In high school, Pau Gasol pursued “unathletic interests.” So reports the episode of Real Sports, premiering on HBO 17 April, interests that included reading “countless books” and learning “Tchaikovsky on the piano… all while starring in basketball and dreaming of life as a pro.” The clip here shows a very young and sweet-faced Gasol blowing out birthday cake candles, before it cuts to Magic Johnson, whose announcement that he was HIV positive deeply affected the boy in Spain. “I was in shock,” the now 31-year-old Gasol tells Jon Frankel, and so he imagined himself entering the medical profession (his mother was a doctor and his father a nurse). His choice is now something like history, as is his brother Marc’s. Both were drafted by the NBA, Marc by the Lakers and Pau by the Grizzlies, and then became the first (and only, so far) brothers traded for one another.
Photos and footage show Pau on the court and off, playing piano and visiting an orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital in LA. While the piece is focused on Pau’s success now and remains consistently upbeat, it does touch—very briefly—on what what can happen when players come to the States from elsewhere. When Marc recalls that when he first joined the team at Memphis, “They called me Big Burrito,” Pau sits beside him, looking down and away; if it’s not clear whether he’s pained by the xenophobic “nickname,” it reminds the rest of us that the US can be a tough place for newcomers, especially for those who come with an accent or some other sign of difference. If the piece doesn’t look at this “unathletic” backdrop or, for that matter, Pau’s career with the Lakers, it does give him a chance to affirm that he has no regrets about his choices. “I think that’s a good way to go,” he tells Frankel. Given the general turmoil that goes with being a Laker, that sounds right.
The episode also includes segments on extreme skiing, paralympics racer Alex Zanardi, and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Madden, as he prepares for the new season—specifically checking in on his wardrobe choices.