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Pau and Marc Gasol make the NBA a better place

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Two brothers starting the All-Star Game is a special thing. It's a really special thing because nobody expected it'd be these two brothers in this year.

Illustration by Harrison Freeman

The passage of time has a funny way of retroactively validating decisions once universally regarded as brazenly stupid.

Seven years ago, the trade that sent Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Lakers was widely panned as the most one-sided NBA deal in recent memory. The Lakers received one of the most offensively gifted 7-footers in the league, a player who would eventually help Kobe Bryant add two more titles to his monolithic legacy. In return, all Los Angeles had to send back was Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, a couple draft picks and Gasol's heavy, unsculpted younger brother.

Not a lot of people assumed that the two men standing in the center circle at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game would be the brothers once traded for each other. Pau is enjoying a resurgent year in the Eastern Conference for the Bulls, but it's that heavy, unsculpted younger brother who has blossomed into one of the best two-way players in the league for Memphis. At this point, no one is questioning their credentials.

Pau and Marc Gasol were born to the same set of parents five years apart in Barcelona during the 1980s. It's likely they had little trouble convincing people they were brothers. Both are about as tall as humans can possibly grow and blessed with the type of deft touch and elastic reach only a world-class athlete can possess.

But while the outward similarities are evident enough, it's the subtle differences in skill and personality that makes this sibling relationship so compelling.

The brothers Gasol have taken different paths to get to New York. Pau was once the highest international player ever drafted and the Rookie of the Year before transparently changing the league's balance of power when he was traded to Los Angeles. Marc was a second-round pick who didn't make his NBA debut until he was 24 years old. He is a player whose rise to become an MVP candidate was anything but preordained.

The differences start in physique. The older Pau is lean and long, while Marc is sturdy and barrel chested. It wasn't always that way for the younger Gasol. For the first two decades of his life, Marc resembled someone more comfortable at a barbecue than on the basketball court:

Off the court, Pau is warm, ambitious and cultured. He signed with the Bulls in part because of Chicago's theater and opera scene. He plays piano, loves to share book recommendations and once dreamed of becoming a doctor. Lee Jenkins' 2010 profile of Gasol painted him as an empathetic and caring man with interests that stretch far beyond basketball:

At Children's Hospital he met with doctors in a conference room, quizzing them about their treatment of patients with scoliosis, asking how they ensure that their procedures do not stunt lung development. "We all looked at each other like, How does he know this stuff?" says Dr. David Skaggs, chief of orthopedic surgery. Next month Gasol is scheduled to sit in on a spinal surgery with Skaggs, dressed in scrubs. "We talk to him now almost like he is a surgical colleague," Skaggs says.

The divergence in personality between Pau and Marc is perhaps most noticeable on social media. Pau is constantly plugged in, sending celebrity birthday shout-outs and chiming in on holidays real and imagined. Marc has been silent on Twitter for five months.

If Marc is purposely letting his game to do the talking, he's still speaking volumes. He's about to be the most coveted free agent in the league at the end of the season, with maximum contracts offers from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between. He's turned himself into a superstar without ever averaging 15 points per game before this season. If he lacks Pau's assertiveness offensively, Marc surpasses his brother by being arguably the best defensive big man in the NBA.

There is one trait the two brothers share on the court: an inherent gift for passing the ball. Pau is already fifth all-time in total assists among players at least 7-feet tall. Marc leads all centers in assists per game this season and every once in a while will drop a dime custom made to melt your mind:

To put it another way: Pau is that salsa dancing dog somehow smart enough to memorize the choreography. Marc is that summersaulting, hula hooping bear that's both massive and nimble -- and wait, how is that bear playing a trumpet?

As they celebrate becoming the first brothers to ever start an All-Star Game, so to should we celebrate them. Cherish the Gasols for their diverse game, their positive vibes and their seemingly endless collection of funny pictures on the Internet. The NBA is a better place with them in the league.

All illustrations in this series were done by Harrison Freeman. Click here to view his portfolio.