Argentine icon Manu Ginobili laces up for his 14th NBA season tonight, when the San Antonio Spurs tipoff against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder. Ginobili lit up the Spurs’ last ho-hum pre-season game with a flick of the wrist, finding long-time teammate Tim Duncan with a sweet no-look pass for a dunk.
“Yeah,” said Ginobili shaking his head matter-of-factly in a press conference after the game. “Just saw the opening there, TD cutting to the rim, just threw it.”
At this point, those who have followed Ginobili over the past decade can only nod their own heads in agreement. Whether it’s a timely pass through an opponent’s legs or a throwback dunk unleashed from the recesses of his prime, folks in Bahía Blanca and Bexar County recognize the efforts as Manu being Manu.
“He’s important to San Antonio because he looks like us,” says Grantland’s Shea Serrano, a New York Times best-selling author and unabashed Spurs fan. “There aren’t that many guys in the NBA that you look at and think ‘Yo, that could be me, if I was a foot taller and more handsome.’ That’s why he’s so beloved, I think. He might be the most beloved player in the history of the Spurs.”
The Spurs enter perhaps their most anticipated campaign since David Robinson arrived in San Antonio to rescue the franchise in 1989. While much has been made of unprecedented offseason additions including LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, the return of Ginobili was a quiet coup for the Spurs. Although Manu may no longer be the straw that stirs the drink in San Anto, he will always show you something you have never seen before, for better or worse.
“Manu’s the most beloved, which is crazy because sometimes he’ll just straight up lose games for you,” says Serrano. “I don’t think he’s the most important player. I think it’s been pretty clear that [it’s] Tony Parker – if he’s not playing well, or if his ankle is hurt, then the Spurs don’t have a chance anymore. Of course there was a period where Tim was the main one and he’s sort of the foundation back there but if Tony’s hurt, the Spurs are bad. That’s just how it is.”
After faltering in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers in last season’s playoffs, Ginobili and company are building towards a return to the title round. A key part of that will be the health of vital cogs like Parker and Ginobili, as well as the integration of newcomers Aldridge and West into Coach Gregg Popovich’s system. Tonight’s matchup in Oklahoma City will be a solid test for how these new-look Spurs will fare in yet another stacked Western Conference.
“I’m feeling good,” said Ginobili. “I am enjoying every minute out there. That was my goal from the beginning. Hopefully I can maintain that state of mind for the whole season. Looking forward for this one. I’m very excited. I’m happy to be here, happy with the decision I made. I’m excited about our possibilities.”