Pau Gasol is without doubt the greatest Spanish basketball player of all time, with a world title, two Olympic silver and a bronze medal and three European Championships among his many triumphs, which also include two NBA titles and six appearances in the All-Star events.
Now the 41-year-old is hoping to help Spain to further Olympic success in Tokyo after spending the end of last season back at his hometown team FC Barcelona, to recover form after overcoming a serious foot injury that needed two operations, reports Xinhua.
“I had a dream of continuing to play, to retire on court at the highest level and that got me through the difficult moments,” Gasol explained in an interview with the El Pais newspaper as he prepares for his fifth Olympic Games.
“Maybe the intelligent thing would have been to say ‘I have come this far and I can be proud of what I have done,’ but I have never been a conformist and it was incredible to win another title with Barca,” he said, explaining that the “desire” and “the conviction not to throw in the towel, is what has pushed me to overcome something that was very complicated.”
Japan is the scene of Spain’s greatest basketball triumph when they won the 2006 world title in the country, although Gasol missed that final because of injury.
“I’d sigh now if I could pick up another injury, but we won the gold medal,” he assured.
“Spain’s mentality is always ambitious, working, enjoying and giving everything, we always push ourselves to the end and we will do it again,” he said, looking at the silver medals they won in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, along with bronze in Rio 2016.
“The two Olympic finals against the United States were competitive finals and in Beijing we were closer. In the end we fell a little short but with the feeling of having had options to win. You have to realize how hard it is to win a medal and the bronze in Rio 2016 was also very important,” said Gasol, who accepts that at 41 his role has changed.
“It’s obvious it will be different. I don’t aim to play all the minutes that I have played before or to have the role that I had. But I can do meaningful work, contribute, make a difference and help the team win and be better,” commented the player, who accepts Tokyo will see the end of his international career after 20 years.
“It will be my last championship with the national team and it will be very emotional. I aim to enjoy each moment as if it were the last, which in this case it will be,” he concluded.