|18 April 2013|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Pau Gasol has been making sure the Lakers do not regret not trading him with some stellar performances to complete the regular season|
Some of the brightest stars in the history of basketball have pulled on the golden-purple jersey of the Los Angeles Lakers since the storied NBA franchise came into existence.
From the very player whose silhouette features in the NBA logo, Jerry West, to bigger-than-life legends like Magic Johnson, to Kobe Bryant today, the Lakers' court has always been home to superstars, no less famous the world over than those of the silver screen, in nearby Hollywood.
The list of awe-inspiring names of those who've played at center for the Los Angeles team throughout the years, includes the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal.
The first European ever to join the Lakers was also a center, Serbian legend Vlade Divac.
Yet none of these great players had managed to replicate a truly rare feat that Abdul-Jabbar had accomplished in 1978.
Until Wednesday night, when Spanish star Pau Gasol collected a triple-double of 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists in the Lakers' 99-95 win over the Houston Rockets, on the final day of NBA Regular Season action.
Gasol's seventh career triple-double and second in the last three games of the season, made him the first Laker in 35 years, since the American legend that introduced the skyhook to the game, to finish a game with at least 15 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Lakers heard of Utah's defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies right before tip-off in their own game on Wednesday, and knew they no longer needed to win to clinch the last play-off spot in the Western Conference.
A victory over Houston though would lift them to seventh place right at the photo-finish; Gasol took note and delivered this stellar performance to help out, as he has done over and over in clutch games for the Lakers and the Spanish national team.
"We stepped up to the adversity of the challenge and we believed in ourselves all the way," Gasol told reporters in USA after the game.
"I never hide and try to play the best I can in the big games; it's what I've done during my entire career."
The Spanish big man's contribution to the Lakers has been questioned since coach Mike D'Antoni took over at the start of the season and strived to implement a style of game that brings Gasol in wide positions and far away from his usual zone of action, close to the basket.
The significance, also in that direction, of Gasol's triple-double on Wednesday was not lost on Kobe Bryant, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
"Can the talk of trading @paugasol come to a cease now??" he tweeted during the game.
"It's great support from a player [Bryant] who is very special, probably unique, not only on this team but also in this league and the history of the game," Gasol acknowledged speaking to Spanish agency EFE in the early hours of Thursday morning.
"I appreciate him enormously and thank him for all his words during the time of uncertainty," Gasol admitted.
Houston's Omer Asik put in an exceptional effort on the defensive end as he fought almost alone against the formidable Lakers frontcourt of Gasol and Dwight Howard (who finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds) but, once he got into foul trouble, the Rockets' paint was left unprotected.
The Turkish center finished with eight points and twelve rebounds while the other two European big men of Houston, Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas and German Tim Olbrecht, did not feature in the game.
Regardless of what happens in the play-offs, Asik has earned the enormous distinction of finishing the Regular Season as the third-leading rebounder in the NBA with 11.7 boards-per-game, behind Howard (12.4 rpg) and Montenegrin international Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic (11.9 rpg).
The Lakers will try to upset the San Antonio Spurs of Tony Parker, Nando de Colo and (the currently sidelined) Boris Diaw in the first round of the play-offs, while Houston will face off with the western conference top-seed Oklahoma City Thunder, of Spanish international Serge Ibaka.