The Legacy of Manu Ginobili

Sometimes, being an NBA fan from this side of the world sucks. I often miss live game broadcasts, wake up to breaking league news, eat Woj bombs for breakfast. That’s just the way it is for me, for us who live halfway across the globe.

Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up to a message from my friend Arlene, who’s an honest-to-goodness diehard Spurs fan.

“Naiiyak ako kay Manu.”

Wait a minute. Maybe it wasn’t just one of those days. What the hell happened while I was asleep? Did Manu Ginobili turn heel like Kawhi? Did he sign with another team like Tony? Did he follow Timmy to the NBA afterlife?

I immediately scrolled down my Twitter feed to search for answers. That’s when I saw this:

After 16 NBA seasons, Manu finally decided to hang it up. And he did it in the most Spurs way possible: no fuzz, no big ceremonies, just a simple tweet of expressing gratitude to the fans and the sport. Simple yet effective.

Way before Arlene and I knew each other, we had contrasting perceptions regarding Manu.

She loved him ever since she first saw him in action during the 2005 NBA Finals. “I saw Manu dive for a lose ball and I was sold. I think I saw him fall into the crowd just to get the possession. All I saw was a team player with no angas, no yabang, doing everything for the team,” she recalled.

As for me, I hated that guy. I was rooting for LeBron’s Cleveland during the 2007 NBA Finals. To cut the story short, Manu, together with Timmy and Tony, swept the Cavs in the series. I witnessed how Manu scored cold-blooded shots against Cleveland. I thought of him and his team as the villains who stopped the young King from fulfilling his destiny.

Different feelings, yet both of these stemmed from Manu’s greatness as a player. For 16 years, he became an integral part of San Antonio’s basketball culture. With his level of play, it’s hard to imagine that Manu was only picked 57th during the 1999 NBA Draft. Coach Pop must have seen something special in him. I mean, he waited for three years before the Manu finally came over to the Spurs, but boy did Pop hit the jackpot with him.

He looked like a capable role player during his first season: 7.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, two assists per game in 69 outings. His performance was enough to earn him a slot at the All-Rookie Second Team. But he could not be much more than that, right? After all, he was already 25 when he started in the NBA. That was quite old for a rookie, especially at a time when high schoolers were making the leap to the pros.

With age came experience. He spent his years prior to the NBA in Argentina and Italy. He built a reputation of being a winner back then. He was the Finals MVP of the Euroleague in 2001, when he carried Kinder Bologna to a championship.

Manu carried that winning mentality to the NBA. As soon as he adjusted to the level of play in the US, he stepped on the gas and never looked back. He became integral to San Antonio’s playoff run in 2003, which resulted in an NBA title. It was the first of his many championships.

His success spilled over to international competitions. He won a stash of medals in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments while representing Argentina. His most memorable international stint was in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he and his team won the gold medal. They were the first to win it aside from USA in a very long time.

Throughout his NBA career, Manu proved time and time again that he was an excellent scorer. He averaged double digit in scoring for 12 straight seasons. But not once did he have a 20-point season. He only had five seasons when he finished with at least 16 points per game. His NBA stats were not necessarily Hall of Fame material.

Despite that, Manu was a star in his own right. If Timmy was the epitome of Spurs basketball, then Manu was probably close second. Beyond his Eurostep that revolutionized the NBA, he also had a no-nonsense, no-drama attitude that he carried throughout his career.

It seemed like everything he did on the floor was for the benefit of the team. “He’s super unselfish, team first, and had no star mentality,” Arlene said. While other players created a stockpile of highlights in the NBA, Manu had his own way of doing things.

“Manu was just being Manu,” she added.

Even though we started with contrasting opinions on Manu, Arlene and I both respected his game ever since we became aware of his existence. I learned to value his worth as time went by. Maybe that’s why I felt her sadness when she told me that her idol decided to hang it up.

“I wasn’t ready to let go,” Arlene said. She wanted to see more of Manu on a basketball jersey. One more year, perhaps.

Then agian, She already knew that the time to move on and retire was already near. “When I saw Manu’s face after Steve Kerr hugged him and told him to play one more year, I knew it was over for him. I avoided seeing a video of that moment again because it was painful for me,” she added.

The time to close the curtain has finally arrived. Manu has already given 23 years of his life to competitive basketball. His journey has taken him to Argentina, then to Italy, and finally to San Antonio. He knows it was time to let go.

With Ginobili gone, the Spurs have seen the last of its dynasty, the end of the Big Three era which brought them to numerous 50-win seasons postseason runs.

Looking back, he had a successful career that other players could only imagine. Four NBA titles, one Euroleague title, and an Olympic gold medal among many other accolades. He finished at the top five of San Antonio’s all-time leaders in games (1,057), points (14,043), assists (4,001) and steals (1,392).

Beyond those Eurosteps, flashy passes, and (bat) swats, Ginobili has made an indelible mark in the game of basketball and its millions of fans around the world. Love him, hate him, there’s just no way that any fan can’t respect him and what he meant to the game.

Truth be told, the NBA will suck a little bit without him. The league has lost a fierce competitor and a true role model of the game. The only silver lining to this is that Manu’s legacy will remain in the hearts of every basketball fan he touched. It will stay with diehards like Arlene, and even for casual fans like me.

His legacy shall linger long after he’s gone.

Photos from Getty Images, Stats from Basketball Reference