The love blossomed on a warm summer day in Calafell, a small beach town less than an hour’s drive west of Barcelona.
His grandmother owned a house there, not far from shores so white and pristine they once earned a European “blue flag” designation for cleanliness. Five years ago, the summer before his freshman year of high school, it was where Adrià Gasol truly found basketball.
You know the name: the one found on five different NBA All-Star rosters, two Olympic silver-medal teams and a FIBA World Championship.
Brothers have come and gone through professional sports, but the Gasols are arguably the most preeminent set active in basketball. The oldest is Pau, 32, the Lakers forward who was picked third overall in the 2001 draft. Next is Marc, 28, who carved out a star role in Memphis after being traded for Pau.
Now there is Adrià Gasol, a 19-year-old walk-on at UCLA, redshirting on a team filled with high school All-Americans.
For much of his life, the sport was imposed on him. His family ties dictated he would spend almost his entire childhood around the game. His height – 6 feet 11 now – meant the first question out of any stranger’s mouth was likely this: “Do you play?”
“It was tough for him,” Pau said. “It was always basketball. My turn. Marc’s. He would have to go to all the games. It was tough for a kid to go through that – game after game, always basketball, basketball, basketball.
“I’m sure he just wanted to do something that didn’t have anything to do with basketball.”
The shadow already cast, Adrià tried to find his own spotlight.
Gasol is the only player on the UCLA roster with class five days a week. He’s always loved reading, and some of his favorites include Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel.” He wants to take a class with Diamond, a UCLA professor, but he has his non-basketball sights set on a career in medicine or physics.
He paints miniature figurines, keeping a small collection in his room in Rieber Hall. By his own admittance, Gasol spends too much time on Reddit – commenting on everything from the NBA to relationships. He even once defended his own honor, dropping in on a reader who said he was “not very good.”
Even amidst his diverse interests, the main goal somehow turned back to basketball. He had never liked the sport growing up, but found himself thrown toward it the summer before he turned 14. Gasol’s friends wanted to go play in a three-on-three tournament in Calafell, one that his brother Marc often frequented. He wasn’t as enthused, but he tagged along reluctantly.
He played four games that day, and he remembers winning two of them. He says he was cheated out of a win through cheap foul calls. The last was a blowout, as the lanky teen was abused by an older, bigger player. Still in the early phases of puberty, he couldn’t figure out how to use his body and get around his opponent.
He had, after all, never learned the game properly. He had never wanted to.
But he had fun playing basketball for the first time in at least a decade, maybe ever.
Already behind the learning curve, he joined the junior varsity team at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn. — where he had lived since Pau played with the Grizzlies. Two years later, he went to Sant Joan Despi in Spain to continue developing.
“Just going out there, playing basketball, enjoying myself,” Adrià says of the day in Calafell. “Just hands off, playing basketball. It just made me really love the sport. Something grew within me that I never had before.
“I saw what the game was like. I saw what could happen. I saw what the game had to offer to me.”
Gasol has found a comfort zone in Los Angeles. He came to UCLA in part to be near Pau, whom he sees often. When they’re together, Adrià is happy to attract less attention.
Meanwhile, he will continue trying to make the family name his own — whether on the court or not.