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Before Marc Gasol was a utility big man on championship contenders like the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers, he was an All-Star center for the Memphis Grizzlies, and while his most statistically successful years came under Dave Joerger, his first few years with the team were under the guidance Lionel Hollins, who now serves as an assistant coach on Frank Vogel’s staff.

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Hollins took over as head coach of the Grizzlies 43 games into the 2008-09 season, which was also Gasol’s first season in Memphis. In the five years that they worked together, Gasol and Hollins formed a close relationship, and Gasol told Kyle Goon of the OC Register that relationship played a pivotal role in Gasol signing with the Lakers in free agency:

“Being reunited with him is special, a big reason I’m here,” he said. “He’s someone I know will be truly honest with me when it comes to it.”

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The Lakers don’t play the same “grit-and-grind” style of basketball that Hollins is credited with having brought to Memphis, but Gasol shared some of the the other qualities that made him such a good coach — qualities that he’s likely brought to the Lakers’ locker room:

This was Gasol’s first game back in Memphis after playing parts of 11 seasons with the Grizzlies from 2008 to 2019. He signed with the Lakers in November after playing for Toronto last season. He first came to Memphis at age 16 to go to high school, arriving in the city after his brother Pau was a Grizzlies rookie in 2001.

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) shoots past Memphis Grizzlies center Gorgui Dieng (14) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
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Gasol, who was drafted by the Lakers in 2007, was traded to Memphis in February 2008 in a deal in which Pau went to the Lakers. Gasol joined the Grizzlies in July 2008, returning to a city he had first lived in as a teen coming from Barcelona.

The Grizzlies reached the playoffs in seven of the seasons Gasol played for them, and he recalls how the city of Memphis embraced the team and its tough style of play. The city loved him back for that — and because Gasol committed himself to charity work in the community at places such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

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Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

“Memphis, it’s a place that — I don’t know. It’s a special place to me that’s been my home, like, I’ve been here so long,” Gasol said after the Lakers defeated Memphis 108-94. “I got here in 2001 when the franchise actually moved here, so imagine how many years. This is the 20th year since I got here, so the franchise means a lot to me. It’s a part of who I am.

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“The city, the fans, the hospitals that are here, the children’s hospitals — not only St.Jude but also Bonheur. It’s a huge part of who I am and what I stand for as a man and the values I try to teach my kids. So, Memphis, you know, it’s part of who I am. So it’s been awesome and like I said, a full arena would have made it a little more special and a little harder too at the same time. It would have been a little more emotional.”

Gasol was traded by the Grizzlies to the Raptors on Feb. 7, 2019. He wasn’t able to play in Memphis with Toronto after the NBA halted play in March because of the coronavirus.

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“Yeah, you always have it in the back of your mind, ‘When am I gonna play in Memphis again?’ But in your mind, it’s also, ‘The stands are full,’ ” Gasol said. “That’s kind of, like I said, it makes it easier when nobody’s out there. But at the same time, it makes it a little less special. Because the people is what made this journey here in Memphis unique and special to me. When you’re playing for a team and a community that is so close to the team, you become, obviously, one of them and become tied. You have the same identity and you represent Memphis, Tennessee, everywhere you go.”

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He kept his emotions in check during the video tribute and then produced a typical Gasol game — seven points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and no turnovers.

“And from the video, I get those interactions. Those interactions that were special,” Gasol said. “Those interactions with the fans from the year I got here all the way until I got traded. Being a part of the community, to me, was the most important thing.”

One thing with Hollins was for sure: You weren’t going to be making excuses. After taking over, superior conditioning became Memphis’ foundation, won by hard practices. Practices got a lot more challenging, and Hollins didn’t mince words, either.

“Back then as a coach, you were allowed to be honest from the get-go,” Gasol said. “He pretty much coached us however he wanted to coach us. He was very tough. He was brutally honest with us and what was expected of ourselves as players. He held us accountable.”

Hollins and Gasol weren’t able to bring a championship to Memphis during their time together, although they got pretty close in 2013, when the Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals. Prior to Hollins’ arrival, they hadn’t won a playoff series. Hopefully they’ll be able to get over the hump together in Los Angeles.

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