“When nothing seems to help,” it reads, “I go back and look at the stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it — but all that had gone before.”
This is a quote that’s been hanging in the San Antonio Spurs locker room for years. Since the number of foreign players playing for the Spurs increased during the years, Pop translated it to Spanish and French. It symbolizes what Spurs have been doing for years. Be patient and consistent in what you do, never stop trying, and respect the role you’ve been given in the team. This is essentially the core of the Spurs organization, which enabled them to win 5 titles in the last 20 years.
One player did many things his way, often stepping out of his role, however, he was also one of the most important pieces in 3 out of 4 championships a team from the small city of San Antonio won.
In the beginning, he would do some things I thought were unnecessary until that point came where he finally came to me and said, ‘I am Manu, this is what I do.’ I said, ‘OK, you go ahead and try to save one or two of those passes per game and I’ll shut up one or two times when they happen during the game.’ We came to this compromise and it’s been lovey-dovey ever since.
In Argentina and in the rest of South America, soccer is by far the most popular sports and it’s been like that for many years. However, one generation of fantastic basketball players forced Argentinians to pay more attention to basketball.
The leader of this generation was none other than Manu Ginobili. Manu was born in Bahia Blanca, which is probably the only place in South America where soccer is the second sport behind basketball. The city has around 300,000 people and over 20 professional basketball clubs. It also has more basketball courts than soccer fields, which is something unheard of in South America. A long time ago, Manu was known as the younger brother of Leandro and Sebastian Ginobili who were considered one of the most talented Argentinian players. Manu’s dad Jorge was a former player and a basketball alongside Oscar Sanchez immediately imposed the importance of not looking at the ball when dribbling and always protecting it with the other hand.
In a nutshell, Manu lived in Argentina as an average teenager obsessed with the NBA. Ginobili studied every move of his favorite player - Michael Jordan. “I never thought I would ever play in the NBA. I looked at Jordan and I seriously thought he wasn’t from this planet."
During his teen years, on top of his obsession with dribbling and shooting, Manu was also obsessed with his height. “I have to grow, I just have to.. this was the only thing I could think of. I measured myself every 15 minutes. All the doors in my grandmother's house were marked from pencils or scratched from various objects with whom I tracked my growth.
A doctor told Manu’s dad, his son will never be taller than 6’0’’ and at the age of 15, Manu wasn’t good enough to be among 12 best players among his age group in the city he lived in. “Nobody thought Manu will become the player he is today” - said his former coach Gabriel Colamarino.
After growing 4 inches in less than a year and putting some muscle on his body, his dad Jorge used his connections and sent his son to Italy which was always a popular destination for all Argentinian basketball players. After 2 successful seasons in Calabria, Manu was spotted by the famous European coach Ettore Messina who brought him to Kinder. Their success was immediate, winning everything in Italy and Euroleague as well.
Manu drove Ettore crazy with his crazy and unusual style of playing, however, the end result was the most successful season he ever had as a coach. Ginobili won every single individual and team award you can imagine, both in Italy and Europe. He was pronounced as the MVP in the Euroleague Finals & in the Italian national league.
Before the start of 2002 World Championship in basketball which was held in Indianapolis, Argentina assembled their best team. During the 2002-2004, Argentina displayed a style of play that can be considered as basketball perfection. They were the first team that defeated a loaded USA team with numerous NBA All-Stars. Argentinians matched the US in every aspect of the game - rebounding, running, defense and their ball movement drove NBA stars crazy.
In Indianapolis, six players scored between 9 and 15 points in a game where the US never lead once. In semi-finals game in Athens, Ginobili played one of his best career game vs his teammate Tim Duncan and the rest of the US team. A guy who was no fear, dropped 29 points vs a team which had 2 coaching legends in Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich. He scored at the start of the game, he scored when they were leading and he scored when it mattered the most in the last quarter. The final game vs Italy was one of the most watched sporting events in Argentinian history.
In the period between 2001 and 2004, Manu won the Euroleague, an NBA title and the Olympic gold medal. During his NBA career, Manu has 4 NBA titles on his resume and it’s safe to say he should have won the Finals MVP award in 2005 vs Detroit Pistons. He will also be recognized as one of the best 6th players in NBA history. However, all these achievements can’t describe the way Manu plays the game of basketball. Not a lot of guards in the league play this game with such courage and savviness. Ginobili doesn’t feel fear on the court, he is not afraid of mistakes or failure. His dribbling behind the back in full sprint between three defenders, or pulling the ball between the legs of his opponents in full stride, euro-step which is impossible to guard, 3-point shots in crucial moments are some of the things every basketball fan will appreciate about Manu.
His former teammate Brent Barry called Manu El Contusion because of his style of play where he completely neglects his body and health. “I watched him every day in practice scoring buckets with his head or his feet. Manu will try anything in the game. He actually practices all the crazy shots he makes”.
A prominent reporter Jack McCallum said this about Ginobili: “Ginobili is not the face of the Spurs. Tim Duncan’ emotionless face, angry Gregg Popovich or a smiling Tony Parker receive those awards. However, Manu has the biggest balls in this team - he always wants the ball when a lot of players can’t handle the pressure.
Manu is now in his 16th NBA season. He is still an important piece of the Spurs machine that is always in consideration for the ultimate goal - the NBA championship. Gregg Popovich needed time to get accustomed to the Manu’s style of play, however, his statement says it all. “Everything he does, he does it to win. He has the same competitive spirit as Michael Jordan has."
A better compliment you can’t get in the game of basketball.
In a column for La Nacion newspaper, when asked about the campaign to get him selected to the All-Star game, Manu said:
I really appreciate and I’m thankful for the time and effort that everyone gave to get me into the All-Star Game. I understand people’s love and I’m encouraged by so much generosity, but I didn’t deserve to be even close to that game. It’s a show for players who have a better present than I do, like Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Lillard, McCollum, Lou Williams, Chris Paul… They deserve it more, simple as that. I already had my opportunities and I enjoyed them because it’s fantastic to be part of it, but now it’s time for others.
Above all his achievements on the basketball court, Manu is the ultimate gentleman and a true inspiration for everyone.