We’re all guilty of it.
Putting our athletic heroes on a pedestal. Viewing our sports stars as immortals capable of doing anything. We view them like real-life superheroes at times, right out of the pages of a Marvel or DC comic book, to whom the laws of physics and time do not apply. They can fly. They can complete feats of strength. They are exceptional.
Then, we get a reminder of just how human they are. An injury occurs. A blown out knee, a broken arm, and there they are, lying on the floor or field, writhing in pain. In that moment empathy and epiphany collide. Of course you feel for them, and you feel slightly selfish for thinking, “what will this do to the team I cheer for?” But beyond that, there’s also a sense of realization that these phenoms really are just men and women, people like you and me.
They are mortal.
Marc Gasol’s injury past is long and distinguished. He‘s played through a variety of ailments, and sat out for others, but this most recent one that he suffered this past winter was different. Words were floating around like “career-ending” and “will never be the same.” Memphis Grizzlies fans were panicked. The team had just signed Marc Gasol to a long-term max contract, and he was underachieving anyway before the injury. What will become of their “Big Spain”, their “Wendigo”, their Spanish Superman?
Over the off-season, pictures and Vines and videos would surface of Gasol recovering. And they were promising images. But we were all still waiting for the confirmation that Marc would be ready for the season. We were hopeful that Marc would not rush to be able to play for Spain in the Rio Olympics (he didn’t, thankfully). We wanted to be optimistic, but the worst was still a possibility.
Then, Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that Gasol has been cleared for Training Camp. This is terrific news. But it doesn’t mean that things can go right back to the way they were. Marc must be allowed to ease back in to the rigors of the NBA, and thankfully training camp is a great time to do just that.
How can Gasol get ready for the grind of the NBA season? There are some steps that can be taken. Some of them are simple. Others will require some soul searching.
STAY OUT OF PRESEASON GAMES
At least the first three. Even then, play him in limited minutes in games four and five and sit him for the final preseason contest. If the Grizzlies do this, Marc will not be on the court playing minutes in live competition until October 15th at the earliest. That buys him several rest days in between practices and also gives reps to younger players trying to get used to the scheme, or players like Brandan Wright who are recovering from their own (less serious) injuries. Marc has very little to prove at this point - when healthy, he is one of the top players in the NBA - and preseason, while valuable for timing purposes, should not be a priority for a former All-NBA First Team player like Marc.
BULLY UP IN PRACTICE, NOT THE GAME.
Even if/when Gasol does get game time in preseason games, and even still early in the regular season, he probably will still be feeling out how to play on his foot again post-injury. The physicality of the NBA game, especially in the post, is no joke. This is cause for concern with a returning Gasol, and while his game has never been fully dependent on aggression and bullying on the block (like his buddy Zach Randolph), he must be weary of getting too contact-friendly early.
Practice is the best place to work on low post moves and rebounding. It’s a much more controlled environment - it’s like when a quarterback in football has a red jersey on, letting the defense know he is not to be touched. It can be made clear that Marc is specifically working on timing in certain drills, and he is to be allowed more space than usual as he works himself back in to game shape and speed.
KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS
Gasol’s toughness is well established. He has played through torn abdominal muscles. He has battled with knee and back issues. It’s believed his foot injury occurred in part because of less serious issues he was having not being rested.
It is time to learn a lesson from that mistake.
The Grizzlies are clearly invested in Gasol for the long haul. The deepest part of their roster is their front court, with players like Randolph, Wright, JaMychal Green, and even Deyonta Davis (potentially) able to contribute. No one knows Marc’s body better than Marc - he must be honest with the trainers, the coaches, and most importantly himself. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, and a rushed back Gasol who limps in to the spring does the Grizzlies no good.
The coaches and trainers must be smart about Gasol’s return, but if Marc does not take it seriously there is nothing that they can do.
Superheroes aren’t real. Despite the phenomenal physical feats of professional athletes, they are human and can break down just like you or I. As Marc Gasol limped off the floor last season, we were reminded just how true that is and how in a moment, the future of a franchise can hang in the balance: millions of dollars and the hopes and dreams of a fan base invested in and dependent on the fragility of a ligament or bone.
Gasol must not return as if nothing ever happened to him. He has to take the necessary steps to ensure that he is able to play not just in October, but in April. That he can be a factor in the 2018-2019 season, not just the 2016-2017 one. Part of that is on his coaches and trainers, but only he knows how that foot truly feels. It is up to him to step back and save himself.
He must embrace both his importance and his mortality.