MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The first thing you notice while grocery shopping with Marc Gasol is the ease with which he fits into his surroundings. Sure, there are a few second glances as the affable 7-footer weaves his way through the aisles at the local Whole Foods, but mostly there are just smiles and nods.
"What's up, Marc?" asks the friendly worker behind the fish counter who treats Gasol not as an NBA superstar, but as just another neighbor picking up some salmon for the evening.
"They know me as Marc," says Gasol, who spent some of his childhood and most of his professional life in Memphis. "They don't know me as Marc Gasol."
The shoppers and workers also know him because he's in there -- a lot.
"Once or twice a week at least," Gasol says, as he snags some sweet potatoes and other vegetables for later. He enjoys the serenity that comes with shopping for his meals, the ability to create and follow through on that day's grocery list, and the regimented focus it takes to maintain the healthy lifestyle that reshaped his body and his career.
After his older brother, Pau, was acquired by the Grizzlies in the 2001 draft, the younger Gasol followed him to Memphis. During his time at Lausanne Collegiate School, he earned Mr. Basketball honors in Tennessee but also picked up some unflattering nicknames for his size. Gasol, who tipped the scales at 350 pounds in his high school days, refers to that version of himself as "The Tank."
"There was always a McDonald's that I went to, it was really close to the high school," Gasol says with a laugh. "It's like the best looking McDonald's there is now. I think I invested so much in that one that they were able to put LED lights [in]. Everything is newer."
Gasol knew his dietary habits would have to change if he wanted to have the kind of career he has put together -- 10 seasons in the NBA, including three All-Star appearances. He credits Grizzlies director of performance Eric Oetter with helping him create a better plan, which includes fasting for hours in the morning on most days.
After trying a vegan lifestyle and then a pescatarian one, Gasol has landed on a paleo template that cut out bread, once a staple in his diet, but allows for increased variety and exploration in the kitchen.
"That curiosity just made me -- and ambition to become a better player, better athlete and at the end of the day, healthier so you can live longer," says Gasol, who now weighs a lean 252 pounds. "Who doesn't want to live longer?"
Gasol prepares dinner at home, dutifully chopping up some sweet potatoes to put in the oven, with his wife, Cristina, and two young children sitting nearby. His family helped serve as a major source of inspiration for his body transformation.
"I think once I had my kids that kind of made it like, 'Look, you have to be the best you can be so they have a good example at home.' " he says. "You want to give them the best food, what's best for them. And to me that was bigger than me and obviously it was good for me too."
As he continues cooking, Gasol is shown a picture from his past that has made its way around the internet over the years -- a picture of The Tank. An amused smile breaks across his face as he discusses the changes to both his basketball life and his personal one that came between his past and present. While he doesn't hide from his larger past, he is much more focused on his healthier present.
"There's worse ones," he says of the picture. "Much worse than that because at that time I was still playing. There's another one that you guys will never find that's not anywhere on the internet. That when I [got] my trophy for Mr. Basketball ... that's worse than that."
He credits his wife Cristina with helping him through some of the rough patches both in his Tank and post-Tank lives. Gasol even notes that his 3-year-old daughter knows what her plate should look like when the family sits for dinner.
"She knows what's good and what's bad," he says. "She'll know when she needs protein or when she needs more veggies. She knows what every plate should look like."
Given what the NBA looks like these days, Gasol's transformation has become even more critical to his career. The back to the basket game of his earlier years has faded as long-range shooting is more en vogue from all positions than it has ever been. He has seen the benefits that his diet and lifestyle changes have made to his game and is ready to offer his life-changing advice when asked. However, even though he is convinced he is not the only NBA player who is health conscious enough to both shop for and prepare a meal for his family, he admits there aren't many teammates who have sought out his dietary counsel.
"I think you could say that, a lot of players are insecure and sometimes we have this shield around us that we don't want to accept that we have problems sometimes or we don't know how to do things because we're these superheroes," Gasol says. "Normally young guys are shy about asking those type of questions. So you've kind of got to break the ice a little bit, you've got to put your arm around their shoulder and help them out a little bit."
"That curiosity just made me -- and ambition to become a better player, better athlete and at the end of the day, healthier so you can live longer. Who doesn't want to live longer?"Marc Gasol
Gasol remains confident that his plan, and the effects it can have on one's health, can work whether one plays in the NBA or not, and he's certain he can serve as an inspiration for any person who is ready to create a new path of their own.
"There's no secret to it," he says. "I had the worst habits that you could imagine. Pizza, burgers, even a little bit of sweets. A lot of people have those habits. It's just a matter of going after it and sticking to it. I think at the end of the day it's sticking to it. And obviously there's going to be easier days than others. There's days when you're like, 'The hell with it,' but after a while you see the results and then you get motivated at points like I want to do a little bit more."
As happy as Gasol is when he goes out to shop for ingredients for his latest meal, the proud Spaniard admits it's difficult to walk through his adopted hometown with his head held high these days, with the Grizzlies mired in a disappointing season that will end with their first trip to the lottery since 2010.
"At times like this it's hard to step out because you're so locked in, and to be honest, a little embarrassed about the situation," says Gasol of seeing the NBA's third-longest active postseason streak come to an end. "You don't want to show your face so much, you just want to get it right and fix it. But they've been so supportive. Every time they interact with us, it's just support."
Gasol would know. His family has had the same seats for Grizzlies games for 17 years. The first three of Pau's career inside the Pyramid and then the past 14 inside FedEx Forum since the building opened in 2004.
"I was a fan before I was an NBA player," Gasol says. "Because I was a fan of the team, Pau was playing here so I used to go to the Pyramid to watch games. So I know it's kind of cool, right? You get to live that ultimate fan dream which is to play for the team that you went and support [through the years]."
However, that dream never included being linked to the firing of David Fizdale in November, a winless February as part of a 19-game losing streak, and 54 losses, the team's most since 2008-09, Gasol's rookie season.
"Frustrating," Gasol says of a season that took a swift downturn after a 5-1 start that included a pair of wins over the West-leading Rockets. "Challenging. But you try to stay and find the positive in everything that you do. And try to find the learning lesson -- and obviously there's a lot to learn. I always thought no matter what kind of team you had, that I had, that I was on we always were going to be competitive. We always were going to make the playoffs. That's not the case."
Once the playoffs were clearly out of reach for the Grizzlies, the team shifted into either "rebuilding" or "tanking" mode, depending on your perspective. Gasol has been on the inactive list multiple times in March, and when he has been active, he has been part of 23 different starting lineups this season. But when asked if there's a way the NBA can prevent teams from tanking, Gasol doesn't have any quick answers.
"I don't know what you can do as Adam Silver," he says of the NBA commissioner. "I truly don't know. I haven't put myself in his shoes. ... I don't know what I would do as him. Because you want to keep the game as competitive as possible, you want to make sure that it's a good product out there. But every team has its responsibilities and I don't think the commissioner can do much about each team's responsibilities and when things go wrong, it's not one mistake, one bad decision that makes those things go wrong."
Gasol chuckles as the topic of a potential strategy session with the commissioner is brought up.
"Maybe, why not? But we're going to need a little bit of wine," says Gasol, an avid red wine drinker, as he serves a meal of pan fried salmon, spinach and baked sweet potatoes. "For that conversation I think we're going to need a couple glasses. We might have to go with the bigger bottle, a magnum."
Gasol still has two years left on the five-year, $110 million max contract he signed in 2015, the second of which is a player option worth $25.6 million. At the time of Fizdale's firing, he said he would not ask for a trade, but like the rest of the organization he knows how important the upcoming summer will be. If the Grizzlies can get Mike Conley back from injury and add a top pick to play alongside Gasol, the transition back to playoff contenders could happen quickly.
"You just never know what can happen," he says. "That makes you really embrace every second that you're here. You just don't know at what point things can change. The fun part is you don't know how long you're going to be a Grizzly, but you know in your heart you're always going to be a Memphian."
Gasol takes particular pride in representing Memphis, and the fanbase that embraced the Grit and Grind mentality that defined the team's seven-year postseason run.
"Obviously we don't have the spotlight that other big cities have," he says. "But here we hold our own and they feel represented by us and the success that we had in the past has helped build that relationship. And the way we played made every Memphian proud of the team."
Gasol is the Grizzlies' all-time leader in points and has played more games in a Memphis jersey than any other player. But he politely brushes off the talk of a statue sitting out front of FedEx Forum one day after his playing career is finished, whether that finish comes in Memphis or somewhere else. But he does acknowledge the joy he takes in his story being an example for the coming generations.
"Nobody thought when I went to high school at Lausanne that I was going to be able to do this, not even myself," Gasol says. "So with the right people around me, the right coaches, family support which is crucial, we were able to do things that at the moment nobody even thought were possible so why not right?"
Whatever accolades come Gasol's way once he hangs up his jersey -- one that's considerably smaller than the one the Grizzlies first handed to him in 2009 -- will be the result of his dedication to planning.
"The old saying, you plan the work and then you work the plan," says Gasol, who applies the same mentality to preparing for a game or choosing ingredients while walking down the aisles at Whole Foods. "I'm somebody that sets goals, enjoys the preparation and the planning to achieve those goals, and then really enjoys going through that plan really disciplined and achieving those goals. ... I enjoy the whole process. If you fail, you can backtrack and see, 'OK, that didn't go well, let's try something else and let's go that other route.' "