Laia Palau is now Laia Legend!
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Laia Palau.
Longevity. Commitment. Excellence. Never say die.
The left-handed point guard, whose harassing, frenetic style of defense was a constant spark for Spain for two decades, announced her international retirement this week.
She is 42 years old!
Spain have other legends, especially since the turn of the century. Amaya Valdemoro comes to mind.
Remember the fist-pumping Valdemoro shouting "Vamos" during comebacks and sacrificing everything to lead Spain for nearly two decades.
Palau was actually doing the same thing in many of those Valdemoro-led teams. She had the same competitive zeal and had a career that lasted just as long.
How should history view Palau?
The USA women have had Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, while Spain have had Valdemoro and Palau.
Palau was there in 2013 with Elisa Aguilar and Amaya Valdemoro when Spain won the elusive European title
The playmaker competed in the first of her five FIBA Women's Basketball World Cups in 2002, the same year Bird made her bow in the competition.
We probably know Spain best as the team that has gone rampaging through Europe and become one of the top teams in international basketball.
Palau was there, though, when Spain wasn't among the leaders. She was there when the foundations were being laid.
Like when Spain pulled off the great escape in Patras, Greece, at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2003, when a win in the Third Place Game over Poland was needed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics.
Palau (top left) celebrated after helping Spain beat Poland and qualify for the Athens Olympics
The Poles had the giant center Margo Dydek, one of the faces of the tournament, and they opened up a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter to effectively put one foot in the Olympic tournament field.
But Spain pulled off an unlikely comeback and prevailed, 87-81.
Palau had 18 points.
The Palau legend was really born, in my opinion, in her very first game at the Olympics the following year in Athens. With Spain about to lose to the Czech Republic, Palau hit a three-pointer from close to half-court to force overtime. Spain then won, 80-78.
Palau made her Olympic bow against the Czechs in 2004 and stunned them with a long shot to force OT
She would go on to hit other crazy game-winning shots in her career.
There were plenty of highs but some lows, too. Palau cried on court after a surprise defeat to Montenegro at FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2011 in Poland because it ended their hopes of reaching the London Olympics.
But Spain reorganized and two years later finally, FINALLY, won the FIBA Women's EuroBasket in France!
They captured two of the next three FIBA Women's EuroBaskets, in Prague in 2017 and Belgrade in 2019.
Palau was terrific late in her career.
Her 37 assists were second only to Asami Yoshida's 52 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and they were a big reason why Spain made it to their first Olympic Final.
It's truly something to marvel at. She's really Pau Gasol-esque when it comes to her achievements. In addition to playing at five FIBA Women's Basketball World Cups, she is a four-time Olympian! Palau played at 10 - count 'me, 10! FIBA Women's EuroBaskets.
Maybe the most remarkable aspect to Palau's Spain career is that she never missed a summer with the national team, starting in 2002 at the World Cup in China.
Little girls in Spain have wanted to play basketball because of Laia Palau.
Now, she's Laia Legend.
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