Spain's most famous basketball player, Pau Gasol, announces his retirement

The player returned to Barcelona recently after nearly 20 years in the American NBA league

JOSÉ MANUEL ANDRÉS MADRID.

Spanish basketball legend Pau Gasol was full of emotion this week as he confirmed his retirement after 22 years as a professional player.

He spoke of his decision at a special press conference in the Liceu theatre in Barcelona, with a soundtrack of opera and in the presence of his family - his wife and daughter and brother Marc, also a professional basketball player.

By his side too were former teammates in the Spain squad, with whom he won one World Cup and three Eurobasket competitions, among many other medals and trophies: Jorge Garbajosa, now the president of the Spanish baskeTball Federation, and Felipe Reyes, among others.

Players and staff from the basketball section of his current club F.C. Barcelona - president Joan Laporta, former teammate and now manager Juan Carlos Navarro, and coach Sarunas Jasikevicius - were also by his side.

Gasol appeared before the press with the joy of being able to retire while still active - rather than forced by injury - playing with his first and last club, Barça, and until this summer the Spain "family".

He returned to Spain after nearly 20 years in several teams in the American NBA league, winning two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, taking part six times in the NBA All-Star game and being named the NBA Rookie of the year in 2002. But his final years in America were plagued by injury.

"Very few doctors believed that I could play again, but I am a person of challenges and I wanted to fight for the improbable. I had the hope of playing one day in front of my little girl," said Gasol, who was born near Barcelona 41 years ago.

Now he plans to devote moretime to his family as well as his business and charity ventures.