October 18, 2018

On February 3rd, Manu Ginobili suffered the type of injury that makes strong men shudder. The Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson’s inadvertent knee to the groin of Ginobili set social media aflame with instant jokes that soon turned to concern, and later to genuine worry. Ginobili underwent emergency surgery later that night to alleviate an injury that even his doctors admitted was extremely rare.

“For a week, I didn’t care about playing. I was struggling. I was in pain and I didn’t even care,” Ginobili told the San Antonio Express News’ Jeff McDonald last Wednesday. Fortunately for Spurs fans–and basketball fans worldwide–Ginobili’s indifference for the game dissipated as his excruciating pain subsided. “You know how the human mind works, and after two weeks or three weeks I started to run, and I feel good, and I’m feeling more confident and everything is clicking.”

Manu Ginobili has always been a stubborn man. In March of 2014, after an otherwise unspectacular regular season game against the 76ers, I wrote about a failed dunk attempt by the aging guard, and the symbolism even his failures hold for Spurs fans.

He got the starting nod against the Philadelphia 76ers and thousands of Spurs fans lit a candle in hopes that he’d save his legs, sticking to layups and avoiding dunks. But that’s not who Manu is.

Early in the first quarter the Spurs had a fast break. Kawhi found Manu open on the right wing and he launched himself for a vintage 2005 jam that would get the AT&T Center rocking. The problem though is this isn’t 2005 and Manu blocked his own dunk on the bottom of the rim. For better or worse, that’s who Manu is.

Manu is a whirling, living, breathing Euro-step, still itching to break ankles. NFL cornerbacks are in awe of Manu’s short memory and his ability to line up and talk trash after metaphorically getting burned on an 80 yard out and up. Manu is the man that makes Pop want to trade him on the spot and then cook him breakfast seconds later.

Manu is the one who hears the jeers, and more importantly, the whispers in Game 4 of the 2013 NBA Finals but stubbornly ignores it all in Game 5, as 19,000 fans chant his name for much of the 2nd half en route to a crucial win. And for all the talk of the heartbreak in Game 6, many overlook the fact that Game 5 was a heart pounding surprise, thanks in large part to the stubborn Argentinian.

Manu rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in Game 5, giving Spurs fans across the globe hope. Which only made the loss in Game 6 more painful, and Timmy’s slapping the floor in Game 7 more raw. But don’t blame Manu for that. His stubborn refusal to allow his legacy to be defined by his failures cleared a path for Spurs fans to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during that six day span in June of 2013. That’s who Manu is.

Manu is a brilliant basketball mind with a body that can’t always keep up these days, yet he stubbornly trudges on. Hell, even his hairline is under attack from every flank, but he pays no mind. Manu Ginobili is a stubborn frustration, and for that he will arguably always be the most beloved Spur.

On Saturday night Manu returned to the court, only a month after his debilitating, cross-legged inducing injury. He did so in spectacular fashion scoring 22 points–including 13 in the 3rd quarter–helping the Spurs become only the 3rd team in NBA history to start the season 30-0 at home and adding another chapter to his legendary San Antonio lore.

What is left to be written about the man that so embodies the spirit, the machismo of the Alamo City? His spectacular triumphs are bound alongside his failures on the biggest stage. Each make him who he is. Each make him San Antonio’s favorite son.

We as writers that cover these teams and players are supposed to remain impartial. Fluff pieces are scoffed at as unprofessional and their authors dismissed as mere fanboys. But sometimes its ok to step back and appreciate an exciting career that will be finished all too soon. At breakfast this morning a friend of mine marveled that no one is more exciting that Ginobili when he’s in one of his zones. His flurry of points are interrupted only by zip passes and, yes, probably a few ill-advised plays. But we’d have it no other way.

So, welcome back Manu, from all of us that enjoy watching you defy all odds and miss the occasional dunk. The game is better when you are part of it.

Asked after the game on Saturday to describe his unexpected performance, Ginobili was typical Manu. His fierce competitiveness is masked only by a sense of humor and vulnerability rarely seen in the greats.

“If I play once a month, it helps,” Ginobili said.

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Travis Hale

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