SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) – No pain, no gain.
That sums it up for Pau Gasol, who led Spain into the final of the FIBA World Championship in Japan but suffered a serious foot injury in the process and missed the title game.
Yet he watched his team-mates win the gold medal with a 70-46 thrashing of Greece on Sunday and said after: “I cannot describe this moment.
“It’s such a sweet moment. We’ve worked so hard. The team has been marvellous. We’ve enjoyed every moment.
“I knew I had played a good tournament, and it’s a pity not to have been in the final and not to have helped my team-mates, but to be honest, they didn’t really need me.”
Gasol was wrong about playing a good tournament.
The 2.15m power forward had played an awesome one, averaging better than 21 points and nine rebounds, and as a consequence, was voted Most Valuable Player of the FIBA World Championship.
“The pain (in the foot) has gone now,” he said.
Asked how much it meant for his career, he said: “It means so much.
“This is the best day of my sporting career. To be champions at the highest level is the most beautiful thing that could ever happen to me.”
Emotionally charged up without their talisman, Spain ran onto the court wearing a T-shirt which read “Pau tambien juega” (Pau is also playing).
Captain Carlos Jimenez, who had 11 rebounds and two steals to go with his four points, described what the mood in the team had been before tip-off.
“We took a joint decision of doing this T-shirt for Pau and when he walked in to the locker room before the game, he saw it and was extremely emotional," he said.
“He told us, `Go and get them,’ and `We can do it.’
“But today, it was such a strange day because this morning, we were all so calm, and I was thinking to myself, `Hold on, we’re playng in a final.’
“There was no tension whatsoever and I think we passed that (nervousness) to Greece.”
By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, FIBA