, these connections multiplied. They could become the first pair of siblings to play at the same time in the Los Angeles franchise.