When Marc Gasol, the three-time all-star center for the Memphis Grizzlies, tells you that he saw a lot over the summer, he’s not talking about some wild dunk that a teammate did during a workout. In July, Gasol volunteered with Proactiva Open Arms, a non-governmental organization that rescues migrants stranded in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. There are pictures online of Gasol on a raft saving people stuck in the unforgiving waters.
As if the city of Memphis needed any more reason to love its seven-foot-one center from Barcelona. For the past 10 seasons, Marc, who started his own charitable effort, The Gasol Foundation, with his basketball-playing brother, Pau, has anchored the middle for a gritty, grinding Grizzlies team that has earned playoff appearances in seven of the past eight years.
Needless to say, Memphis fans adore him. And as you’ll read below, he has nothing but fond feelings for them, the city and its beloved barbecue.
Tell me about your summer.
It’s been different without international competition. But it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of things. It’s been a little longer than expected, but it’s been definitely a fulfilling one.
Where did you travel?
Actually I didn’t get to travel much — at least not pleasure travel, as I would say. But we went with the family to [Spain’s] Balearic Islands, Mallorca and Ibiza with my wife and kids.
Then, I took a different type of trip to the central Mediterranean in July with an NGO called Proactiva Open Arms, and that was definitely different. I went to Malta and then navigated all the way down to the coast of Tripoli in Libya.
Yeah, a little different than usual.
For the person who’s visiting Barcelona for the first time, what are a few essential stops he should make?
Well, you definitely have to see all the [beloved architect Antoni] Gaudí buildings. See all his influences over the years, his vision. The architecture in Barcelona is very unique, and I think it’s something to truly spend some time getting to know all the cool places.
Then, you also gotta go to places where you can eat great. Barcelona has a lot to offer. I don’t know how many Michelin stars Barcelona has, but you don’t have to spend big money to eat great.
Go to the Boqueria; it’s like a fresh market. You can eat there. You can see and find all the different types of food that you can imagine, and it’s very fulfilling to see food sold in the Boqueria and how fresh it is. It’s pretty much from the earth, the farm-to-table kind of stuff.
And it’s just so beautiful there.
It is a lot of fun. And obviously, you go to see the Sagrada Familia cathedral. I just like walking and going to a tapas bar and having a glass of wine and moving around. It’s hard for me to sit still in one place. I like to move around. And Barcelona is not that big, so you can walk to most of the places. You can see the city in a few days if you just divide it by zones and just walk everywhere.
Another city that you know very well is Memphis. What makes it so special?
It’s the people who live there. Their culture, what they stand for, their grit. They’re not caring very much about what other people say about Memphis, and they’re just going about their jobs and getting the job done.
That’s one thing about Memphis that resembles how I feel, too, regarding what other people think. They always want to tell you what to do or the way you should do things. You just get the job done. They just think it should be done.
The other thing that people always talk about is the food. Have you fallen in love with the barbecue yet?
It’s not a daily thing. Obviously, for my line of work, I cannot eat barbecue that often. It takes a little bit to digest and it’s not the healthiest thing to eat. But definitely, there are some great places to eat barbecue. It would be unfair to say one, but there are really good restaurants in Memphis.
There’s a couple of chefs, [Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman] at Andrew Michael, who have done a great job of reviving the area. They’ve opened up already three restaurants in Memphis. They are truly inspirational because they invest in areas where, maybe, other investors would not see opportunity. But they really feel close to the community, so they really do great things. I’m close to them, and I actually admire them.
I love it when people see an opportunity in a place that other people may have looked over, but they want to help it grow.
Yeah, I love that because they truly want to make an impact. They will get the chance. Their product is so good. So, they’re not just brave, but they’re really good cooks, too. I love them.
Marc, things didn’t go as the Grizzlies would have hoped last year. Speak to the Memphis fans on how this season will be different.
It is going to be completely different. Obviously, when you start a season with a healthy roster, that makes a huge difference. Having Mike Conley back is like adding an all-star to a team.
Having, hopefully, Chandler [Parsons] healthy as well [helps]. He looked really good when we worked out this summer. That’s encouraging. Adding a talent the caliber of Jaren Jackson is gonna really pick things up.
And giving [head coach] J.B. Bickerstaff a whole preseason to work with the team to really put in his concept and the things he wants to do is going to do great things for the team. And me playing better, too, to be honest. I need to play at the level that I’m supposed to play for us to accomplish our goals. It’s pretty simple.
When people talk about the Western Conference, they tend to overlook Memphis. Do you take that as a personal challenge?
What was I telling you about the mindset of Memphis? Not getting blinded by the bright lights. Just do your work, do your job every day. Grit, grind and get the job done. If we are good enough and win enough games, we’re going to be back in the playoffs. If we aren’t good enough and we don’t win enough games, it cannot be because we did not put everything that needs to be done on the court.
So, if we do those things, I know our fans are going to be filling up the arena. And there is no other feeling better than having Memphians sitting in those seats and cheering for us!
All of the traveling during the NBA season must be a grind. What are some secrets to being able to alleviate jet lag?
My way [to fight jet lag] is as soon as I get to a city, I try to go outside. No matter how cold it is, no matter what time it is, I try to walk outside a little bit. Try to get away from your phone, your computer, laptop, iPad, TV. Just go outside and try to find something to eat. Kind of like adjust to the time zone by being in the city, whatever city it is.
So, I’ve been in the league now 10 years. I have cool places everywhere I go that kind of feel, not like home, but they bring back a lot of memories. But it is hard to turn the brain off; I’m not going to lie to you. In the rush of the season, and if you’re winning or losing and having different goals, it’s hard to turn it off.
Let’s talk about those “cool places” for a second. Where are some of your favorite cities around the NBA for good food?
To be honest, I have a lot. Being here for that long, you kind of have a place that is familiar to you in every city. You have some sort of relationship with someone from the restaurant… But I like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Chicago. What else? I like all the cities, to be honest. I could name another 25 cities, and I really like them.
But it’s not so much about the city or what the city has to offer. It’s the amicability of the people, their kindness, their hospitality — that’s what I like about cities. It’s different from city to city and state to state.