Former NBA star Pau Gasol is determined to help others after retiring from the game

Pau Gasol is back in professional basketball after announcing his intent to rejoin the team that launched his career, FC Barcelona.

The two-time NBA champion last played in 2019, splitting his final year between the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks. After spending the past few seasons recovering from a foot injury, Gasol is looking forward to his new opportunity.

“I’ve enjoyed a fantastic basketball career. I’m working to see if I can enjoy it a little longer, prolong it for at least a few more months,” Gasol told CNN Sport.

The rehab has been full of trials, including those brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s also been interrupted by moments of joy, with Gasol and wife Catherine McDonnell welcoming a daughter in September 2020.

However, keeping a newborn safe while training for a return to professional hoops is no easy task, and includes regular testing for the people Gasol works out with.

The six-time All-Star says his family “is very fortunate and lucky to have the resources to keep ourselves safe” and credits his wife for her childcare during his rehab sessions and other work endeavors.

But Gasol is making plenty of time for his newborn, named Elisabet Gianna Gasol, saying with a smile: “it’s been the best thing having a five-month baby.”

While acknowledging the challenging circumstances, Gasol said the upside of quarantining has been being able to spend a lot more time as family with the baby, whilst connecting with a lot of people via video call or telephone.

Beyond just reaching out to friends and family, Gasol has also been talking to companies and foundations — preparing for the sort of work he wants to do after he hangs up his jersey.

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The Gasol Foundation

Whether it’s as an ambassador to UNICEF or for the NBA Cares program, Gasol has long been a champion for children’s causes and realized early in his career that his status on the court could help people off it.

“I could really channel the success and the attention that I was having because of basketball into a greater good, into having a real impact on people’s lives, but especially children,” said Gasol.

That desire to create change was what birthed The Gasol Foundation, headed by Gasol and his brother Marc, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The aim of the foundation is to combat childhood obesity by examining all of its factors: access to nutritious food, exercise, and mental health. In a way, it’s a continuation of the work of his parents, Agusti and Marisa, who were both members of the medical community.

“It’s in our DNA to help others to understand how our health is so important for our well-being and our ability to live, our quality of life and to provide that for others, especially for the less privileged and people that are most in need,” Gasol said of his family.

Whether it’s cooking programs, care packages, or basketball camps, Gasol is looking for every and any way to improve children’s health.

“We try to spread that word, reach as many people as possible through our programs, through social media, through campaigns, through our partners, collaborating with other organizations that do work in the same same fields and complementing each other. And that’s something that we take pride in,” says Gasol.

During the pandemic, some of the work has included food distribution programs, virtual classes and activities for kids.

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Move into coaching

Gasol has always been an avid learner, and has a broad range of interests. At a young age, he considered a career in medicine, and he’s still interested in the science, even sitting in on a spinal surgery in 2010.

Along with his passion for learning, he’s developed an immense appreciation for the experts, mentors and coaches who have helped guide his interests, especially into adulthood.

“People need support. You need guidance. You need to be provided with tools that contribute to your personal or professional life,” said Gasol, pointing to his coach at the LA Lakers, Phil Jackson, as one example.

“He was the one that introduced me to meditation and to mindfulness and provided me with a tool that I wasn’t aware of, that I didn’t know.”

Gasol thinks his learned ability to “quiet the chatter in your mind” helped him during the Lakers’ championship runs in 2009 and 2010. Now, he wants to impart the wisdom he’s gained through coaching to other people.

“For someone to be able to share those ideas, concepts, mindsets into our lives and to help us grow and develop that stuff, that’s also what life is about, right?” he said.

That’s one reason Gasol has signed up to be an advisor with employee wellness and coaching company BetterUp. He hopes that his experiences can help organizations shape policies that benefit its employees. Beyond BetterUp, he’s also looking to directly help other organizations, from the NBA to the Olympics.

“I’m researching and contacting a lot of [NBA] owners and executives to see what they have in mind […] and how I could help their franchise and maybe build a winning culture,” he said.

“I’m a candidate for the Athletes Commission for the IOC, I hope that I might be elected to be part of the Athletes Commission and contribute to the growth and progress of the Olympics.”

But whatever task calls Gasol, from the court to the office, he’ll be ready.

“I’m excited about what’s next,” he said. “I think you have to embrace uncertainty, but I’ve also been kind of preparing for this moment. I feel like my best days are still ahead of me.”

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