Raptors centre Gasol all business as he prepares to face former team


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When Marc Gasol finally plays against the team he was a huge part of for the first 10-plus years of his NBA career, there will be no standing ovations or video tributes.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When Marc Gasol finally plays against the team he was a huge part of for the first 10-plus years of his NBA career, there will be no standing ovations or video tributes.

Gasol and the Toronto Raptors will battle the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday in an arena devoid of fans, miles from the city he called home from the age of 16 until joining Toronto at last year’s trade deadline.

And the 35-year-old Spaniard is just fine with that.

“I don’t think it’s an easy game to play, just because so many emotions, right?” Gasol said during a videoconference Saturday.

“It’s not easy to say hello to all the ushers, people who work around the team and staff members, and then try to execute the game plan and beat the other team, it’s not as simple as it seems.”

The Raptors were originally scheduled to visit Memphis on March 28 and then host the Grizzlies on March 30, but the NBA was forced to suspend its season two weeks before that home-and-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league is finishing off its season in isolation at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., meaning no fan buzz during the games.

Toronto guard Fred VanVleet felt Sunday’s game would be bittersweet for Gasol, because he would finally get to face a team that’s still a big part of him but will miss out on the fan adulation.

Gasol, however, would prefer to play without distractions.

“It’s a lot of emotions, and I’m very businesslike when it comes to playing, and I would not like all the attention before the game,” he said. “I like to just got there, play the game, win and then we can chit-chat.”

Gasol said he still considers Memphis to be home. He moved to the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Tenn., with his family as a teenager in 2001 after his older brother Pau joined the Grizzlies.

Marc Gasol was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 48th overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, but was traded to Memphis in 2008 in a deal that sent Pau to L.A.

Marc Gasol quickly became a fan favourite with the Grizzlies, and was named the NBA’s defensive player of the year in 2013. He was a three-time all-star with Memphis, was named to the All-NBA first team in 2015 and the All-NBA second team in 2013.

“I got there when I was 16 years old and left as a father of two kids,” said Gasol, who still owns a house in Memphis. “My youngest actually is from Memphis, he was born there, and my daughter’s best friends are from Memphis, so my ties to the city and my roots go really deep.

“My love for the people there and the franchise, it’s forever.”

Gasol came to Toronto last year in exchange for a package that included popular big man Jonas Valanciunas as the Grizzlies looked to move past their successful teams built around Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph and enter a rebuild. He became a much-needed stabilizing force on the defensive end and helped the Raptors capture their first NBA title.

“I think the first thing that makes (Gasol) special is his combination of being a great defender in a lot of ways,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s a great individual whenever there’s a big who can score he’s someone you can rely on to kind of handle his matchup sometime.

“He’s a great help defender, he’s got that big body underneath the rim that sometimes he’ll protect with. And then his passing, I think, makes him special.”

Both Toronto and Memphis will wear throwback uniforms for Sunday’s game, the closest thing Canadian NBA fans will get to the days of the Naismith Cup competitions between the Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies before the team moved south in 2001.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2020. 


The Canadian Press