Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has emphatically re-positioned himself as one of the NBA’s most dominate front-court players this season. A big part of that resurgence has been his reinvention as a legitimate threat from behind the arc. It’s all part of a career trajectory that’s taken him from the 48th pick in the 2007 Draft to a Defensive Player of the Year winner and two-time All-Star.
In hindsight, it seems absurd that Gasol flew under so many teams’ radars, but now a new book by Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project, sheds some light on why one particular organization balked on an opportunity to snag Big Spain. In an adaptation from the book over at Slate, Lewis reveals that Rockets G.M. and analytics guru Daryl Morey was essentially pressured to pass on Gasol because of fat-shaming by certain people within his inner circle:
For instance, in the 2007 draft there had been a player his model really liked: Marc Gasol. Gasol was twenty-two years old, a seven-foot-one center playing in Europe. The scouts had found a photograph of him shirtless. He was pudgy and baby-faced and had these jiggly pecs. The Rockets staff had given Marc Gasol a nickname: Man Boobs. Man Boobs this and Man Boobs that. “That was my first draft in charge and I wasn’t so brave,” said Morey. He allowed the general ridicule of Marc Gasol’s body to drown out his model’s optimism about Gasol’s basketball future, and so instead of arguing with his staff, he watched the Memphis Grizzlies take Gasol with the 48th pick of the draft. The odds of getting an All-Star with the 48th pick in the draft were well below one in a hundred. The 48th pick of the draft basically never even yielded a useful NBA bench player, but already Marc Gasol was proving to be a giant exception. (Gasol became a two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2015 and, by Houston’s reckoning, the third-best pick made by the entire NBA over the past decade, after Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.) The label they’d stuck on him clearly had affected how they valued him: names mattered. “I made a new rule right then,” said Morey. “I banned nicknames.”
Overall physical fitness is certainly a cause for concern in a pro sports league that showcases some of the world’s best athletes, but there have been plenty of guys who have struggled with their weight and still managed to become productive NBA players. That aside, it’s also a term that many people might find insensitive, at best, especially in a workplace setting.
Morey has since obviously learned from past mistakes and evolved into a savvy exec and talent evaluator, but given Gasol’s rise to stardom in the intervening years, I bet he wishes he could take a mulligan on that one.