MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – All-Star center Marc Gasol says he's sorry if Grizzlies fans worried over how long it took to learn that he wasn't leaving Memphis. There was never reason to fret, though.
Gasol said Tuesday he already knew he wasn't going anywhere else.
"Once the dust settled, and I started thinking about the process of next season, every scenario would bring me back to Memphis," he said. "It never opened up to different teams. So, actually, it was pretty easy."
The 7-foot-1 Spaniard spoke Tuesday at a news conference that was much more a celebration, with fans packing the lobby of the Grizzlies' arena a day after Gasol signed his five-year contract. Although the Grizzlies didn't release terms of the deal, the Associated Press previously reported Gasol agreed to a five-year maximum contract worth more than $100 million.
Gasol says he needed to reflect after the season ended, but told Grizzlies owner Robert Pera over dinner July 1 in Spain he would remain with Memphis. He was unaware that the delay in his signing was causing consternation for Grizzlies fans. He said "things in Spain take a little longer."
Meanwhile, Grizzlies fans waited and worried, expressing their concern on sports talk shows.
Unaware of the hand-wringing, Gasol did see a video by director Craig Brewer of Memphis urging the center to return, and the center called the work "emotional." The piece featured Justin Timberlake, a minority owner from the Memphis area, fans and teammates, including point guard Mike Conley, whose own long-term commitment was a major factor in Gasol's decision.
"That kind of sealed the deal," Gasol said of the guard considered his best friend on the team.
Hundreds of fans and supporters turned out Tuesday and cheered when Gasol entered the news conference. General manager Chris Wallace pointed out the franchise never won a playoff game before Gasol arrived. Now, the Grizzlies have 27 postseason victories, including a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals. Two of those wins came in the Western semifinals before Memphis was ousted 4-2 by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
"This is a great day to be a Memphian and a Grizzly," Wallace said, "as Marc Gasol's longtime presence on our team is now assured."
Play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica told the crowd they were "celebrating one of the most important days in franchise history."
The marquee over the lobby summed up the day proclaiming "MARC GASOL of MEMPHIS."
Signs held up by fans acknowledging Gasol's return and commitment, some bearing the team mantra of "grit-and-grind." Others noted Gasol as "homegrown" a reference to his high school days in Memphis, where he played while his older brother Pau was a member of the Grizzlies.
Kyle Taylor held an illustration with Gasol in matador regalia, a banner saying "Big Spain" above his head and his cape as the Tennessee state flag.
"He's like a local superhero," Taylor said before Gasol signed the drawing. "The fact that he's insanely tall helps."
Gasol sheepishly smiled through all of the attention.
"To see all the attention is too much for me," Gasol said. "I don't deserve all this love that you guys have given me. At the end of the day, it's not about me. It's about making you guys proud."
But Wallace repeated the theme of the day, saying Gasol's return means so much both to the Grizzlies and the city.
"We have the best center in the NBA," Wallace said. "And nobody will have him going forward for quite some time."