Pau Gasol's High Note

Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol talks about his recently discovered passion: opera.

As told to Todd Rosenberg

I didn't know much about opera when I was a little kid. I did take piano for five years, from eight to 13, so I did get into classical music — but not so much opera. I got into it later in my 20s; that's when I discovered opera and fell in love with it.

Placido Domingo is one of the most famous opera singers of all time, and he's also a big sports fan. After I got to L.A., in February or March of 2008, Placido was very kind and sent me a card welcoming me to the city, and I got a chance to see my first opera, which was Tosca.

Now I get to see operas every year. The more you see, the more you learn, the more you pay attention to details that at first you didn't notice. It's a wonderful world, and for me it's a getaway. It takes my mind off basketball or stress or anything like that. It's just a good few hours for me to relax and get away from my crazy lifestyle.

I appreciate the beauty of it, the art in it, how hard it is to do what those singers are doing, how much they have to put into it as far as time and dedication.

​​Because I'm tall, it's not easy for me to be comfortable at the opera. Luckily the people at the Lyric Opera of Chicago always accommodate me and put me in seats where I can stretch my legs and also where I'm not blocking anybody behind me. That's the most difficult part for me. When I know I'm blocking somebody's view, it makes me worry about disturbing their experience and their moment to enjoy the opera.

I always encourage my teammates and friends to have an open mind, whether it's with opera, musicals, classical music, or museums. I encourage people to be more cultured and enjoy different things in life. Productions nowadays are trying to be more family friendly. I think The Magic Flute and Cinderella work great for kids. They might like it, they might not like it — but if you never try, you just won't know.

Photos: Todd Rosenberg for Sports Illustrated (with performers), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (action)

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