A tribute to Manu Ginobili, the anti-Spur

Marco Benitez

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SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs is seen during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Photos by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

When Manu Ginobili exited game four of the Western Conference Finals at the 2:25 mark of the fourth quarter, he did so to a standing ovation at the AT&T Center. Fans were chanting “Manu! Manu! Manu!” to show their appreciation for the Argentinian – arguably the best Argentinian to play in the NBA, and top five among international players – who came off the bench for practically his entire career and helped defined the Spurs’ winning legacy for the last 15 years.   

Nobody, Ginobili included, expected that this would be how the Spurs would go out this postseason – a 4-0 sweep at the hands of Golden State. Almost neck-and-neck with the Warriors for the no. 1 seed in the league the entire regular season, injuries to Tony Parker in the second round, and more so to Kawhi Leonard in game one of the Western Conference Finals, as well as David Lee, were just too debilitating against a supercharged Warriors squad. 

Yet, true to form and his competitive nature, Manu, all 39-years going on 40, stepped up big for the Spurs when they needed him this postseason. Who can forget that swashbuckling dunk against the Rockets in game five of the Western Conference Semifinals, and more importantly that game-saving block on James Harden in that pivotal win, which broke Houston’s resolve and propelled the Spurs to a blowout game six victory?

Without their floor general (Parker) and subsequently their best player (Leonard), Ginobili continued to turn back the clock in the Western Conference Finals, amassing 17 points in game one, 21 points in game three, and 15 in game four – a game in which he started. But without Parker andLeonard, and with Aldridge and Gasol putting in forgettable performances, game four was but a formality.

If last Monday (PHL time) was indeed the final game of Ginobili’s career, he would have left an indelible mark on a franchise, a league, and a generation of NBA fans who witnessed his passion, his almost reckless abandon, and the magic with which he played the game the past 15 years. Ginobili was a two-time All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Sixth Man of the Year Winner, two-time All NBA, an All-Rookie Team Member, and most importantly, a four-time NBA Champion. 

Internationally, Manu Ginobili embodied the golden generation of Argentinian basketball. Together with Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Pepe Sanchez, Andres Nocioni, Ginobili and the Argentinians will forever be remembered for reaching the summit of international basketball, with their 2004 gold medal in the Olympics, where they defeated Team USA in the semifinals behind Manu’s stellar performance.

Despite having an illustrious international career, Ginobili humbly acceded to Pop’s plan of him coming off the bench as their super sub, providing much-needed scoring and energy for Spurs second unit. Make no mistake though, even if Ginobili rarely started, he was sure to finish the games that mattered.

His per-game numbers hardly do justice to his overall impact as a player, as his coming off the bench limited his minutes to 25.8 mpg throughout his career. As such, his scoring was limited to 13.8 ppg, while shooting 45 FG% and 37 percent from three. In the postseason, when games mattered more, his minutes bumped up to 28 mpg, while his scoring increased slightly to 14.1 ppg. He is also fourth all-time in three-Pt field goals made in the playoffs with 318. However, when you drill down to his per-36 minutes numbers, his scoring rises to 19 ppg, with 5 rpg, 5.4 apg, and close to two steals per 36 minutes – a testament to Ginobili’s massive impact for the Spurs when he is on the floor. Lastly, when you talk about Box Plus/Minus, Ginobili is 17th All-time (5.25), ahead of players like Julius Erving, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe, Scottie Pippen, and Dirk Nowitzki. 

Beyond the numbers, Manu Ginobili will be remembered for some of the most entertaining and imaginative plays ever seen from a player in a Spurs uniform. He popularized the “euro-step,” even before the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, and now James Harden, made it a part of their deadly arsenal. Ginobili’s game had a flare and an unpredictability that was totally “un-Spurs-like,” which, in hindsight, is probably what made him so valuable to the franchise. He was audacious and charismatic, as Tim Duncan was “boring” and fundamental, yet he was no less as effective, and no less as competitive. In fact, Coach Pop describes his competitiveness as rivaling that of MJ and Kobe, whose competitive genes were legendary.

In the end, whether he calls it a career or decides to make next season his swan song, Manu Ginobili will be remembered for inspiring a generation players and fans with the passion, and magic he brought to the game, with a touch of unpredictability, reckless abandon, and a flare for the spectacular only he could imagine and execute on the court.

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