Marc Gasol Turns Memphis into Jurassic Park South
Beyond basketball, Gasol had an actual presence in the city, where everyone knew him simply as Marc. He made regular appearances at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. He introduced his wife to “Bongo Lady,” one of the team’s most colorful fans. He bonded with the deli guys at Fresh Market. Gasol also noted in an interview last week that his son had been born in Memphis.
“So he’s a true Memphian all the way,” Gasol said.
And the Grizzlies were terrifically exciting — until they were not. As the losses mounted this season, it became clear that the team would need to embark on a rebuild. Gasol wanted to play for a contender, and the team’s front office sought to honor that wish. So, ahead of February’s trade deadline, the Grizzlies sent him north.
“He’s got an opportunity to get a ring,” Jason Wexler, the Grizzlies’ president, said in a telephone interview, “and I’m thrilled for him to go get a ring.”
At the time of the trade, no player in Grizzlies history had scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, blocked more shots or supplied more minutes. Jason Rosselot, a season-ticket holder since the Grizzlies arrived in Memphis in 2001, has one of Gasol’s All-Star jerseys hanging on his bedroom wall. Like Peters and so many others, he is watching the finals with interest.
“The Raptors really do seem like a perfect fit for him,” Rosselot said.
It is a rare thing for fans to continue rooting so hard for a star after he leaves. Cleveland burned LeBron James’s jersey when he took his talents to South Beach. Oklahoma City was heartbroken when Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State, with devastation quickly shifting to mockery. San Antonio drowned Leonard in a tidal wave of boos when he returned with the Raptors.
Some Memphians want to throw Gasol a parade.
“Absolutely,” said Malenda Meacham, the longtime Grizzlies fan known as Bongo Lady for her bongo-playing theatrics at home games. “Marc has always been Memphis to me. But I really want the Raptors to win.”
Still, there was a period of adjustment for all parties involved. After the trade, Meacham was so devastated about the direction of the Gasol-free Grizzlies that she boycotted games. And when Gasol made his post-trade debut for the Raptors, Meacham found it disconcerting to watch on television.