As the regular has now entered September, the NBA calendar has now switched to its “slow season” in terms of activity on and off the court. With the heavy lifting of the offseason in the rearview mirror and training camps a few weeks away, news and activity for most teams (outside of Ben Simmons) should slow down a bit. However, it is during this time where player extensions, promotions, and other exciting news nuggets for the upcoming season are usually announced to keep anticipation high.
A great example of this occurred on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021, with the Grizzlies. As part of “9/01” day, an annual celebration for the city of Memphis, one of the biggest announcements this year was that Tony Allen and Zach Randolph would have their jerseys retired during the 2021-2022 season. As two pillars of the “Core Four” and Grit and Grind Era, its more than deserved for both Allen and Randolph.
Across sports, a jersey retirement is the universal sign of honor and gratitude from a franchise to an individual for his or her outstanding accomplishments while representing that specific franchise. Typically, this is bestowed upon athletes who are the most decorated or accomplished in the history of the franchise. However, and in the case of the “Core Four” and the Grizzlies, it also is meant to honor those athletes whose impact was highly felt both inside and outside the sports realm during their career.
Of course, Allen and Randolph are simply the first duo of the “Core Four” who will experience this honor in time. Once their playing days are over, both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley will certainly experience this same distinction. Whether or not these players deserve this honor by general NBA standards is of no consequence. What matters is how well each of these four members represented the Grizzlies franchise and the city of Memphis on and off the court during the best stretch of success in franchise history.
The decision to retire the jerseys of each member of the “Core Four” is a wonderful decision by the Grizzlies. Future generations of Grizzlies fans should forever know the main reasons why the Grit and Grind era was - to this point, the peak of the Grizzlies and one of the most enjoyable and organic cultures and brands in the recent history of the NBA. However, I also feel another jersey should hang in the rafters with Allen, Randolph, Conley and Marc Gasol in honor of the individual who played a critical role in helping the Grizzlies franchise establish itself in not only Memphis, but the NBA.
Pau Gasol’s jersey is more than deserving to be retired next to the “Core Four” for present and future fans of the Grizzlies franchise to enjoy and honor.
Without a doubt, the reason I feel the elder Gasol deserves this distinction differs a bit from the Core Four. Pau Gasol’s resume certainly centers on the success he experienced on the court, as he achieved many individual “firsts” for the Grizzlies once they arrived in Memphis. Pau Gasol was the first Grizzlies’ player to win an annual individual league award with his Rookie of the Year award during the 2001-2002 season. He became the first All-Star in franchise history in the 2005-2006 season. He also was the “face of the franchise” during the first stretch of playoff success for Memphis from 2004 through 2006.
Beyond his assortment of individual “firsts”, in terms of on-court production, Pau Gasol is arguably the best player in Grizzlies franchise history. He currently ranks fifth in assists, fourth in points, third in rebounds, and second in blocks among all players who have played for the Grizzlies. Of the 23 Grizzlies who have played 200 or more games for the franchise, Pau Gasol ranks second in points per game, second in rebounds per game, second in true shooting percentage, and first in blocks per game.
Where Pau Gasol stands out the most in comparison to past and present Grizzlies is per game impact metrics. Of the same 23 Grizzlies referenced above, Pau Gasol ranks first in PER, WS/48, and Offensive Box Plus/Minus. Only Marc Gasol has a higher Box Plus/Minus among Grizzlies players. While Marc Gasol may have an argument as the best overall player in the history of the franchise up to this point, Pau Gasol’s resume certainly makes it a valid debate between the Gasol Brothers.
Even more impressive in terms of Pau Gasol is that his production for the Grizzlies occurred at the start of his career. While Marc Gasol, Randolph, and Conley have higher career totals with the Grizzlies in many statistical categories, those numbers result from many more games played for the franchise during the prime of their careers. Though the actual production from each of these players is what ultimately matters in determining their significance as Grizzlies, when that production occurred in terms of their respective career timelines is also relevant.
In other words, on several occasions, myself and others have mentioned that Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the best two natural talents to ever play for the Grizzlies franchise. For me, the standard of comparison that statement is based on is not in relation to any member of the “Core Four”.
That standard is Pau Gasol.
One other added layer of relevance to Pau Gasol’s time with the Grizzlies is how productive he was at the start of his career compared to other international players up to that point in league history. When his time with the Grizzlies ended at the 2007-2008 NBA trade deadline, Pau Gasol was one of only 16 international players to have produced 8,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, and 800 blocks at that time in NBA history. Only six of those 16 players accomplished that level of production within their first seven years in the NBA. They were Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Mychal Thompson, and Gasol. (For added relevance, only Yao Ming, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic have joined that group since).
The fact that Nowitzki and Gasol were the only Europeans among that group shows how rare of a talent Gasol was at the time he joined the league. Gasol having the success he had for a franchise that was beginning its time in the smallest market in the NBA as his career started makes his production even more impressive. Pau Gasol, like Nowitzki, truly was a trailblazer for the eventual arrival of European talent into the NBA over the past two decades.
Though there are many reasons Pau Gasol should receive the same honor as the “Core Four”, the main difference between the elder Gasol and that group should be acknowledged. While the impact of the Core Four remains overwhelmingly positive on and off the court, Pau Gasol’s Grizzlies’ career did not end on the best of terms. Through comments and a trade request, Gasol made it clear he did not want to experience the rebuild the Grizzlies were headed toward during the latter part of the 2000s. As a result, his trade to the Lakers was completed.
Despite the negativity caused by that experience, it certainly seems as if no ill will remains on Gasol’s end toward the franchise. Though the end of his time in Memphis may have been less than ideal, its hard to deny that Pau Gasol was the ideal player for the Grizzlies as the franchise was establishing itself in Memphis and the NBA in general.
In terms of both the player and franchise starting their time in Memphis, they both arrived, survived, and eventually thrived together.
Furthermore, the Gasol brothers are synonymous with Grizzlies basketball. Though Pau Gasol’s best days may have been elsewhere, for nearly two decades, a Gasol brother was at the center of the greatest moments in Grizzlies’ history. Retiring the numbers of both brothers and potential future Hall of Famers could be a great gesture by the Grizzlies to honor the greatest pair of brothers to ever play in the NBA.
As can be seen, Pau Gasol certainly has produced more than enough reason to have his jersey retired in the rafters of FedExForum one day. In time, he may even be one of the few players in league history to have his jersey retired by multiple teams. Without a doubt, the Grizzlies made the right decision to honor the first members of the “Core Four” with this distinction. However, in time, the best decision should be to honor all five of the Grizzlies’ players who stood tall above the rest during the franchise’s first two decades in Memphis.