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Top Banana

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All great acts have featured great second bananas: Martin and Lewis. Lewis and Clark. Clark and Lois. Fred and Barney. Andy and Barney. Smith and Barney. Mike and Ike. Ike and Tina. Tina Louise. Bacon and eggs. Toast and butter. Lox and bagels. Gin and tonic. Lemon and lime. Peaches and Herb. The problem with bananas is that they've got no supporting bananas.

When it comes to segundo plátanos in professional sports, my client Pau Gasol is second to none. The 2008 midseason trade of the sublimely-skilled seven-footer from Memphis to Los Angeles provided Kobe Bryant with a perfect complement and has propelled the Lakers back into the NBA elite. Together, they have been to two league finals, won a world championship and, as of Wednesday, have gone 130-38 - a .774 winning percentage that eclipses those of such dynamic L.A. duos as Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson (.721), Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal (.697), and Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain (.678).

With Gasol playing Scottie Pippen to Bryant's Michael Jordan, the team is a good bet to become the league's first Two-Peat champs since the Three-Peating Lakers of a decade ago. Since the 1979-'80 season, the rookie campaign of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, five franchises have won back-to-back titles. Of those teams, only the 1996-'98 Chicago Bulls won a higher percentage of games than the 2008-2010 Lakers. Consider this: The team hasn't lost three straight games with Gasol in the lineup.

In all my years as a sports agent, a handful of serendipitous moments have made a profound difference in my life and how I look at the world. One was meeting Hideki Matsui. Beyond the privilege of working with a great ballplayer, my time with Godzilla has broadened my knowledge of Japan and helped me to develop meaningful relationships there. Around the time I started working with him, another international opportunity arose that proved equally enriching: Gasol sent word that he wanted to meet me. Before that time, I had never been to Spain. Since meeting him, I've visited a half-dozen times and fallen in love with the country.

Like Matsui, Gasol is not just an iconic figure in his homeland -- he recognizes and embraces the tremendous responsibility that comes with his exalted status. Both players embody the Japanese ethic of wa: Personality and individuality are subordinated to the spirit of group harmony for the purpose of team success. (Gasol was born in Barcelona, a city whose most famous football team is summed up in its motto Mas Que Un Club -- More Than A Club). To screw up is to bring shame to their teammates. They practice unceasingly, and value practice for its own sake.

Of the hundreds of athletes I have repped, Gasol and Matsui are by far the most gallant and bighearted. Gasol has been actively involved in the Haiti relief effort from the beginning. He has worked tirelessly -- and quietly -- as a goodwill ambassador to Africa for Spain's UNICEF Committee, a liaison for Hoops for St. Jude Children's Hospital, and a volunteer at Mattel Children's Hospital in L.A. Next summer he'll help build a school in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

It should surprise no one that when Spain submitted its last Olympic bid, the video presentation ended with Gasol making the case for Madrid as the home city. (He's one of only two players ever to win the NBA and European championships in the same year). Among Gasol's countrymen, his pals include the King of Spain, Rafael Nadal, Placido Domingo and that not-so-obscure object of my desire, Penelope Cruz. His younger brother Marc, who is 7'1", is now one of the emerging stars in the NBA. And Pau says his youngest brother, 16-year-old Adriá, looks to be even taller and more talented.

My passion for Spain is perhaps only surpassed by Gasol's passion for the Lakers. Gasol is so crazy about the team that last fall he asked me to put together a three-year contract extension. At the time, he still had two seasons left on his old deal. Naturally, pro basketball's ripest second banana signed on the dotted line in a California town named El Segundo.

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