By Sebastian Meresman and Augusto Morel
Buenos Aires, Sep 9 (EFE).- Emanuel “Manu” Ginobili, who as a teenager was not deemed talented enough to even play professionally in Argentina, became a crucial part of four NBA championship teams as a member of the San Antonio Spurs and on Saturday will receive the ultimate honor when he is enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He will go down in basketball history as one of the sport’s greatest clutch players and for popularizing the Eurostep move now widely used in the NBA on drives to the basket.
The 45-year-old Ginobili also is beloved in Argentina for leading his national squad to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, including a shocking upset of a superstar-laden United States team in the semifinals.
As a shooting guard for the Spurs, he was a key part of a dynasty led by power forward Tim Duncan (who will present Ginobili at Saturday’s ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts) and head coach Gregg Popovich that won NBA titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.
In his native Argentina, he is admired for what he achieved during his basketball career and also seen as a role model off the court.
“If you ask around in Bahia Blanca (his home city), the people who knew Manu Ginobili even up until he was an adolescent aged 16 or 17, no one would have thought he could even play in the local (Argentine professional) league,” Daniel Fresco, the player’s first biographer, told Efe.
The author of “Manu, el Cielo con las Manos,” a biography published by Aguilar in 2005 and expanded and updated in 2018, spoke with the player’s relatives, friends, teammates and coaches in putting together the book. Almost no one foresaw a future for him in professional basketball.
“And yet he’ll be in the Hall of Fame,” Fresco said.
The journalist and author said Ginobili’s growth as a player was slow and steady. “He went step by step, rung by rung.”
“When I was writing the book, I interviewed a lot of people in the NBA. Back then, four years ago, they were telling me that Manu was destined for the Hall of Fame. He got in much more quickly than you’d imagine” as a first-ballot inductee, Fresco said.
One of Ginobili’s first coaches, Club Bahiense del Norte Sporting Director Pablo Coleffi, told Efe that the star guard “left a legacy (for) young people, and not-so-young people, as an example of what a sportsman is and the sacrifices you have to make on and off the court.”
Even so, Ginobili was not necessarily an ideal pupil in his younger years.
“Manuel was an exasperating kid who didn’t let the coaches do their jobs because he was always dribbling the ball all over the court or playing one-on-one or one-on-five, from the time school was over until nighttime and his mother or father came looking for him,” Coleffi recalled.
Nevertheless, he now describes that Argentine basketball icon as a man society should “emulate.”
“I’d like Manu’s image to be the reflection of what we are as a society. To focus on teamwork and think that I have to make the other person better so he can make all of us better.”
The admiration for Ginobili is also seen in the northern Buenos Aires neighborhood of Saavedra, where a public basketball court features a giant mural in the player’s likeness. The former Spurs great paid a visit there in 2018 and signed the mural with spray paint.
“For me it’s a source of pride that he can represent us and is at the pinnacle of basketball nationally and worldwide,” said Juan Cruz Pesaresi, a Ginobili fan who is part of a team of locals tasked with keeping the court in good condition.
Bruno Carbone, who at 19 is devoting himself full-time to basketball, told Efe that Ginobili is an “idol” and “a great sportsman,” while Milagros Marfil, also the same age and a female member of the Sunderland sports club, said the former NBA star is an “incredible icon who made history for Argentine basketball.”
For her part, Micaela Gonzalez, captain of Argentina’s university squad, said at that same facility that Ginobili’s Hall of Fame induction is “one of the nicest things that’s happened to us Argentines.”