Pau Gasol: Extending Kobe's legacy as Ambassador of Women's World Cup
SYDNEY (Australia) - Pau Gasol, ambassador of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022, is more than excited for the final moments of the competition in Sydney, especially to be here with his family.
"For me to be here, support the game, support the growth also of women's basketball and women's sports, it's very meaningful."
As a World Cup champion and MVP in 2006, multiple Olympic medalist, and three-time EuroBasket champion, Gasol knows what it takes to be the best of the best in the business. Therefore, he knows that the women here among the remaining teams in Sydney are truly among the best players in the world of women's basketball.
"It's truly remarkable this championship and I'm just happy to be here. I'm happy to be an ambassador for the World Cups starting with the Women's World Cup here in Sydney," said Gasol in a Press Conference right before the first Semi-Finals game between USA and Canada.
Pau with FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis
You can see in his eyes that he's not only excited to be here to watch the best talents in the world of basketball compete for the title, but to also be an ambassador for the game of women's basketball.
Pride of an ambassador
"To me, it means a lot," he said. "I've taken a few ambassador roles after my playing career with different organizations. With FIBA, it means a lot because of some of the successes [in my career]."
"For me to be here, support the game, support the growth also of women's basketball and women's sports, it's very meaningful. I'm also trying to follow the legacy and mission of Kobe and Gigi and the Bryant family. That's something to me, personally, very meaningful."
"For all of that and other reasons that I love this sport, obviously have a daughter as well. I want my daughter to have the same opportunities and the same path that any boy would have."
Extending a legacy
Gasol attended the press conference wearing a Kobe Bryant design T-Shirt, further emphasizing the connection he had with the late basketball legend and how both of them have long been passionate about women's basketball.
"[For Kobe] I think having a daughter like Gigi that loved the game, that played the game, he could see himself really in her. Then he started coaching their team and going to their practices, and I was able to go to one of their practices as well and I tried to teach and coach those girls," Gasol said of what drew the two to be fully committed to promoting the sport together.
Pau & Kobe, two brothers that played against one another at the 2008 Olympic Games
"It inspired me to get more involved and to provide more opportunities and a path forward and understanding that for a lot of girls, they just couldn't see that path. It wasn't the same path as for boys or men, as we've finally understood like this is not right. We have to do something about it and we have to change this."
"That's just also a big part of just why I've been a part of it. I'm a big believer of how things should be fair, things should make sense, and things should be right."
"Again, I love the direction that things are going, the progress that has been made and I think that there's a lot more that we could continue to do and will do and that's what Kobe and I had that in common, just like other things."
"I'm just trying to a certain degree as his younger brother kind of continue what he started and continue his legacy and do what I can."
"We're playing the same sport"
One of the things that Gasol thinks can be done better to promote women's basketball is for basketball figures like himself to continue being vocal and expressive about their support. There's already a good trend going on in the world of basketball, but it's just important to keep things going.
"I think you're seeing that more and more," said Gasol of male players coming forward to show their support of the women in the game.
"I think you've seen more men's or male players supporting the women's game and making it one sport and not two different sports. That really creates talking about this separation, that's happening more and more and I'd like it to continue to be that way. Because at the end of the day, we're brothers and sisters. We're playing the game that we love and we should support each other."
"I think in a way, it's been that way, but it's always been big brother-little sister, so now we're just going to try to make it brother and sister without that distinction." That's the main message that Gasol wants to send out to those players with a platform to influence the next generation: We're all playing the same game.
With Sabrina Ionescu from Team USA
"I think at the end of the day it's understanding that we're playing the same sport. It's all about promoting sports, boys and girls, the effect that that has in the younger generations and the message that when you play a sport at a high level, you happen to play a sport that is followed, whether you like it or not, kids are looking up to you and you become some sort of a role model. That's something that comes with the position. You can't choose taking just the good things and leaving the bad things. I think you have to embrace the opportunity and responsibility that comes with your position no matter what it is and I think I would encourage all of them to send the right message, to go out of their way to do that as well. That would be a good start, to get involved."
Stories left to be told
There's still some ways to go, but as Gasol repeated multiple times, we're moving in the right direction. Gasol believes that there's a lot of aspects of the game that are overlooked in women's competitions and he hopes that casual fans could turn their attention to these competitions if they pay a bit more attention on that end.
"There are many stories like every championship has, if you pay close attention. There's always some of the inspiring an exceptional stories that come out," he said.
"To me, it all comes down to stories. Personal stories, human stories, the sacrifices that have to be made. The love for the game, the passion that women play with. To me, there's a lot there that would attract interest of people and fans that haven't watched much of women's basketball."
Among one of those stories is Lauren Jackson coming back on the court for her fifth Women's World Cup as a key factor for the Australia national team here in Sydney at the age of 41. It's a story that's been emphasized throughout the competition and is one that Gasol would like to hear told from Jackson's perspective at some point as well.
"People have a tendency to put limits to what we can do or what we should do, I think it's always great to have reminders that the things that are what we think are not doable, that are not accomplishable, they actually are," said Gasol of Jackson's return.
"There are examples of athletes or people in other fields that remind us that well I can play until I’m 41, I can play until I'm 45, I can play for as long as I can. That's going to take some effort, that's not just going to happen. It's going to take some work, it's not easy and that's why it's hard to picture, but if we really want to do something, it's we’re really willing to put in the work, sacrifices are necessary and it's doable."
"It's a great story obviously. It's not easy for a player - I'd love to hear more from her about this - that she's been such a dominant player, Hall of Famer, MVP, gold medalists and so forth to play a different role and that's something that's part of the beauty. You have to adjust, you have to embrace the different stages of your life, understanding that sometimes, you're not in the front seat anymore, now you're going to be in the backseat, and that role is just as important for your team to win. It's an inspiration to the younger players, too. I think stories like that are necessary. Not just for sports but for society as well."
There are also tales that hit closer to home for Gasol, including the story of Sabrina Ionescu's debut in the Women's World Cup.
"My relationship with Sabrina and our friendship comes from Kobe and the relationship and friendship that they had," he explained. "It's interesting how a lot of emotional, personal feelings that we had with Kobe, that love and appreciation for him kind of shifted towards the people around him."
"Sabrina has become like a little sister and I'm her brother. We talk often and it's just been great to see her grow in front of us."
"Finally, you see her pull through and being able to play her game and making the USA team. I was talking to her when she was in training camp, she wasn't quite sure in the end if she was going to make the team, I just told her 'You're going to make it, you're going to make it'. I was just trying to share that confidence and determination that Kobe would have shared with her, knowing him."
"I'm just excited for her. I think she's a very unique talent, I think she's a great girl, I think she has a lot ahead of her, and I'm going to try to be there for her along the way, helping her with whatever she needs help with."
For Pau Gasol, this ambassadorship and his presence here in Sydney might seem more like a family activity which he is also doing in a literal sense. He's extending the legacy of his brother, Kobe. He's supporting his little sister Sabrina. And it's helping to build the pathway for his daughter in the future as well.
Pau talking courtside during the Semi-Finals with FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis
"When I started talking with Andreas [Zagklis] about a potential relationship and ambassadorship with FIBA, it was very important and very meaningful that we started talking about not just the men's side but the women's side as well and to support the sport in its complete totality. It's very meaningful for me to be an ambassador of the game to support women's sports to support women's basketball in the World Cup and obviously the relationship with Kobe and what he was doing and what he was working on. I have a pretty good sense that he would be here if he was with us."
"That's why it was very meaningful for me. My wife is here, our two-year-old daughter is here, so as a family we're here supporting this, not just me."