25 July, 2021
07 August
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Ode to Scola and the Gasol brothers

TOKYO (Japan) - What can be said about Argentina's Luis Scola, and Spain's Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, that hasn't already been in their remarkable careers?

It's all documented: the devotion to their national teams, their humility, their passion, their work off the court with charities.

Everyone knows them as generational players but also wonderful human beings. They have meant -and will continue to mean - everything to basketball.

The three retired from the international game on Tuesday immediately after their national teams were beaten in the Quarter-Finals at the Olympics in Japan.

Scola and Pau are 41, Marc is 36.

Scola is the all-time leader in international games played for Argentina with 173 and is also his country's all-time leading scorer with 2,857 points.

Pau played in 216 international games for Spain while Marc competed in 191. 

The Saitama Super Arena was a fitting venue for each to say their final goodbye. It's where all three competed during one of the most memorable tournaments of their careers, the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006.

Have 15 years really gone by since?

Spain beat Argentina, 75-74, in one Semi-Final while Greece downed the USA 101-95 in the other. It was an unforgettable day in national team basketball history.

Argentina, the team Scola helped to the Olympic gold medal in 2004, squared off against Spain and the Gasols in one of the most competitive and dramatic Semi-Finals in international hoops history.

Scola had eight points and eight rebounds while Pau had 19 and 11.

They say that only mountains don't cross each other, yet on this day two legendary ones did.

Pau had to leave the contest after suffering a serious injury late, a partial fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, while putting on a pirouette spin move to the basket. Fouled, Pau stayed down knowing something was wrong, before getting up and gingerly walking  to the line to make two free throws before heading to the bench.

Andres Nocioni missed what would have been a game-winning three-pointer from the right corner for Argentina and then without Pau but instead with Marc, who was 21, inexperienced and only in the team because Fran Vazquez had pulled out of the group before the event with a back problem, Spain hammered Greece in the Final, 70-47, to capture the world title for the first time.

The title was the first of many to come for the Gasols and Spain.

Pau had been so dominant that even though he missed the Final, he was named World Cup MVP. Meanwhile, the tournament was a turning point for Marc, a launchpad for greater things.

The two finished runners-up the next year with Spain at the FIBA EuroBasket in Madrid, with JR Holden's late basket giving Russia a victory over them in the Final. The brothers then helped Spain put on a show against the USA at the Olympics in Beijing in what many called the greatest Final ever, with the Americans winning 118-107.

Pau was then-MVP of Spain's first FIBA EuroBasket title-winning triumph in Poland, in 2009, and both helped the country win a second straight title at the FIBA EuroBasket in 2011, in Lithuania, before another Olympic Final showdown with the USA in London in 2012. The Americans won that meeting, too, and it was even closer, 107–100, despite 24 points and seven rebounds from Pau.

Some lows had to be navigated for the Gasols, like a blown lead in the FIBA EuroBasket 2013 Semi-Final defeat to France in Slovenia, when Pau wasn't present, though Spain rebounded by winning the Third-Place Game.

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There was also the poor performance in the World Cup Quarter-Final the following year against France in Madrid, which prevented Spain from taking a lap of honor in front of their fans.

But Spain always bounced back, and they did the next year in Lille, France, when Pau led them to glory and captured yet another tournament MVP honor. Marc wasn't in that team, nor in the side that captured the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, but both were together again in 2017 when Spain finished third at the FIBA EuroBasket in Istanbul.

At the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, Pau wasn't present but Marc was and with a veteran team reached the top of the podium. Marc, along with tournament MVP Ricky Rubio, made the All-Star Five.

It was the last great act by a Gasol in international basketball. Pau, after more than a year of being dogged by injury, made it back to join Marc in this year's Olympic squad but neither was influential on the court.

Two of the all-time  greats leave behind them several generations of basketball legacy.

Scola had many highs, though not in the same caliber of teams that the Gasols played for. He will remember painfully losing in two FIBA Basketball World Cup Finals - first against Yugoslavia in 2002 and then to Spain in 2019.

Argentina will always believe they should have been champions in that first World Cup Final in Indianapolis.

With the game 75-75, Scola knocked the ball out of Vlade Divac's hands at mid-court just 5.9 seconds from the end and was going to score the winning points when the whistle blew and he was called for a foul. The video replay revealed it to be a very tough call on Scola, who fouled out on the play. The contest went to overtime and Yugoslavia won, 84-77.

At the Beijing Olympics, Scola led Argentina to the bronze medal with both Manu Ginobili and Nocioni getting hurt during the tournament.

At the World Cup in 2010, Scola was the tournament's leading scorer at 27.1 points per game. The following year, Scola was the MVP of the FIBA AmeriCup in Mar del Plata after leading Argentina to the title while averaging a tournament-best 21.4 points per game.

Scola was the fifth-leading scorer at the London Olympics  at 18.0 points per game as Argentina reached the Semi-Finals, and he topped the scoring charts at the FIBA AmeriCup 2013 in Caracas, Venezuela, as Argentina finished third. Two years later at the FIBA AmeriCup in Mexico City, Argentina would occupy the same step of the podium. His 21.1 points per game fueled Argentina's run to the Final and allowed them to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Even at the World Cup in China, Scola remained a big-time scorer while leading Argentina to the Final. His 17.9 points per game were the 11th best in the tournament.

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If some national team players took a summer off occasionally to rest, Scola never did. He always said it helped him remain in good playing shape for the following season and his commitment to wearing the Argentina shirt was second to none.

At the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Scola showed his leadership when he went onto the court with Brazil's Marcelinho Huertas to appeal to fans to appreciate the rivalry but to not lose perspective, with so many sporting contests between teams of the countries having been marred by crowd violence.

Scola never got carried away by his celebrity and seemed surprised that others felt he was special. When he walked off the court for the last time in the final minute of Argentina's Quarter-Final defeat to Australia, he did so in anguish, knowing his team would take no further part in the Olympics.

 Everything stopped as everyone paid tribute to Luis, one last time.

It took several seconds to register with him that everything in the Saitama Arena had stopped and that people in the stands, and Australia coach Brian Goorjian and his players, were standing and applauding him for his incredible career. It was a show of genuine love, respect and appreciation for all that he had done in basketball, for the unwavering commitment.

As it began to sink in for all those watching, that Scola was done, there were tears, including from his coach, Sergio Hernandez.

Scola and the Gasols, Pau and Marc: they are players that have given so much to international basketball. The sport owes them a huge debt of gratitude.