The tale of the Grizzlies' half-man, half-Memphian, has come to an end.
Matt Moore of the Action Network coined a nickname for now-former Memphis Grizzly Marc Gasol that took off on twitter during the height of the Grit n’ Grind era. “The Wendigo,” as Moore called him, came from Gasol’s tenaciousness on the court and his physical appearance. A mythological half-man, half-beast creature known for devouring people whole, the Wendigo was an accurate description of the long haired, uber-aggressive Grizzlies rookie center that Moore saw in 2008. Gasol was a wild man on the court back then — an inside presence who banged the boards and battled in the paint to the delight of the fan-base that took pleasure in seeing a more “Memphis Made” alternative to Marc’s older brother, Pau. For everything that fans longed for in Pau, Marc was the tougher, grittier, upgraded version.
Marc Gasol was as close to being a native son as any non-Memphian could be. He played high school basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School and later turned down an opportunity to walk on at the University of Memphis in order to go play professionally back in his native Spain. Fate would bring him back to Memphis via trade. The younger Gasol’s years of being one of the best prospects overseas prepared him well, and he became a welcome surprise upon his arrival to the NBA. He was a traditional European-style big-man, infused with Project Pat lyrics and Bluff City swagger and toughness. What Matt Moore saw as being half-man, half-beast was actually more like half-man, half-Memphian — a player who became a product of his environment — but also the methodical, intellectual, introverted, puzzle that we know today.
As Gasol’s game would develop and change on the court, his understanding for the importance of the role that he played for not only the team on the court, but the Grizzlies organization — and the city of Memphis — would change as well. As Gasol faded farther away from the basket, his love and understanding for the essence of the city of Memphis grew closer to his heart, and Gasol himself grew closer to the heart of the fan-base.
The addition of Zach Randolph in 2009 allowed Gasol the freedom to not to have to bang in the paint as much and provided him with a teammate that joined him to form half of one of the best front-court tandems in the NBA. Gasol became more of a facilitator and an outside threat as years went by, and many, including me, would grow frustrated with his tendency to defer to his teammates instead of looking to be more aggressive offensively.
Gasol was an acquired taste for some within the fan-base. On some nights he would be an unstoppable monster that you could run everything through on offense, while also remaining an elite defender. Other nights he would seem to be disinterested and passive, blaming either his teammates or coaches. Gauging Gasol's temperament was difficult, but he was without a doubt the team’s thermometer. Want to know the mood of the team and the outlook in the locker room? Take a look at Marc Gasol’s body language, or better yet, put a microphone in front of him. Gasol's demeanor could range from grim and grumpy to grateful and giddy — and it could all happen before halftime.
Gasol’s time with Memphis has now come to an end. He is off to Toronto, where he will have a much lower level of expectation placed upon him. There won’t be as many people begging him to rebound, score in the paint, or attempt to block a shot. He will have less pressure on him, but he won't get nearly as much love as this city provided — a love that he always made an effort to return. From the aggressive half-man, half-beast without fear or limitations that he was back in 2008 to the more seasoned and worse-for-wear veteran he is now, his time in Memphis won’t soon be forgotten. Here’s to Marc Gasol continuing to represent for the city that adopted him as its own.