MANILA, Philippines — One of several notable achievements that Pau Gasol earned this year alone — along with being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Fame, and getting his jersey retired in the Lakers’ rafters — was being appointed as a 2023 FIBA World Cup global ambassador last June.
Being a FIBA global ambassador is an honor that only a few FIBA icons like Carmelo Anthony, Luis Scola, WNBA legend Sue Bird, and of course, Gasol can brag about. And as part of their global ambassador duties this year, all four former players made the trip to the Philippines to catch this year’s FIBA World Cup.
Gasol in particular spent four days in Manila to promote the World Cup, pass on the FIBA Women’s World Cup ambassador torch to Bird (more on that later), catch the later stages of the tournament (semifinals and finals), and meet and greet his fans in the country.
Pau, who is visiting the country for the first time, said that he always knew about the country’s love for the game. He’s also aware that the Philippines has a huge die-hard Lakers fanbase.— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) September 7, 2023
“I’m really happy to be here.” he said: pic.twitter.com/7w4ISKjzip
Gasol also addressed the media twice during his first time in the Philippines — once at a press conference with Bird for the passing of the FIBA Women’s World Cup ambassador title, and another during a talk show hosted by FIBA alongside Anthony and Scola.
In those two press conferences, the three-time EuroBasket champion talked about a variety of topics, including his current role as a FIBA global ambassador, the rise of European and international basketball — and how it’s made other countries true basketball threats to the United States — the current landscape of women’s basketball, and how the late, great Kobe Bryant continues to impact his post-basketball career goals and plans.
Below is a rundown of everything Gasol spoke about during his time in the Philippines.
Taking on the role of a FIBA global ambassador
One of the biggest reasons why Gasol was appointed as a global ambassador was because of his decorated resume in the FIBA setting alone. As a member of the Spanish team, some of Gasol’s notable achievements include winning a gold medal and MVP in the 2006 World Cup, being a three-time EuroBasket tournament champion, two-time EuroBasket MVP and the all-time leading scorer in European basketball history.
The FIBA global ambassador role just feels right and is perfect for someone like Gasol — who said that he wants to make the most of this opportunity to further globalize the sport, and in his own words, to empower players and coaches to positively impact the game around the world. Gasol said that there’s no time better for him to do that than now, as a spectator observing the competition from the sidelines.
“It felt great. It felt organic, it felt natural. After being part of the game for so long, and participating in so many international competitions, obviously, it was an honor to be an ambassador,” Gasol said. “It’s been an honor to kind of be in this side of the game and still contribute.”
On being the first FIBA Women’s World Cup ambassador
Before the two-time NBA champion accepted his role as a FIBA global ambassador, he was first appointed as an ambassador for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup which was held in Sydney. Being the first-ever FIBA women’s ambassador, Gasol mentioned that this role meant a lot to him because of his desire to help grow women’s basketball, as well his relationship with his former teammate, Kobe Bryant, as well as Bryant’s late daughter, Gianna.
“To see the growth of the game, see the differences over the years that everyone laid out, and understanding why and how that happened is amazing. The progress we made, obviously Kobe was an inspiration there, too. His impact and involvement with Gigi was something very close to my heart. By him and her passing, I felt like I wanted to try to follow that path and get more involved in helping my daughter as well,” Gasol said.
Before I put a close to this memorable chapter, I have to share my personal favorite moment during the World Cup — getting the opportunity to ask @Lakers legend @paugasol a question:— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) September 12, 2023
I asked the @FIBAWC Global Ambassador if the late great Kobe Bryant ever told him about his… pic.twitter.com/jZ9W3VDeG4
But as of Sept. 8, Gasol no longer holds the title as FIBA Women’s World Cup ambassador, as that honor now belongs to four-time World Cup champion Sue Bird. The passing of the torch between both legends happened at a press conference in Manila, in preparation for the 2026 FIBA women’s World Cup which will be held in September in Berlin, Germany.
Sue Bird on taking the role as the new FIBA women’s ambassador: “Women’s basketball is really at an exciting moment. It’s pivotal and there’s no better way to continue not as a player anymore but as a former player.” pic.twitter.com/eCGTgcG2W1— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) September 8, 2023
On the landscape of global women’s basketball
Over the past year and a half, Gasol witnessed the growth of women’s basketball in the global setting during his time as the FIBA Women’s World Cup ambassador. He believes that the overall product has enhanced over time — specifically the support it has garnered around the world in the past year and the relevance of the tournament in general.
Still, the Spaniard believes that there remains a lot of room for women’s basketball to grow, and he’s looking forward to seeing how Bird can take the movement to greater heights. Gasol added that he’s going to maintain an active role in continuing to push for women’s basketball, particularly for the youth.
“What I’d like to see is really more girls playing basketball when they’re young,” Gasol said.
Gasol also added that he has studied the demographics behind teenage girls’ involvement in sports and learned that most of them, particularly at the ages of 12 to 13 years old, stop participating in physical activity as they enter their teenage years. This is a trend that Gasol is aiming to help decrease through his involvement in helping women’s basketball grow.
“I’d really like to see those numbers decrease and for girls to see a path forward. That if they want to become a basketball player, they can and have a fantastic living through it. That’s what I would like to see in the near future, more girls getting excited about playing basketball, sports, being active, and fulfilling their dreams,” Gasol said.
The growth of European basketball
Another area Gasol has seen significant basketball growth is in how much competition outside the United States has expanded. The rise of European basketball, in particular, has become a consistent threat to Team USA on the court.
U.S. head coach Steve Kerr alluded to this after the men’s disappointing defeat to Germany in this year’s World Cup, stating that international games have indeed become way more difficult for the United States, and that teams and players around the world are much better than they were when The Dream Team debuted in 1992.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup fully demonstrated the rise of European basketball, as two European-based teams (Germany and Serbia) played for the gold medal, while Canada and the United States — who were the two undisputed favorites to claim gold prior to the tournament — battled it out for bronze.
“European basketball, international basketball has been on the map now for a minute,” Gasol said. “Players have grown, they’ve believed, worked hard, and got better globally. That’s a credit to a lot of different people and different factors.
“Being from Europe, I don’t know how meaningful it is. I’m sure it definitely has meaning. It’s not easy to beat a USA team, a talented team. It’s not easy to beat a Canadian team that has played a really good tournament.”
When asked what his favorite moment of the tournament was prior to the finals battle between Germany and Serbia, the Lakers legend singled out the performance of German sharpshooter Andreas Obst, who dropped 24 points against the United States to lead Germany to its first World Cup finals appearance.
“That shooter from Germany who plays with fire made huge clutch shots, clutch plays. Obviously, Dennis [Schröder] and Franz [Wagner] played really well but that shooter, that MVP of the game, that was an inspiring story right there,” Gasol said.
Gasol also praised South Sudan for clinching a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics and Japan for defeating a Europe-based team in Finland for the first time ever in the FIBA World Cup tournament this year.
On his favorite basketball career moment
During his visit to the Philippines, Gasol was asked twice (once during his meet and greet event and the other at the FIBA talk show) about his favorite moment in his storied 23-year Hall-of-Fame basketball career. The two-time Olympic silver medalist answered both questions similarly by stating that his favorite achievement was the compilation of everything he went through throughout those 23 years — the good and the bad — and being able to play until he was 41 years old.
“For me, it’s hard to say, but obviously representing my country was very special, Louis [Scola] and Melo [Anthony] have done as well. Obviously winning, it’s always better, nicer, and sweeter, but the losses are also part of the journey, and they take you to those wins and those moments so I don’t take those for granted and undervalue them,” Gasol said at the FIBA talk show.
Pau on the biggest achievement of his career: “The plus of all moments of my career, the ups and the downs and to compound it and to be able to play until I was 41.”— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) September 7, 2023
Meanwhile, he said that the biggest challenge for any basketball player is dealing with injuries. pic.twitter.com/0w4L2DmfDD
Of course, Gasol didn’t forget to state his run with the Lakers and playing a huge role in winning banners number 15 and 16 for the purple and gold.
“I had a pretty good NBA career as well, won a couple of championships. Those moments were very sweet with the Lakers. But when you ask me about the biggest accomplishment, it’s looking at the big the whole picture really. It’s just about the whole career,” Gasol said. “Having played until I retired at 41 years old, I take pride in that. Doing what I love for so long, what it took and what it meant and also the impact I had, is what I think is the biggest accomplishment.”
On continuing Kobe’s legacy
Gasol is well aware of how Bryant was adored in the Philippines, and the impact his brother left not just in the country, but also around the world. Pau knows it, because he still feels the impact that Kobe left on him on a daily basis and that’s one of the biggest reasons why he has made his own personal mission to continue Kobe’s legacy for as long as he lives.
“Kobe was a big part of not just my career but also my life. Our relationship transcended basketball and I still have him very present on a daily basis. I know Kobe was big in the Philippines and China everywhere. To me, just to help continue to grow his legacy in any way I can, is something that is meaningful to me. What’s most meaningful is really the family ties, the relationship with Vanessa and the girls. Being present and being there for them and them being there for us too as a family. That’s important,” Gasol said.
Now in his second year in retirement, Gasol is focused on not just continuing Bryant’s legacy but also leaving an impact in the world in whatever way he can, whether through his role as a FIBA global ambassador or his involvement with global organizations and projects like UNICEF and the Gasol Foundation.
What matters to Pau, as he mentioned, is utilizing his influence in the best way he can and leaving a positive impact wherever life takes him. That’s what he did in his four-day trip to the Philippines, where he exemplified how even in retirement, he continues to contribute to the greater good of the global basketball scene.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani