Memphis is his home, you know.
At some point we all leave out homes - school, marriage, jobs. Whatever it may be, even if it’s just for a little while or for a bit longer than that, we all step away from what we know in to something new. It’s a scary step in to the mystic - leaving behind the certain for the uncertain, the warmth of those that love you for the cold reality of a world that doesn’t fully appreciate your story, your context...your narrative. To start a new chapter and take a step through an open, but dark door...
That’s the difficulty of leaving home.
The same is true of Marc Gasol, the boy when he came to Memphis who is now a man, who made Memphis a priority, who prioritized helping others and using his platform for good, who is now looking at a new narrative waiting to begin.
The game of basketball is a beautiful one, the very personification of poetry in motion when played “the right way”. Marc Gasol of Memphis spent eleven seasons in the blue of Beale Street in pursuit of that lyrical style of play - the movement of the ball, of a defense in unison against a driving scorer or a shooter in the corner. It is comforting and spellbinding, a reminder of the potential of the human body and the utter strength of the human mind, and the striking imagery that can be had when they are intertwined. Marc Gasol was never a high flyer, or elite sprinter, but what he was was a fighter...and he looked at home as he fought for that “right way” of play.
He vehemently fought as a defender, and as a facilitator, and as a leader in a way that was uniquely his own. He roared and butt slapped his way to the most decorated career in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies, filled with All-Star appearances and a Defensive Player of the Year recognition. He pursued his own greatness as a player in his own way - with passion, with a sharp wit...
With a desire to hold others, and himself, accountable.
He was imperfect. He was stubborn. He was never enough in ways, always trying to find the right shot while missing that sometimes the right shot was his to take. We that watched him wanted more for him, to be more aggressive as a scorer, as a shooter, to not fade away as he attempted a bucket. As Zach Randolph and Tony Allen departed, we hoped that he could become something that he is not - a player that can command a locker room, that can straighten out an issue through in your face leadership.
In those wants, at times we missed what made Marc great as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. How he made FedExForum his home.
He wasn’t your typical max contract superstar, you see. Putting aggressive leadership on Marc Gasol is putting a square peg in a round hole, a match that will never fit no matter how much you tried. He worked in the background on the front of franchise decisions, helping craft coaching careers and re-arranging rosters. He never specifically asked for the role, but especially towards the end his fingerprints were all over those around him.
Smart, passionate basketball players, with flaws, but a desire to play the game “the right way”. And throughout his Grizzlies career, he had game winning shots and defensive plays, and showed that his way could, more often than not, be “the right way” for more than just him.
He used his platform as an athlete in the community in a similar fashion - not out at the forefront consistently, but out of sight. Making impacts in lives at places like St. Jude, where doing things the right way can make all the difference-
His work for those around him is part of his legacy in Memphis, the city he grew up in that he now leaves behind. Eleven years were spent here as a player, and more as a citizen of his city, watching his brother Pau lead this same franchise that he too is now an alumni of. Seeing the passion of the people, the willingness to work, those experiences allowed for Marc to become the unlikeliest of Memphians - one by way of Spain, who in most situations would not fit the mold of a son of Memphis, but became one just the same.
Even more so than his big brother. Because he fought, and stayed, for Memphis...for home.
The way to the heart of Memphis is through embrace. It is a city full of love and lament. Worry and wanting, oppression and opportunity. Those who choose to see Memphis for what it can be, beyond just what it is, see a place full of love that simply wants people there that want to love them back. That are willing to do the things to make it better and not just point out the problems and act as if they’re breaking new ground, like those living in the city don’t see the flaws.
It’s not about seeing the imperfections. It’s about finding the beauty.
Marc Gasol is good at that - finding the glory in a game, and a city that he has called home for much of his life.
Gasol’s time has come to step away from the only NBA franchise he has ever played for, and from a city that is his and he is theirs. The place that he helped build. Looking out at FedExForum the past week or so must have been like peering out at a first home for him, a place where children running and playing and skinning knees dance around the memory as reflections before handing over the keys after a sale. The time had come to move, but that doesn’t take away what had grown there.
The part of you that will always stay there.
Gasol’s NBA home is no longer in Memphis. As he leaves, he can look back on a job well done, a house well built, and a legacy that will last beyond these times of recollection and longing for yesterday. He should know that those of us he reached, whether directly or indirectly, are better for having him in our lives. For watching him grow, and love, and fall, and rise.
And that while he departs, part of him will always be with the Memphis Grizzlies. And wherever he goes, the love of Memphis, his home, will follow.