By Guillermo Garca
PBringing the rubric to a year like 2021 is not easy. And less so in the field of national basketball, already an orphan of the greatest figure it has had in its history. Pau Gasol has undoubtedly been the proper name of the sport of the basket in these 365 days since on February 23 he announced his return to the slopes at the age of 41 and after having spent the last two without playing a single game because of a foot injury. Pau returned to the courts and he was going to do it defending the Bara shirt 20 years after his professional debut. Once again the oldest of the Gasols was in charge of demonstrating his extraordinary status and when everyone considered him retired, he showed that he had not returned to walk but was here to compete. An ACB League and a Euroleague final, being an active part in both, are the best example of this.
Pau will be in the news again on October 5 of this year. That day he gave a press conference to convey what was an open secret: that he was leaving basketball in action after signing the most dazzling career in basketball history. And between the two dates, a last dream come true: the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. That date and that city became an obsession for him and for that he worked piecemeal for two years on the recovery of the foot. And only Kevin Durant and the United States team, ultimately Olympic champions, could beat Sergio Scariolo’s team in the bitterest defeat of the last two decades. Not so much for the result as because it was the last dance of Pau and his brother Marc, who left the selection. At least in the case of the middleweight of the saga we have the opportunity to see him in the LEB Oro after exchanging the NBA for the Bsquet Girona in an unprecedented decision in world basketball.
They were not the only illustrious names in Spanish basketball who wore the national elastic for the last time in the Japanese capital. Laia Palau, the great captain and the woman who has led the best stage of women’s basketball in our country, also left the national team and did so with the bitter taste of defeat in the quarterfinals of the Games after falling in the same round two months before at the Eurobasket held in Valencia. A bad summer after seven straight years of glory, stained by the abrupt departure of Lucas Mondelo from the selection bench amid accusations of psychological abuse of some players. A blur that blurs the excellent track record of a team to remember.
However, basketball was more than the Olympic Games and the ball bounce and the sound of the net were present again almost every day on the televisions of fans who still could not return to the stands. In the national territory, Barcelona was the great dominator of domestic competitions, demonstrating the great potential of the best squad on the Old Continent. First in the Copa del Rey held in Madrid, where Corey Higgins led Jasikevicius’ team to defeat Madrid without problems in a final without history and regain a title that his eternal rival had taken from him the previous season. Months later the Barcelona team won the ACB title with Pau Gasol lifting the trophy with his daughter in one of the images of the year. A double that was no longer the work and grace of Anadolu Efes and Vasilje Micic, who defeated Bara in the Euroleague final, conquering the crown that COVID had taken from them a year earlier.
All this happened in Europe while in the United States life tried to return to normal with an NBA that between peak and peak of infections found the formula to get ahead. They even did it with an All Star hybrid, concentrating everything on the same day. However, the coronavirus and the injuries were also reflected in the future of the campaign. The Nets, without Harden and Irving, or the Lakers, orphans of LeBron for much of the season, left the place for which they seemed predestined in the Finals to the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks who would end up conquering the second ring in their history thanks to an imperial Antetokounmpo, who made up for losing his MVP throne in favor of Nikola Jokic, being the best player in the Finals and finally reaching the long-awaited championship. A title, by the way, that in the female category will once again have a Spanish flavor thanks to the victory of the Chicago Sky with Astou Ndour among its ranks. All this and much more happened in a 2021 that is already history and that gives way to a 2022 in which Spain will once again be one of the axes of the basket sport.