It was the crowning achievement of his professional life.
Outside of his wife and his children, basketball is one of the real loves in Marc Gasol’s world. Memphis Grizzlies fans known that all too well - Marc has many interests beyond the game, but his constant pursuit of playing the “right way” was motivation at beast, and an obsession at worst. There were times that Gasol’s wishes almost came true - the Western Conference Finals run where the team ran like a well-oiled machine, the series win over the Portland Trail Blazers and fight with the Golden State Warriors that would have been different had Mike Conley had not broken his face.
Close...but no cigar.
After finally reaching the pinnacle of his sport, the NBA Finals, upon defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, the mind of Marc was not completely on himself and his individual journey. It wasn’t on the fact that he dodged a bullet by being shipped out of Memphis and missing the playoffs again, or being traded to a team like the Charlotte Hornets that may not have made the playoffs...much less make the Finals.
He wasn’t just counting his lucky stars. He was counting his blessings...and those that helped him get to where he sat.
marc gasol: “every teammate that i had in memphis — tony, zach and mike especially — they’re in here, too.”— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) May 26, 2019
Memphis is one of those cities that stays with you, even after you depart. I know from experience - my three years in the Bluff City were three of the most transformative and important years of my life. I became a better human, a better eventual husband and father, for having lived in Memphis and being around the people and the soul of the city. That’s in a limited sample size, too - Marc has Memphis running through him. He came here as a child. He was raised Memphis. He became a man, a husband, a father all while calling Memphis home.
It sticks. You may leave Memphis, but it never, ever, leaves you.
Those people stick with you too - the Core Four Era for the Grizzlies was truly a special one, with more meaning than anyone that didn’t experience it first hand could ever know. Those that were there felt it - it was pure and organic, a love between a city and team so deep and real that so rarely develops in professional sports. That came in large part from Memphians and their investment in the lives and stories of Zach Randolph, of Tony Allen, of Mike Conley, and of Marc Gasol.
When they roared? We roared louder, 18,000+ strong.
When they fell? We fell just as hard, attached as if we were feeling the agony and anguish ourselves.
When they got back up and grew from those tumbles? We knew that the journey, regardless of final destination, was worth it...because it wasn’t just about a title.
It was about them...and us.
So when Marc looked upon the scene in Toronto after a raucous Game 6 victory, he didn’t just see Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. He saw Mike, and Tony, and Zach...and probably Rudy Gay, and Tayshaun Prince, and all the players that he spent time building an unlikely title contender in Memphis with. When he looked out at the wonderful Raptors fan base he likely was reminded of home. Because without all of them back in the 901...he would not be Marc Gasol.
Without Memphis, he isn’t Marc Gasol.
When Memphians say #WeTheSouth, or sport Gasol Toronto jerseys, or simply wish Marc good luck as the 2019 NBA Finals get under way, it’s not just because he’s a former Grizzly. It’s because he’s a forever Grizzly. It’s because he was made in Memphis, and represents the best of Memphis - uniquely flawed, and profoundly proud of the place and people that helped make us. It’s because of the love that has lasted through the years, through trials and tribulations, and the understanding that moving on from Marc, while the right decision for all involved, does not mean leaving Marc behind.
Marc hasn’t left us behind. He remembers...and won’t forget.
Neither will we.
Good luck, Marc. Give em’ hell. Raptors in 7.