Four NBA championships. Olympic gold medalist. Euroleague champion.
Two-time NBA All-Star. Sixth Man Of The Year Award winner. Best winning percentage of any player with more than 1,000 games.
And Manu Ginobili was drafted 57th in the NBA draft.
Beyond scoring 13 points per game in the NBA, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out nearly four assists, Ginobili is probably the all-time favorite San Antonio Spur.
Uber silver and black fan Shea Serrano once compared Tim Duncan to the best dentist. You are so happy that he is your dentist, but that’s about as far as the relationship ends. Duncan is the reason San Antonio has ever won anything, but he only connected with its fan base in that way.
Ginobili, however, was such a rock star. He spoke eloquently and openly in his second language about a range of topics, and despite occasionally speaking in platitudes about a game, it always felt very thoughtful and genuine. His playing style appealed to many and helped him amass the stats listed above, but there are three very important elements to Manu Ginobili that Spurs fans will miss most.
You know how I know advanced analytics aren’t where they need to be yet? I have no idea how many people have been fooled by Ginobili on a faked pass, a shot fake, a jab step or a stutter dribble.
When you watch Ginobili’s body in slow motion during these moments, it looks like a kindergarten child overacting in his first ever performance of the Christmas nativity play. It’s ridiculous to see the extremity in which he throws his head, arms, and body, but, by Jove, they work.
— NBA (@NBA) April 22, 2018
There were ball fakers in the NBA before: Michael Jordan could fake the post pass beautifully and stuck the knife in with his aerial fakes; Steve Smith loved throwing a quick shoulder fake on the run before continuing his drive to the basket; Magic Johnson would confuse so many defenders with fake passes it was silly. But Ginobili mastered fakery in all its forms.
And today, you see players copying his movements and ball fake motions. Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic – almost all NBA players who use the ball fake to a high degree owes something to the Argentinian.
Often the result of a ball fake, a pass fake and a euro step, Ginobili would finish off layups with so much sauce that he looked out of control. But watch enough twisting, off-balance hoists, and you realize that Ginobili knew exactly what he was doing in every single one. The way he kept his leg attached to the nearest player often meant Ginobili would get an additional trip to the line.
But it wasn’t just under the rim, Ginobili had range. He only managed 37% from behind the three-point line during his career, but somehow, it felt like every single one of the males came at a back-breaking moment for the opposing team.
Here’s one for the Kobe Bryant stans: Ginobili was a better competitor than the Los Angeles Laker.
Sure, he’s got more rings, more points, and Bryant might have had Mamba Mentality, and he took the game more seriously than anyone else. Whatever. That’s cool.
But there were occasions during Bryant’s career that he quit on helping the team win, and threw in a heap of empty stats. There were other times when he seemingly went out in a game to prove a point, by not shooting when the team needed him to.
He also asked to be traded from Los Angeles one season (and probably made threats on many more occasions).
This is something that Ginobili never suffered with. There were years during the Spurs’ run when he was the greatest offensive force on the floor. Some of those times, he acted like it, but other times he didn’t. This wasn’t because he didn’t want to or couldn’t live up to the pressure, it’s because Head Coach Gregg Popovich didn’t need that side of Ginobili.
Instead, the shooting guard agreed to come off the bench to add firepower to the second unit. He won numerous games by taking a charge. He won numerous games with a block and many more with a steal. He also hit game winners, took over fourth quarters, grabbed a struggling team by the scruff of its neck in second and third quarters to get back into the game. He also made great passes, set solid screens and chased loose balls.
You can never say Ginobili ever quit on a game or a season for the Spurs, and that is probably what the city of San Antonio and the NBA will miss the most about Ginobili as we enter a season without him for the first time since 2002.