We never truly know the impact that we can have on other people.
A simple conversation, a short exchange of words that may mean nothing to us in any given moment has the power to change someone else’s life. Our words have the ability to build or to destroy, and it truly is sobering. It means that we have a real responsibility for how we treat others. Treating others the way we want to be treated is truly the golden rule, especially for someone whom people admire and idolize.
Pau Gasol understood this.
When I was 9-years-old, my friend’s parents took several others and me to a Memphis Grizzlies game against the San Antonio Spurs. It was awesome. I hadn’t been to many games at that point in my life, so it was like a combination of my birthday and Christmas morning when I did get the chance to go watch my favorite team.
But here’s the best part: We had tickets on the second row. Now that may not seem like a big deal to some people, but things that we sometimes take for granted mean more to small children. These weren’t just my favorite basketball players that I was getting to watch up close; they were basically my superheroes. Pau Gasol was my Batman, Mike Miller was my Spiderman, and Jake Tsakalidas was probably Hawkeye in that he didn’t really contribute anything to the team, but we still liked having him around.
As we sat down and watched the Grizzlies come out of the tunnel to the tune of “Crank That” by Soulja Boy (the mid 2000s were a wild time), I noticed that Pau Gasol was the last member of the team to make it out. He walked right past me (“Oh my gosh, he was so close!”) and picked up a ball from the rack on the court. He took one dribble and looked like he was about to join the rest of the team in the layup line.
Then, he stopped.
He turned around and looked at me.
“Hey kid, what’s up!” he said in his Spanish accent as he starts to walk in my direction.
As you can imagine, I was absolutely speechless. Pau Gasol, who was at the time one of the 10 or 15 best basketball players in the world, was taking the time to talk to me, Nathan Chester of Collierville, Tennessee? Remember what I said about the combination of Christmas and my birthday? Go ahead and multiply that feeling by about a hundred, and that’s how I was feeling.
Now I could tell you some inspirational garbage about how Gasol told me that I could be anything I wanted as long as I dreamed big enough. That would be a lie, and as an honest writer I try to stay out of the business of lying.
The truth is that my talk with Gasol was not particularly memorable. He mainly just asked me about how I was doing and if I was happy to be there. However, what he actually said to me is not truly important. What is important is the fact that he took the time to give some random kid a moment that he would never forget.
Pau Gasol probably doesn’t remember ever talking to me or signing my t-shirt. In all likelihood he had probably done something similar on many occasions. Yet his words and attention had a positive impact on me—an impact that is still visible in my love of basketball and the Memphis Grizzlies.
As I reflect on what helped me fall in love with the game of basketball, I don’t necessarily think of the soothing sound of a ball bouncing on the court or the beautiful feeling of watching a ball swish through the net. Instead, I think of personal moments where my heroes became ordinary people to me.
I once again think of Pau Gasol taking time out of his warmup to reach out to me.
I think of all the times as a kid that I saw Mike Miller in public and how friendly he always was. I also think of the year when I played for his AAU team, M33M.
I think of the time when I was sitting in the back of my dad’s truck and saw Shane Battier pumping gas beside his car. I waved at him. He waved back at me.
I remember all of these times when my favorite players on the Memphis Grizzlies impacted me in small ways that they do not even know or remember. Then I wonder if I have ever done the same for anyone else.
Our impact on others is felt far beyond what we will ever see. Thankfully, in Memphis, we’ve been fortunate to have Grizzlies who get that and then some.