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Gasol Was Well Received at Chavez Ravine

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LA Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote an article describing the lackluster reaction of Laker Nation last night as Pau Gasol made his first appearance of the season. Coming off a hamstring injury that sidelined the Spaniard for the first eleven games of the season, Gasol was back to his usual self, contributing 24 points and 13 rebounds in a 108-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Plaschke felt the crowd did not give Gasol the welcome he deserved. Watching the game at home, I noticed a similar reaction. I think I know why.

The Lakers and their fans are focused on another championship run. There is a certain psychosis to being a perennial winner. When I was an undergrad at USC during the heyday of the Pete Carroll years, I experienced only three losses from my sophomore year through my senior year. It became so commonplace to win, so critical to keep the party going, that players could get lost in the shuffle. The tight end is out? Run the ball. That was the mentality.

There is typically one player that represents a championship team. With the Lakers, this is Kobe Bryant. If Kobe was out for 11 games and came back, he'd get the roars of a returning Roman emperor. Gasol might be the most important general, but he is not the emperor.

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The Lakers have won four titles this decade and are looking to start off the 2010s on the right foot. There will be a time when the Lakers come back to earth when these years are dissected and analyzed. At that time, Gasol will be exalted. He made the team great. He's the only player I have ever seen that Kobe seems to enjoy playing with (or passing the ball to). I agree with Bill Plaschke when he referred to Gasol as the "glue" holding the Lake Show together.

Down Figueroa and a few blocks west on Sunset sits Chavez Ravine. It's empty and Dodger fans everywhere are wondering what the future will bring them. Unlike the Lakers or the Trojans (or even to an extent UCLA in basketball), the Dodgers haven't won a title in over 20 years. They don't expect to win the World Series every season. They hope to. They dream to.

The Dodgers and Lakers fan bases are the same people, but lately the Ravine and Staples are two very different prisms through which to watch sports.

I recall a warm night in June when Pau Gasol came to Dodger Stadium to toss out the opening pitch. The Spaniard wore a white Dodgers home jersey and towered over everyone shaking his hand. He was cheered. Gasol watched most of the game with the same intensity and joy he exhibits when he plays his own sport.

Sometime late in the game, Gasol stood up to leave early in the oldest of Dodger fan traditions. That's when it happened. A deluge of applause. The world stood still for the Spaniard. I was so close it was impossible not to notice. This was his personal victory lap. Dodger fans know what Manny did to change the culture of his young team. They knew Pau did the same thing in the most subtle of ways. Pau crafted the contenders into champions.

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Maybe Pau noticed his subpar receiving last night at Staples Center. Maybe he didn't. I'm not sure it matters. He was at Dodger Stadium that night when fans of a different team playing a different sport rose to let him know how much they cared.

Believe me when I say it: Gasol knows how Los Angeles feels about him.