Manu Ginobili: A Career of Passion
I feel a bit sick actually
This was my internal thought at about 10.30 AM this morning. Roughly five minutes before delivering an hour-long presentation to our entire staff.
Public speaking can often make people feel sick. But for me it was something else.
I had just read a Whatsapp message that contained two things:
The word Manu, and next to it, an emoji of a face with a single tear.
I immediately went to NBA reddit, and the worst was confirmed. Manu had called it quits.
Uh oh. I actually feel really sick
Back in 2002-2003, when my 12-year-old but already six-foot-high self finally gained access to watching NBA games, the very first game I watched was between the San Antonio Spurs and the Sacramento Kings. The very first NBA game I watched featured Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
Right from the beginning of thousands upon thousands of watched-NBA games, I was introduced to the best to ever do it. The best team to ever be called such. And the brilliance that is the Spurs.
Sidenote: The Kings actually won that game, and I went on a very brief tenure as a Sacramento fan, convinced that they must be the better team because they had won the game. I’m happy to say it didn’t last long.
That was when I was 12. I’m now 28. And things have only just started to change. Timmy has been gone a little while, and Tony barely has his foot out the door, but now Manu is going too, and our Big Three is no more. Only Popp remains.
It’s difficult to know where to start with Manu Ginobili. His career is like his game, covering all areas and coming at you from all angles. Do we talk about Europe, the Olympics, his highlights, his rings, his play off the bench or just the Spurs franchise as a whole?
I’m only a mere mortal, and cannot cover it all, but I do want to highlight how Manu perfected exuberant passion for the game into the classiest act in basketball.
For an introduction to his passion, I say go back and watch the 2004 Olympics. The USA had reached the height of their lethargy and hatred for good basketball. It was all crossovers, one-on-ones and humiliating the other guy. Just look at the roster if you don’t believe me.
Manu Ginobili was the one to show the US that isn’t how you play basketball. THIS is how you play basketball. The crispness and team play of Argentina was a rarity only shared with the later Spurs teams, and Manu helmed it all. The energy and life force he pumped into that performance is etched over every move he made, and he was rewarded.
Just remember the Goliath that Team USA is, and then imagine getting to play the role of David.
Manu got to be the man then. Except he wasn’t. Because Manu has never cared about being the man. Manu cares about winning.
Case in point: the first decade of his career. There are lot of NBA talking heads who all agree: if Ginobili had wanted to start, and wanted to be the guy, he’d have numbers up there with anyone else. He’d get the glory, the pay, the fame.
It’d look a little something like this, when Manu dismantled the Lakers in 2004 (his second season) while Timmy and Tony both sat out:
Frankly, there were players at the time genuinely surprised a man so talented would accept such a role.
But he did. Manu knew coming off the bench said nothing about him as a player. Knew that when he was on the court he was as devastating as any starter. Knew that he’d finish more games than most.
But that was the culture, that was his contribution. They all had one. Tim Duncan was the main man, the all-timer. But he came to work same as everyone else. Coach Popovich has often said their entire twenty year run as a franchise all came down to the fact Duncan was a coachable player who had no ego. Tim Duncan probably can’t spell ego, let alone prima donna.
So Ginobili took that lesson, as they all did, and repeated in his own way.
Did it lessen how he played? Did it quell his fire?
Ha. Good one.
The Spurs of this decade have player basketball at a level unforeseen anywhere in the world at any time.
Adam Silver once thanked the Spurs for “showing the world how beautiful the game of basketball is”
Their passing, their cutting their effectiveness their effort their defence….I can go on and on and on. They did everything. They were the blueprint everyone wanted (and the Warriors copied best).
And that was just the game of basketball. Let alone the attitude. I would only be repeating what thousands have said today that the Spurs organization, from top to bottom, are a class act. In the 2013 and 2014 Finals the stat was constantly brought up that neither team even received a technical, let alone a flagrant (and probs to the Heat for being half of that equation). Coach Popp has long held his progressive attitude to approaching the game, and the players ran with that.
This was never on display more than that 2013-2014 season. That was the peak of powers, when a fire was lit under every single player. They didn’t go around blazing. This was no ‘Dracarys’ moment. It was a slow, constant boil. And 29 other teams were cooking.
Tony had the speed. Timmy the fundamentals. But Manu always had the passing, and that’s what those 2014 Spurs will be remembered for. They perfected the pass. Heck, they perfected the offense. Watch highlights of that year and see how defenders are literally running, necks snapping back and forth, just trying to even get in the right place to play defence. If you’ve ever been on the basketball court, you know the feeling. You are being taken for a runaround, and it is happening every single possession.
Manu gave them that. The extra pass. The fakes. The Eurostep after Eurostep after Eurostep. It was a Manu offense all of a sudden, like those Argentina teams a decade before, and it was beautiful.
(make sure you watch this video with the sound on. The soundbites are a brilliant representation of what the Spurs meant to the NBA family)
As for the man himself…he kept doing what he’d always done: exactly what the team needed. Solid D? Sure. Few minutes bringing up the ball? No problem.
Incredible quarter where you literally carry us? A dunk to invigorate our team? A win, Manu, A WIN?
The saying goes ‘a moment of passion’.
But today, everyone involved in the NBA is thinking of Manu Ginobili, and know his was no moment, but an entire career.