Beyond the Scoreboard: If I Could be Like Manu


Basketball would not have been the same for me without Manu Ginobili. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Andrew Posadas

I held back tears while watching the San Antonio Spurs raise Manu Ginobili’s No. 20 jersey into the rafters last Thursday night. Quite frankly, this is the only jersey retirement ceremony I can recall going out of my way to watch live on TV. And of course, in typical Manu-fashion, he remained humble by saying the only thing on his mind while thinking of a speech was, “what am I doing here?”

At one point, Ginobili simply called himself “one of the lucky ones” when explaining that life had dealt him an exceptional hand of cards to play with. The greatest moments in his life all required a “lucky break,” as he put it. Upon hearing that, I smiled knowing that a lucky break 16 years ago introduced me to the Argentinian superstar.

Before I fell in love with the game of basketball, I harbored some resentment for the sport as a kid.

Let me take you back to a distant moment in NBA history, circa 2002-2003. At that time, the Los Angeles Lakers were the equivalent of Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War”. Coming into the 2002-2003 season as winners of three straight NBA Championships, there was no reason to believe the Lakers “gauntlet” of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal would not secure a fourth title in a row.

Over on the East Coast, a 39-year-old Michael Jordan was embarking on his 15th and final season in the league with the Washington Wizards (yes, the Wizards!). Jordan’s greatest games and highlights seemed to be on every day for young fans like myself to watch just how spectacular His Airness was. By season’s end, it was hard not to fall in love with Jordan during his farewell tour.

Yet, something was holding me back from fully embracing basketball. I could not put my finger on it until I saw the Houston Rockets select Chinese Phenom Yao Ming with the first overall pick before that season began.

I thought to myself, “Where are the players like me in the NBA?”

Disenchanted, I chose to not keep up with the first four months of the ‘02-’03 NBA season. What was the point? It seemed like the stereotype back then of Latin American athletes were that they excelled only in baseball or soccer. I felt I should probably stick to what I know and keep myself limited to playing soccer.

On March 18 of 2003, my mother was frantically preparing the house for my younger sister’s birthday party. Growing up, one of her rules during our birthday parties was that no TVs were allowed on during the festivities. However, I was a young rebel with a huge cause: not attending my sister’s “dumb” party.

It is an unwritten rule for Latino people to celebrate birthday parties for at least six to eight hours before going home, so I was not surprised in the slightest to see people still partying in my house after 9 o’clock at night knowing they had been here since 3pm that afternoon.

Bored out of my mind, I successfully snuck out of the party in search of greener pastures – or just anywhere I could watch television. In my parents’ room, the first minute or so was spent surfing on the channel guide.

I flipped to the MSG channel and saw the New York Knicks were playing. New York was on the road to face the Spurs that night. One player caught my attention immediately. I squinted to read the name on the back of his jersey. “Ginobili?”

I could not tell you how many points I remember him scoring against the Knicks. Or how many rebounds he grabbed. That was irrelevant to me. What mattered to me was that a young man from Argentina was sharing the same court alongside the best basketball players in the world.

All of a sudden, I had a favorite player to root for in Ginobili. My favorite team in the NBA became the San Antonio Spurs. The love affair between me and basketball started right there.

Sixteen years later, I’ve seen the Spurs and Ginobili win four NBA titles, something head coach Gregg Popovich admits in his speech would never have happened without No. 20.

Ginobili was a baller in every sense of the word. He made taking a layup fun again by introducing a new move to the NBA: the Euro-Step, which inspired the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. Ginobili put international basketball on the map by leading Argentina to its improbable gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

No matter his role, Ginobili gave you solid production. He did not pout or complain when Popovich asked him to come off the bench; he took the role in stride and won a sixth man of the year award because of it.

No Latino will ever contribute more to the game of basketball than future Hall of Famer, Emanuel David Ginobili.

Gracias, Manu. Gracias.