While shaky internet feeds and guys with too many consonants in their names may not be everybody’s cup of tea, the past 3 weeks offered locked out basketball fans the chance of warming their freezing near-carcasses to the warm glow of European basketball. It may have been played with a slightly different set of rules, but Eurobasket had something for every curious viewer: NBA superstars such as Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker; randomly hilarious tidbits such as the shape of Serbia’s Milan Macvan’s head or how much Macedonia’s Pero Antic looks like Carlos Boozer; the angelic glow surrounding Alexey Shved; the explosive noises heard round the world whenever Juan Carlos Navarro takes a shot; Bo Freaking McCalebb.
Most of all, though, it was plain old basketball. It was a breath of fresh air after two months that were the equivalent of years on the Timberwolves. Frustrated basketball fans could finally ignore the dreary haze of delayed negotiations that still aren’t taking place as often as we’d like them to, running towards the 24-team tournament like Denver players to a Chinese basketball team.
After a jam-packed 19 day schedule, the defending 2009 champions Spain once again took the trophy home in dominant fashion, taking down an impressive French squad in the final. In European terms, the Spaniards had it all. Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio are at least one more NBA-caliber point guard than any other squad had at its disposal; Navarro, despite only one frustrating NBA season in his resume, is as unstoppable a scorer as you can find, with rare weaponry such as a floater with legit 3 point rare or a nickname that is as fun to hear as it is to say in La Bomba; Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull are versatile wings that give both speed on defense and ups on offense; and if you are reading an NBA blog and don’t understand what Serge Ibaka gives to teams with Serge Ibaka on them, we can’t help you.
After scoring 88 points in 3 knockout matches â€“ including 19 points in a crucial semifinal 3rd quarter against Macedonia â€“ Navarro won MVP honors. But where Spain literally stood the tallest was in the paint. As in the backcourt, Spain possessed at least twice the inventory of any other team, with not one multitalented all-world 7 footer, but two. Gasol brothers are a rare commodity in today’s sports world â€“ of the 214 member nations in FIBA, 213 of them have absolutely none. Spain, somehow, has two. Despite the excitement throughout the tournament, the size, the smarts and the skill provided by such a combination made a Spanish victory something of a formality, and this is before we even account for the profound effect of their familial bond.
The effect of brothers playing together is one that can not be overstated. Even my brother, an anti-athletic type if there ever was one, spent much of his youth being dragged to various courts by the demanding obsessive freak that was me. With sibling athletes such as the Gasols, the dragging is mutual, the obsession enhanced tenfold by a willing partner that is always present. They force each other to get better both separately and as a tandem. One only needs to see what happened to the US from 2002 to 2006 to see how deep the effect of chemistry is. The Gasols have a chemistry of an entire shared life time.
Brothers are rarer than one would think in a league as genetically dominated as the NBA. There have been cases in the past â€“ Horace and Harvey Grant, Dominique and Gerald Wilkins, Brent and Jon Barry â€“ and even rarer is the pair as strong as Pau and Marc. Usually you get a pair that consists either of dual role-players (such as the Paxsons or the Barrys) or half-good, half bad, such as today’s Lopez twins or the Blake-to-Taylor Griffin pair.
Not in the Gasol world. Pau is a consensus top-3 big man in the entire league, and Marc is showing signs of making an all-star squad sooner rather than later. Both are burly, physically imposing freaks of nature. Both have elite passing skills for big men. Even in the NBA, a world void of sibling restrictions, one would be hard-pressed to find a stronger frontcourt combination. There are entire college athletic programs that lack the efficient creationism of the Gasol factory line.
Odds are, the Gasols never play a game on the same NBA team. The closest they will ever come is being traded for one another back in the infamous 2008 Lakers-Grizzlies trade. But perhaps this is for the best. Siblings just aren’t meant to go hand in hand â€“ it’s something so simultaneously rare and impressive that too lengthy an exposure of it could be damaging. Like a long, unfiltered glance at the burning sun, millions of miles away, can burn our retinas and deem them incompetent, watching too much of a Gasol backing his man in the high post, as suddenly his brother cuts for a wild no-look pass and a dunk that is frightening without even exerting the effort to dunk, can extort our perspective, damage our minds, and rob us of the ability to appreciate the simpler big-men tandems in life.
International tournaments are something of a special treat as is. Maybe the privilege of Gasol-to-Gasol carnage is best served as something unique to those special summers. The NBA – where instead of 11 games every two years a championship team can play over 100 games every season – might not be able to survive it.