Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, at the Barcelona facilities.
The uncertainty about how Pau Gasol's left foot can respond to the demands of the competition attenuates the euphoria caused by his return to European basketball with Barça. What will your physical response and performance be? How many minutes can he play? Unanswered questions until he returns to the activity, to the group training of a team like Barça. The player, who this Monday passed the medical tests prior to his presentation as a Barça player, is cautious after not playing for two years. "I want to see how the body is, as well as the foot, to have a clear photo," he said when he landed in Barcelona from his residence in California. “Also see what kind of work I have to do, as well as the loads and training.”
The antecedents of players who have suffered this injury, a stress rupture of the tarsal scaphoid of the foot, show its seriousness. It is a key bone, whose function is to stabilize the arch of the foot thanks to the fact that the most important tendon on the inside of the foot, the tibialis posterior, is inserted into it. It is one of the areas where the body, especially that of basketball players, supports greater loads and tensions.
One of the most notorious cases is the one that forced Yao Ming to retire. The Chinese center, 2.29 meters, was injured in May 2009, in the semifinals of the Western Conference between his team, the Houston Rockets, and the Lakers. He underwent surgery twice and missed the 2009-2010 season. In 2011, when he was 30 years old, he returned to the courts, but could only play five games in which he made sure he had no alternative but to retire.
J oel Embiid, the Cameroonian center of the Sixers, number three in the In the 2014 draft, he missed the first two seasons after undergoing surgery twice for a navicular stress fracture – that's what the United States calls the navicular – of his right foot. Embiid, 2.13 meters and 127 kilos, 14 more than Pau Gasol according to league data, finally made his NBA debut in November 2016. He was 22 years old, 18 years younger than Pau Gasol now. The Sixers limited Embiid's activity, especially in his first season in which he only played 31 games and averaged 25 minutes. His recovery has been satisfactory and now he averages 33 minutes with an excellent performance: 30 points and 11.6 rebounds on average. Lithuanian Zydrunas Ilgauskas also suffered a navicular stress injury in 1999 when he was 23 years old. He had surgery twice and missed 127 games, almost two full seasons. But he was able to continue his career until 2011. Bill Walton, another legendary center, was out for two seasons, from 1980 to 1982, but at age 30 he gradually returned to the court, won his second championship ring with the Celtics in 1986 and He retired in 1987, again due to injury.
Marc Gasol and Michael Jordan
Pau Gasol has another very close example, that of his brother Marc, operated on for a type II undisplaced fracture of the tarsal scaphoid of the right foot, in February 2016, when he played for the Memphis Grizzlies. Due to that injury, he had to give up competing in the Rio Games in 2016, but was able to return to activity in November of that same year. The difference is the severity of the fracture. Several players like Marc have overcome the injury in six or eight months. For example, Michael Jordan returned after missing 64 games in 1985-1986, his second season in the NBA.
The surgeon who operated on Pau Gasol on May 9, 2019 is Robert Anderson, very famous in the sports field. He has treated NBA stars such as Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and recently operated on the foot of Patrick Mahomes, star of the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. During his recovery process, Pau Gasol consulted with various specialists. Six months after undergoing surgery, he went to the FIFA Medical Center of Excellence in Murcia, where his injury was examined. “We did biomechanical tests. We recommend a treatment with biological materials, specifically with cells, inside the injured bone. We told him that the prognosis was good and that he could recover to perform at a good competitive level ”, explains Dr. Pedro Luis Ripoll, director of the Medical Center, where he works together with Dr. Mariano de Prado, president of the Spanish Society of Medicine and Surgery Foot and ankle, who was the one who visited the center of Sant Boi.
The age of the athlete, 38 years when Pau Gasol was operated, two more now, is an important factor, explains Ripoll. “What makes the difference is that he is an athlete with the mentality of champions, capable of assuming the sacrifices involved in recovering from such important injuries and with an enormous capacity to resist and overcome pain. There is a notorious case like that of Sergio Asenjo (Villarreal goalkeeper, 31 years old) who returned to play in the First Division after undergoing an operation four times on the anterior cruciate ligament. ”
The injury from which Pau Gasol is recovering had already burdened its performance before being operated. During the 2018-2019 season, which began with San Antonio and ended with Milwaukee, he only played 30 games, with an average of 12 minutes. After undergoing surgery twice and a long recovery process, highly conditioned by the pandemic, on November 24, 2020, he published for the first time some images of his return to activity on a field. His former teammate in the Spanish team, Raúl López, helped him on his return to training.
Gasol has a personal physiotherapist, Joaquín Juan, who often accompanies him and who usually works with him in many of the competitions with his teams and with the Spanish team. Doctors make special emphasis on the fact that the elite athlete, especially when he is at the end of his career, also suffers significant psychological stress. But the goal of being able to attend the Games for the fifth time in his career is an extraordinary source of motivation for a player who also dreams of completing his great record with a Euroleague with Barça .
“I am one age and two years ago. I do not play. Little by little ”
Pau Gasol on Monday passed the medical examination prior to the formalization of his signing for FC Barcelona. It is expected to be introduced once the club's president-elect, Joan Laporta, takes office. Both held a talk at the club's facilities in the company of Juan Carlos Navarro, technical secretary for training basketball. The Barça center highlighted the importance of his former teammate at Barça, in the national team and during a brief period in Memphis, on his return to the club he left 20 years ago to triumph in the NBA. “It all started with a conversation with Juan Carlos. I spoke with him about the possibility of going back to Europe. There was interest on the part of some teams, but then I raised the idea that if I had to go back to Europe it had to be with Barça ”. He added that another conversation with coach Saras Jasikevicius was essential. "He told me how he saw it, he asked me how I was doing, how I would fit in with the team and with the group, which is at a very good level, and how I could complement it." Regarding his physical condition, he indicated: “I haven't played for almost two years and I am one age, and we said that we would have to go step by step, little by little. Here we are, in a project and in a very beautiful stage that I hope will work ”. It is unlikely that Pau will be able to play next Thursday in the Euroleague game that Barça will play on the Real Madrid pitch.