Pau Gasol opens up on playing for Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich

Pau Gasol knows he's in select company.

The San Antonio Spurs big man, who is almost certainly headed to the Hall of Fame when his career ends, is one of only two active NBA players to have played for two of the most unique characters in basketball today: Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Gasol and Philadelphia 76ers guard Marco Belinelli are the only active players left from a club that counts just five others as members: Nazr Mohammed, Kurt Thomas, Keith Bogans, Malcolm Thomas and Rasual Butler.

"How about that?" Gasol said with a smile when told of the group. "Fascinating list."

So what's it like playing for two of the most interesting men in basketball? Gasol, an interesting personality in his own right, shed some light on the experience as the Spurs get set to face off against the Timberwolves for the third and final time this season, with both teams needing a win in the ever-tightening Western Conference playoff race.

"They bring a certain passion to the game," Gasol told ESPN. "Maybe in different ways, but you see that emotion from both coaches. They both care truly and are devoted to the game."

The preparation both coaches put into their respective systems is also something that sets them apart, according to the 37-year-old Gasol. It's a major reason why, during his chances at free agency after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol signed first with Thibodeau's Bulls, then with Popovich's Spurs.

"The conversations that I had with Thibs were positive. It seemed like we were going to be on the same page," he said. "And when I decided to come to San Antonio, same deal. I knew Pop was an excellent coach, a guy that is at the top of the top, considered, I think, for most of us, the best coach that is out there today."

Gasol was an All-Star in his two seasons in Chicago, the first with Thibodeau and the second under Fred Hoiberg. He has played more of a supporting role for Popovich but has started 59 of the Spurs' 68 games this season as San Antonio looks to extend its 20-year postseason streak -- a stretch that began in Popovich's first full season at the helm in San Antonio.

Thibodeau faces the opposite challenge in Minnesota, trying to end a 13-year playoff drought for the Timberwolves. The coach has repeatedly called the Spurs the "gold standard" of the NBA in terms of their high-level consistency over the years, an opinion shared by Gasol.

"The experience and success of Pop -- it's one of a kind and is very unique," Gasol said. "So that gives him a certain poise in order to handle adversity. And he also has a side of him that basketball is basketball -- he keeps it in perspective. Pop, I think, understands there are things that are bigger and better in life, and this is our job, and we're very lucky to do what we do, but it's nothing compared to tragedies and situations that people go through, unfortunately, too much in the world. So I think he has that maturity, or personal aspect, that makes him very special."

For Gasol, that balance came in stark contrast to the fiery sideline demeanor that has come to define Thibodeau's career as a head coach. But after 17 seasons in the NBA, the Spaniard has learned to adjust to different styles.

"I appreciated how devoted, how much he cared," Gasol said of Thibodeau. "He brought a certain edge to every game. Sometimes it might have gotten, I won't say out of hand, he's just an intense person, right? We know that. But it comes, I think, from a place that he cares so much about what he does. He's immersed into basketball, and he wants his team to perform."

As Gasol rolls through the final stanza of his career, he is appreciative of the journey and what he has been able to accomplish under many of his coaches. He knows there aren't many players who have been able to learn the lessons he has from teachers such as Popovich, Thibodeau and others.

"I've had great coaches, I've had not-so-good coaches," Gasol said. "I had Hubie Brown [in Memphis], which I love, and I appreciated him, as well. I think Mike Fratello -- had his run with us and with the Grizzlies -- I think he's also in the mix of good coaches I've had. I've had a long career, and it's been full of different moments. I've had the luxury and privilege to be coached by some of the greatest, I think, that ever coached the game, so it's been fun."