No matter what sport one follows, which franchise a person cheers for or what player they adore to the point of forking over hard earned money to see, we all know the feeling of personal indifference or frustration due to the presence of a player within a category that we simply don’t believe they belong in. Last night, in the eyes of Chris Webber, Pau Gasol became just another victim of a someone with an opinion along with a mass media avenue to communicate it by questioning the talents and status of a player which has become all too common in today’s NBA.
The concept of perception is a very subjective element within our existence, one that essentially paints the world blue in the eyes of one individual and bright orange in the eyes of another. Within the realm of NBA, the player that one can believe is past his prime or overrated to another may be seen as the crowning jewel that can be the difference between championship glory and heart wrenching failure. As the saying goes “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, so too ventures the status of Gasol within NBA circles as 29 organizations patiently wait for the moment the Los Angeles Lakers foolishly decide that his services are no longer necessary.
The notion of an elite level player in the NBA is something that has been virtually diluted beyond repair in the minds of fans, players and media alike in recent times. In the past, the status was reserved for only the select few that seemed like poetry in motion on the basketball court — the Jimi Hendrix, Wolfgang Mozart, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Leonardo Da Vinci of their profession. These players stood head and shoulders above even the ones capable of taking one’s breathe away on any given play.
In my eyes, there can only be a handful of said players within any era of the league, and as such we begin to conflict over who belongs and who doesn’t and inevitably stretch the boundaries of what makes one worthy in order to fit in players that otherwise would be on the outside looking in. It is that boundary between very good and elite that I believe most of the NBA, past and present, only toe when they accomplish feats such as making All-Star games or merely producing at a high level from a statistical point of view.
So is Gasol an elite NBA player? In my eyes, no, he is not. That said, neither was Webber.
Personally, I don’t believe that anyone outside of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose belong at that upper most point of the talent pyramid within the NBA. The elite caliber distinction is the category reserved for players who transcend the game where others simply reshape it for a few moments at a time. Over the past decade, what was once a small dining room table reserved for a handful of elite talents has somehow become a spacious restaurant where invitations to enter are thrown wildly and fire codes are broken left and right with the dangerously crowded gathering that has found their way into the room.
It is strange to see Webber criticize the talents of Gasol when the two are in many ways spitting images of one another on the basketball court.
In terms of talents both could handle the ball like few big men can, possessed remarkable passing ability for any position, rebound the basketball, held their own on the defensive end and could score in a multitude of ways, whether by overwhelming their defender with their unique physical gifts or picking them apart with their fundamental skill on the block. As players, they were equally productive throughout their careers as Gasol’s career marks of 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists closely rival Webber’s (20.7/9.8/4.2) despite playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant for the past six seasons and averaging 4.5 shots less per game over the course of his career.
Both Webber and Gasol made All-Star games, dazzled fans, received praise and competed for championships over their long careers. As such, they will one day be handed their rightful place within NBA history as two of the better big men we’ve ever seen play the game and take a seat at the table they sacrificed blood, sweat and tears to earn.
Unfortunately, it won’t be the one that Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal will be sitting at.