Standing at a combined height of about 14 feet, Spanish-born Pau Gasol and his younger brother Marc are building an impressive legacy in NBA basketball and beyond. Pau won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, alongside the late Kobe Bryant. And Marc helped anchor the “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies for years, before recently winning his first NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors.
Before finding success in the NBA and on the international stage, the Gasol brothers were born into a medical family in Barcelona. Their mother was a physician and their father was a nurse. Pau Gasol studied to become a doctor for a time, moved in part by Magic Johnson’s announcement in the early 1990s that he was HIV-positive. Ultimately, though, Pau and Marc Gasol found their success in hoops, and are worth an estimated $115 million combined.
In recent years, I’ve written about the rising philanthropy of professional athletes. Part of this phenomenon, I’ve argued, aligns with a growing social consciousness, with players speaking out on a range of issues off the court. Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union, for example, have emerged as vocal supporters of LGBTQ causes. And a number of NBA players have stepped up in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pau and Marc focus on health. In 2013, the Gasol brothers launched the Gasol Foundation, first in the United States, and later in their home country of Spain. The public foundation works to reduce childhood obesity rates through the promotion of sports and physical activity, healthy eating, sleep quality, and the emotional well-being of children, adolescents and their families. Foundation U.S. Director Kristina Justiniano explains to me that their foundation does not engage in grantmaking, but instead runs programs.
The Gasol Foundation’s motto, “Make It Healthy, Make It Fun,” fits within a larger push by philanthropy to tackle childhood obesity, which sets the table for increased risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and other health issues in adulthood. This has been a hot cause among funders of late, with charities like Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation and the Anthem Foundation focusing on this cause with major funds.
The Gasol Foundation’s VIDA! Health and Wellness program, in collaboration with Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, “allows children ages six to 12 and their families to learn the tools necessary to live a healthy lifestyle.” The program began in 2014 and impacts close to 200 families so far.
The foundation also partners with YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles to run ENERGY (Education Nutrition Exercise Rest and Goodness to Youth), which works within the summer day camp environment to promote healthy habits in kids, their caregivers and camp counselors. And its CommUNITY Wellness program, in partnership with social impact firm Turner Impact Capital, engages residents of housing communities, bringing health and wellness resources to at-risk communities.
Pau Gasol has also been involved with UNICEF for years, once pledging $1,000 for every point he scored to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF fundraising relief efforts in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Last year, he was appointed Global Champion for Nutrition and Zero Childhood Obesity by UNICEF. He is a longtime UNICEF Spain Ambassador, and recently launched a campaign to raise $12 Million for the Red Cross in Spain with tennis star Rafael Nadal.
Looking ahead, the Gasol Foundation is working on a new effort called FIVALIN centered on physical activity, which is already active in Spain through a partnership with Nike.