Manu Ginobili’s career will be defined by winning.
He has the chance to the greatest international player of all time…who doesn’t start for his NBA team.
That’s why it was only fitting, that the player who is most known for coming off the bench, would find himself in the starting line-up for the biggest game of the NBA Finals. Manu Ginobili has made a career of putting his team’s needs over everything and last night his team needed his star power from the jump.
The San Antonio Spurs guard put on a performance that seemed somewhere out of a memory during last night’s Game 5 win. The Spurs defeated the Miami Heat 114 -104 to take a 2 games to 1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
Ginobili finished the game with 24 points and 10 assists sparking the imaginations of all those in attendance at the AT&T Center, one last time.
It’s possible that last night was the final time that the crowd in San Antonio will get to cheer for their improbable international star. At age 35 and nearing his 36th birthday in July, its true that Manu has struggled to be a shadow of his old self for most of these playoffs. Yet, seemingly as always, when his team needed him most, he was there.
That trait has been Ginobili’s most defining career characteristic. He makes the big plays when big plays are needed. And, in the other moments, he’s perfectly content to be the cog in a bigger wheel, rolling towards another championship.
When the Spurs faced the upstart Golden State Warriors earlier in these playoffs it was Ginobili who would provide the biggest shot of the series. He had struggled for most of the game, including taking an ill-advised shot with just over a minute left in the game. But with just seconds left, the game on the line and the play broken down, Ginobili found himself alone at the 3-point arc, from where he calmly launched a high arcing, game winning, add it to the list, game winner.
Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich’s thoughts after that game?
“I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow. That’s the truth.”
Ginobili has always been challenging convention, daring one of the most respected basketball minds to see bends where there were once hard angles. The majority of Ginobili’s career has gone quietly unnoticed outside of the Alamo. And for the Michael Jordan of Argentina, that’s been just fine. Because what most casual NBA fans don’t realize is that there has never been a bigger international star who has so willingly bought into winning.
When the Spurs first started bringing Ginobili off the bench, as a tactical option to help fuel their second unit, the offices in San Antonio were flooded with letters. Hundreds of letters, postcards and every other type of parcel were sent to the Spurs front office and to Popovich bemoaning the egregious error that had been made by not starting the star son of Argentina.
The Argentinian fans weren’t too far off base though with their complaints. Ginobili is now one game away from ending his career as the most successful international player of all time.
No, not in individual awards, but in what matters most: championships.
He already is already a 3 time NBA Champion, a Euroleague champion, a two time Italian League champion, a two time Americas Champion and perhaps his biggest win of all, a gold medal in 2004 at the Olympic Games in Athens.
That gold medal he won for his native Argentina in 2004, is the only gold medal that was won by a team not wearing red, white and blue since the United States started sending professionals to the Games.
There really is no equivalent for the career of Ginobili. It’s true he has battled injuries throughout his career, but perhaps some of those can be attributed to his seemingly non-stopped playing calendar and his almost reckless playing style.
Ginobili has always attacked on both ends of the floor. And for all of those critics who will point to his notoriety as a flopper, just know that it takes a man of no fear to take out a bat with his bare hand.
But that’s Ginobili; a player who is as fundamental as he is unconventional. An international star who accepted coming off the bench for his career in order to be part of the most dominant NBA franchise of the last 15 years. A player, who even last night, when everyone wanted to talk about his amazing game and blast from the past performance, was quick to remind everyone just what matters to him.
“I’m being honest, I don’t care about scoring 24 (points), its about being more aggressive, trying to get to the line, being sharper with the passes. For example in Game 3, I scored 7 (points) and I was thrilled.”
If the Spurs and Ginobili are to raise one more banner together in San Antonio, they will need at least one more night of Manu being Manu. They will need his scoring, his playmaking and most of all, they will need his confidence to conquer the reigning champions.
Five games have been played in these NBA Finals and there is now only one more standing between the NBA’s unknown and unlikely superstar. Maybe Sunday night was his curtain call. Maybe there is only so much left in the tank of the unconventional lefty. Maybe last night was merely a reminder of a memory. But before bidding Manu farewell, it would be wise to remember, Manu Ginobili has proven time and time again, he is at his best when the only thing that matters, is winning.
Scott Christopher is a guest writer for Next Impulse Sports. Follow him @ScottC247