Sunday, February 14, 2010
Updated: February 15, 3:17 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a certain protocol for how a player is expected to act at NBA All-Star Weekend.
Off the court you try to pack in as many parties, endorsement schmooze fests and billboard gazing of your giant visages that are plastered all around town as it's humanly possible to schedule over a 72-hour period.
When game time comes, you leave your fundamentals in your home city, forget about defense and treat every offensive possession as a chance to out-do the slam dunk contest from the night before.
Sunday was Pau Gasol's third All-Star appearance and he still hasn't gotten it down.
The Lakers forward had 13 points and six rebounds in 20 no-nonsense minutes in the East's dramatic 141-139 victory over the West in front of a record 108,713 people at Cowboys Stadium.
He had a dunk, but it was your run-of-the-mill, filling the lane on a fastbreak variety, but for the most part he carried himself the same way and played just like he'd play any other game in Los Angeles' 82-game schedule.
"Sometimes you think about [playing fancy] but it's hard to get loose out there," Gasol said. "You try not to do too much and not to do any mistakes, even though it's a game where you got to try things and try to put up a good show. My goal is always trying to help the team win the game."
He's programmed to go after the win. Lamar Odom said as much last week when he praised Pau's intense will to win as the first thing he noticed about the 7-footer when they became teammates two seasons ago. An All-Star win is just like any other. (And not just for the $20,000 bonus the players on the winning team get either -- winners get $35,000, losers get $15,000).
Before the game Gasol was practicing practical shots, shuffling his feet from the wing down to the short corner and tossing up midrange jump shot after midrange jump shot. When he was finished, he made sure to shake the hand of the Nuggets assistant (George Karl's Denver coaching staff was in charge of the West), introduce himself and thank him for his time.
He should have taken some time to introduce himself to the P.A. announcer at Cowboys Stadium. The guy referred to him as "Gah-Soul" all night, making him the only All-Star whose name was flubbed.
During a fun video feature that showed on the stadium's unbelievably massive big screen during a third-quarter timeout, the All-Stars pretended they were trying out to become the fourth member of Boyz II Men. Shaquille O'Neal made up new lyrics to "Motown Philly." Dwight Howard wore Groucho Marx-style funny glasses and crooned "End of the Road" off key. Meanwhile, Gasol sang "Time After Time" with an honest effort, actually pulling off a decent sounding a capella rendition of the tune, coming off as the best vocalist in the vignette by far.
If he does something, he's going to do it right.
Gasol wasn't so much exciting as he was efficient, but his game wasn't totally devoid of pieces of flair for Lakers fans.
He got to go up against his old palHoward, who he handled in the Finals, and he scored handily against him Sunday, accounting for back-to-back buckets with Howard matched up with him one-on-one in the first quarter (one was the result of a Chris Bosh goaltend). Later he drew a foul on Howard and hit two free throws with 5:08 in the fourth quarter to cut a four-point deficit to two, using -- what else -- a patient post-up possession that was littered with un-All-Star-like head fakes to get Howard to bite.
Howard scored 17 points, but most of them came with Gasol out of the game.
But even with that matchup, that Gasol admitted was "familiar," he approached the same as if it was any other.
"If it was another player trying to get the ball there and trying to score, I would have done the same thing," Gasol said. "I would have stopped them [too]."
With Kobe Bryant out of the lineup with his left ankle injury, Gasol could have been tempted to do more to carry the Lakers torch, but instead he just said afterward he was sorry his teammate missed it and wished the West could have taken care of business so he didn't have to see Bryant writhing on the bench without a chance to take the final shot Carmelo Anthony missed.
Gasol said he used to let his nerves get to him and it made him not play like himself. In his first All-Star appearance in 2006, he had 12 rebounds but was the only player on the West to go scoreless and finished 0-for-3 from the field. He found the right formula last year in Phoenix and put up 14 points and eight rebounds in a win.
He found cutting out as many distractions as possible helped him in the big game, and he uses the weekend to rest his weary legs so he can get even more wins for his team down the playoff stretch.
While his peers were out gallivanting around Big D, Gasol said he spent whatever idle time that wasn't devoted to league-mandated media availability or player appearances in his hotel room, lounging around with his little brother Marc, waiting for room service to be delivered. While other players were hanging with groupies, he flew his parents and other brother to town.
The All-Star Game moves to Los Angeles next year, and Gasol will be pressured even more to abide by the Hollywood hoopla of the event. But he'll still approach it his way.
Kevin Garnett suggested it's time for the NBA to take the All-Star Game global. Gasol might get the chance to not only play it his way, but play it in his home country of Spain where he'd be looked to by other players to establish the culture to follow.
"Personally I would love for it to be in Barcelona, my city, so they would get to enjoy this kind of environment and this party of basketball," Gasol said.
If the All-Star Game does end up in Spain, Gasol might be changing up his low-key approach just a little bit. I can't imagine him ordering room service with his mom's home-cooked paella waiting for him.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.