Los Angeles Lakers fans will never forget Thursday, December 8th, 2011. On that day, almost two years ago, the Lakers essentially traded power forwards Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in a deal involving the New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets that would send Chris Paul to the Lakers, that is, until NBA commissioner David Stern nixed the trade that night. Several days later, the Hornets reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers. Gasol stayed with the Lakers, Lamar Odom, upon request, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, and the rest is NBA history.
For a moment, forget the fan’s perspective or the business side of professional sports. What was it like to be in Gasol’s shoes on that cold day in December? In Gasol’s new book Life · Vida, award-winning photographer Lori Shepler spent four years capturing moments of authenticity, and this day happened to be one of those moments. Early in the book, there is a photograph (right) of Gasol hooked up to an EKG machine. There is text to the left of the photo, in which Gasol explains the normal testing he has to go through so that teams know he’s in tip-top shape.
Little do you know, that that photo was actually taken on the day the Lakers agreed to trade Pau Gasol. After Gasol’s last chapter in his book, in a section titled, “Behind The Lens,” Shepler describes the meaning behind that powerful photo:
“Just hours after the Lakers tried to trade Pau for Chris Paul, the Lakers told him he needed to get tests done before he could start the season. He slipped out the side door, away from all the media, and let me ride with him to the clinic. The whole drive over there he talked about the trade over the phone with his brother, Marc. When he went into the room to get the EKG and treadmill tests, they had posters of the Lakers championship win in 2010 on the wall. It was a tough moment.”
Gasol briefly writes about that specific moment and realizes that he’s proud of how he handled that situation. Through the adversity of being “pretty much traded and then the trade was blocked,” he’s specifically proud of how he “dealt with the constant uncertainty after that moment.”
Despite being so abruptly thrown into the recyclable reality of professional sports, and faced with a unique situation of having to stay with a team that agreed to trade him, Gasol did not break down. In his chapter, “Challenges,” Gasol takes time to reflect:
“What’s a trade rumor or a potential change of teams? What’s it like to play for a coach who doesn’t believe in me or trust my abilities 100 percent? What’s the criticism that I may get at times for not accomplishing what’s expected?”
Gasol considers those obstacles as simply “bumps in the road,” though I can only imagine that learning to manage these doubts is far from simple. Where most would fall apart, Gasol is, as Kobe Bryant describes him “calm in the face of a storm; controlled in the throes of confusion.”
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