The meeting did not go well. At a hotel restaurant in Memphis in February 2008, Chris Wallace, the general manager of the Grizzlies, was trying to explain to Agusti and Marisa Gasol, the parents of Pau Gasol, why he had just traded their son to the Lakers.
Despite the obvious professional upgrade for their son, the parents weren’t all that keen on the move. They lived in Memphis. They had had one son in high school, a roly-poly, 3-point shooting leviathan named Marc. They had another one in high school at the time, another big boy, Adria, who would eventually make the UCLA team as a walk-on.
After the Gasols made their sentiments known, Wallace patiently explained why he dealt their son to the Lakers. The Grizzlies had to do something. There was little to no interest in the team. They were not winning with Pau. He was their only asset. Again, he had to do something!
He then turned his attention to Marc, whose draft rights had been acquired in the deal and politely said to the Gasols, “Now, let me explain to you why we want to sign your other son.”
A few months later, the Lakers made their first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. Three weeks after Pau made his first NBA Finals appearance in 2008, the Grizzlies announced they had signed Marc.
It had not been an easy sell. Wallace had to fight off the Spanish suitors who wanted to keep Marc in Spain, where he had emerged as an MVP. Michael Heisley, the Grizzlies owner at the time, had to be convinced to shell out more than $3 million per year for the untested kid – the 48th pick in the 2007 draft – and decided to ask his former star for advice. The two had remained close even after the deal.
The conversation went something like this.
Pau: “Yes, my brother is improving rapidly. Yes, he can play. And, Mr. Heisley, my brother can be better than me.”
Now, five years later, is it time to finally let Wallace out of the NBA stocks? He was roasted from pillar to post for making the deal, the criticism coming from some big names (Gregg Popovich, Mark Cuban) and not so big ones (most NBA writers, including yours truly.)
Mostly, the criticism was that the deal helped an already strong Lakers’ team but, as Wallace said, “They had the best package. What are we supposed to do, get less for Pau because people don’t like the Lakers?”