Pau Gasol Says He Saw Racism For First Time While Playing In Memphis

Jill Painter Lopez

Pau Gasol grew up in Spain and started his professional basketball career in Barcelona, but it wasn’t until he moved to the United States that he saw racism for the first time. 

Gasol’s NBA career began in Memphis from 2001-2008 and it was an eye-opening experience. 

"I was very young [21 years old], but very soon understood and learned what segregation was,” Gasol said in a translated video call with El Pais, a Spanish newspaper. “It was a city where black and white people are very separated. The segregation exists all over the country, but is much more present in the southern states.

"I have lived (to see) the racism. I have seen it. It is real. We must take advantage of this moment to create (awareness) between us and make sure a real change happens".

Many athletes are speaking out against racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered by white police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25 in Minneapolis. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds despite Floyd saying repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. 

"As [Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich said, one of the things that bothers me more, that frustrates me more, is to see how that officer thinks and feels that he's doing something totally normal - his job - putting his knee over the neck of George Floyd,” Gasol said. “He thinks he is acting with justification and that the law protects him. And that can't happen. It's unacceptable and gives you the feeling of rage that I share with Popovich, also with [Warriors coach] Steve Kerr, and other people that are being very proactive. Zero tolerance for racism.”

The Lakers acquired Gasol from Memphis in a trade in 2008 and he went on to win two championship alongside Kobe Bryant in 2009 and 2010. He then played for the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks. He was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers in November to rehabilitate a left foot injury that required surgery.

"This is a predominantly African American League,” Gasol said. “We are all teammates, brothers. We don't see people because of their race. We want to [transfer] that respect to society".

The 39-year-old Gasol believes change will come, in part, from trying to understand other people. 

“We haven't listened enough," he said. "We all must change this situation and the change should be real.”

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