Memphis Grizzlies' player impacts fans on and off the court

Former Memphis Grizzlies’ player Marc Gasol  poses with William Pace, one of his biggest fans. Pace’s family has credited Gasol for William’s life lessons and love for basketball.

Marc Gasol has the most rebounds and all-star appearances in Grizzlies history. While it is possible for his records to be surpassed, the time he spent in Memphis included moments that changed the lives of many, including six-year-old William Pace.

Sally and Ashley Pace, William’s parents and Grizzlies season ticket holders, noticed their son’s interest in basketball and the Grizzlies in 2015. Since then, the bond between former Grizzly Marc Gasol and William has helped William develop life skills, despite Gasol’s trade to Toronto this year.

William, who was 2 years old at the time, began recognizing players and asking his parents for Grizzlies clothing in 2015. It was in 2016 that William had the opportunity to meet Gasol, making him a relentless fan.

“William would all but bribe the security guard to let him stand close to the front of the line,” Sally said. “He was never disappointed by number 33. Even when the guys were tired, Marc would stop and make it a point to wave at William.”

The kindness Gasol showed was admirable to the Pace family and would lead to other important lessons for William.

After multiple encounters and successful high-fives with Gasol, William would often yell for Marc at inappropriate times. His parents used this opportunity to teach their child respect.

“We had to explain to William that interrupting Marc during a game was like walking into Mom or Poppa’s office during a conference call or meeting,” Sally said. “That’s when he got selective and only yelled loud when Marc entered or left the court.”

Gasol noticed William’s good behavior and began rewarding him for it--William now received his high-fives courtside.

The bond between the two unique friends continued as William got older. William’s mother, Sally, credits Gasol’s court play for her son’s ability to be a respectful fan.

“With William watching how Marc treated opponents with respect, he learned that you didn’t have to heckle to get the attention of the other team,” Sally said. “Instead, focus on being your best and put them in their place with dignity and grace.”

Sally also said that whether Marc knows it or not, William mimics Gasol on the basketball court. The family credits Marc for William’s early love of basketball and ability to play it.

Kindness, respect and tenacity are the three main lessons that William learned by watching, mimicking and interacting with Marc Gasol.

“Marc is an incredible player and an incredible citizen,” Sally said. “He’s aware of his responsibilities as a role model, and I am proud that our son has chosen him to emulate. These are skills that will stick with him for the rest of his life.”

Sally, Ashley and William Pace still support Gasol from afar. Gasol will compete in the playoffs with the Raptors, an opportunity he did not have in Memphis this year.

Meanwhile, William is working on his fundamental basketball skills. His dream job is to play professional basketball, like his friend Marc Gasol.

“William now knows to give a hand to a teammate or even an opponent,” Sally said. “If that’s the only thing he remembers from his life lessons by Marc Gasol, we’ll all come out winners.”

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