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Pau Gasol says J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award 'means a lot'

May 18, 2012|By Mark Medina

For several moments, Pau Gasol began to tear up.

He was talking about how winning the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award "means a lot" and is a "great honor" and it was obvious those were more than just words as he began thinking about all the sick children he's visited on various trips as a UNICEF ambassador.

"Every time I visited, it's been an experience that has stayed with me," Gasol said after Friday's morning shootaround before the Lakers played Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. "You always meet a patient or several patients that are very inspirational or get you in a way that's shocking. Every time there's a child or a family, they're facing a very tough situation and very tough time in their lives. To be there and contribute a little bit, get a smile out of them and inject some strength and energy so they can hopefully have a better chance, as much as you can do, nothing is really little. That's why I encourage everyone to have an impact on somebody else and somebody's life."

Gasol has done that by tapping into his interest in medicine after attending medical school at the University of Barcelona. 

For the last seven years, Gasol has traveled the world for UNICEF during the off-season working with programs aimed at nutrition and education for children. In March, Gasol participated in El Rey Theater’s “Play List With the A-List,” in which Gasol and other celebrities sang karaoke to raise funds for UNICEF. Gasol hopes to travel for another project this summer, though he said he won't decide until the London Olympics end Aug. 12.

Gasol frequently visits Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. During a Jan. 2011 visit, the 7-footer lifted children so they could "dunk" a basketball and he caught alley-oop lobs from kids in wheelchairs. And he made sure to give everyone a high-five, an encouraging word and a pat on the back.

Gasol also visits St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, which he began doing when he played in Memphis from 2000 to 2008. Lakers Coach Mike Brown accompanied Gasol during a February visit this year when they spent time doing arts and crafts with various patients.



"Pau is a very gracious human being," Brown said, "That speaks volumes to who he is as a person. In the game of basketball, we all have a great living from it and enjoy playing the game. But at the end of the day, being a quality person, that's real life. I'm happy for him."

The honor is granted to an NBA player or coach who has displayed "outstanding service and dedication to the community." The award is determined by the Professional Basketball Writers Assn. 

Gasol is the second Laker in as many years to win the award. Ron Artest, now Metta World Peace, won last season for his involvement with mental health charities.

"It's real important when you have that opportunity, you take advantage and maximize it for the better of others," Gasol said. "It's always great to have a higher purpose than yourself. When you have an opportunity to have a positive impact on somebody else's life, especially with me when kids are involved, it's worth all the dedication you can put in." 

That's why Gasol wants to continue his involvement.

He's planning to make more visits at Children's Hospital of L.A. this off-season and remains open to travel on another UNICEF mission after the Olympics, where he'll play for the Spanish National team.

"It fulfills a lot in me as a person. To me, that's above and beyond basketball. Basketball has allowed me to have this kind of opportunity. That's why I always feel fortunate. To me, that's much stronger and more powerful than a basketball game."


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