Marc Gasol will never say that he is the greatest Memphis Grizzly of all time.
He won’t say he’s unguardable, though at times he is. He won’t state that this team would be nothing without him, but they certainly wouldn’t be 34-24 or prepping for another playoff run if he wasn’t around.
He isn’t the type to take himself too seriously, or view himself at the top of a mountain. He is happy to drive to an All-Star Game in a car (albeit a pretty nice car, a Tesla) - no need to fly, it’s not a big deal. He’s content talking about working in his garden, or about his teammate/best friend Mike Conley and how he wishes Mike was there with him with the press, or the game of basketball at large. He doesn’t need the attention - he doesn’t want it.
He will never say it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
He deflects credit to teammates for the Memphis Grizzlies likely having yet another postseason appearance, what would be their seventh in a row. He shouldn’t - he’s the main reason they are where they are. He’s the one having the career year roughly a year removed from a foot injury that some feared could derail his entire career. It’s him scoring 3.2 more points per game than his 1st Team All-NBA campaign two seasons ago. It’s Marc who has reinvented his game to be more perimeter based, to make more threes through 58 games this season than he has in his entire career.
It’s Marc Gasol who teams game-plan for, who can hit the one-foot Dirk fader almost as nicely as Dirk. It’s Marc who can facilitate offense, run the break, set screens, call out defensive rotations, and make perimeter defenders right after they get beat. It’s Gasol who has shown what can be done with hard work and intense focus, with a cerebral approach built around elite skill.
And imagine, some never thought he’d make it.
Not bad for the fat kid from Lausanne.
Not bad for the throw-in in a trade that sent his brother Pau Gasol, the former Greatest Grizzly, out of town with fans saying good riddance.
He never really wanted it. But it has come to be.
He wanted to be on a winner, to play the game the right way no matter the cost to himself or his numbers. Being the best individually didn’t matter - he wanted to be around others who valued winning above all else. He just had to find out for himself that for them to be the best they could be, he had to do the same for himself.
He’s transformed his body, his mind, and his soul over the years. He added layers to his game. He became the cornerstone upon which schemes are built. He better fit his game alongside that of Mike Conley, he connected with his “brother from another mother” Zach Randolph both on and off the court.
He was a boy here. He became a man here.
He became a leader of men here.
It isn’t just the numbers - he has those in spades, though. His best career win shares per 48 minutes among himself (.156), Randolph (.140 in Memphis), Conley (.127), and Pau (.153 in Memphis) according to basketballreference.com is just one example of that. And it isn’t just the accolades - 3-time All-Star, 2-time All-NBA (probably 3-time in a few months), former Defensive Player of the Year...that is all impressive. And it isn’t just the work that he does in Memphis with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or through the foundation he shares with Pau.
It’s also in the fact that he stayed.
Where his brother wanted out, Marc bought in. His opportunity to leave arrived. He had suitors. Bigger markets, brighter lights, better marketing opportunities. And yet he stayed. He decided that this was where he wanted to plant roots, to define his career that may well end in the Hall of Fame before all is said and done.
He chose to stay with his team. And now Pau’s Memphis teams, while successful, are in the shadow of what Marc and his Grizzlies have built.
When he takes the floor in New Orleans tonight to represent the Grizzlies in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, he likely won’t get much attention. He will get announced, play some minutes. Maybe he will make a three-pointer or two. And the announcers will probably say something about Marc being related to Pau, and talk about the Grizzlies in passing as an afterthought while the NBA at large eagerly awaits Cleveland-Golden State III in June.
But in homes around Memphis, and across all of Grizz Nation worldwide, eyes will be fixated solely on the large Spaniard who has made the 901 his home. Because a city striving for greatness out of struggle knows what they have in Marc Gasol. They have a humble son, a committed friend, a little brother no longer in any shadow. They have someone to rally behind, someone to believe in, someone who is flawed and yet has overachieved. Who made it when not too many folks thought he would.
He is the personification of the connection that was the whole reason the Grizzlies originally came to Memphis - a unifying force, a combination of blue collar and the beautiful game that is basketball.
He is the greatest Memphis Grizzly of all time. But you’ll never hear him say it.
And that’s what makes him great.