Manu Ginobili's Hall of Fame career is highlighted by his limitless capabilities
To those who witnessed his career, Manu Ginobili's legacy will forever transcend his stats and individual accomplishments. His individual resume includes two all-star and all-NBA third team selections, a sixth man of the year award, an all-rookie second team selection, and career averages of 13.3 points and 3.8 assists. One day, many years from now, thousands of casual basketball fans will glance at Manu Ginobili's career and they may wonder why he is in the hall of fame; they will see his stats, his lack of individual accolades most hall of Famers possess, his sixth-man status, and his four championships and they may say he only made it because of his international career, or that he was just a good player who lucked into the right situation on a legendary team at the perfect time. That could be true about a lot of players, but not Ginobili, his greatness goes far beyond what the stat sheet and his list of accolades would lead you to believe.
His career was legendary not just because of what he did do, but because of what he could do when needed. That's not to say he didn't reach his potential, retired with unfinished business, or he didn't achieve all of which he was capable, it is to say he was a multi-talented player whose attitude and willingness to help the team before himself allowed the Spurs to be exactly what they were for his 16-year NBA career: a juggernaut. Ginobili was good enough to start, but instead became the greatest sixth-man of all time, he was skilled enough to average better than 20ppg perennially at his peak, but he never reached that mark for a full season, and he was fit enough to play 35+ minutes a night, but he exceeded 30 minutes per game in just two of his 16 NBA seasons. Whether Coach Gregg Popovich wanted scoring, playmaking, leadership, or anything else from Ginobili, he would get it to the highest standard.
His sixth-man role sums up his attitude and desire to help the team before thinking of himself. Ginobili was a career sixth-man because it was what the Spurs needed, and he understood that. Ask yourself, was Danny Green better than Manu Ginobili during their joint Spurs tenure? Of course not, but Green was still the starting shooting guard because Ginobili understood that he was a perfect fit with the starters while he himself could take the team to another level by sacrificing his own numbers and playing time to lead the second unit. Most superstars wouldn't go for that, they'd probably request a trade or mock the voices suggesting they should come off the bench (hi, Carmelo Anthony), but Ginobili had the team-first attitude that wins championships. Every team needs a Manu Ginobili, but very few are fortunate enough to find one.
Prioritising winning over money and individual honours were Ginobili's greatest strength, and it was an unfathomably large part of the Spurs' run of dominance. Would the Spurs have really won four championships since the turn of the millennium without him? Not a chance - his teammates have elevated to a new level thanks to his versatility and cohesion.
The perfect moment to sum up Ginobili's limitless capabilities doesn't come from a Spurs championship run, nor does it come from his athletic peak or a game in which he stuffed the stat sheet.
The Spurs were tipped to beat the Rockets in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, but adversity struck in game five with the series tied 2-2 when Kawhi Leonard hurt his ankle midway through the third quarter; he played limited, ineffective minutes for the rest of regulation before sitting out over time.
Ginobili stepped up to take over Leonard's minutes and led the team to victory against the odds. In typical Ginobili fashion, his stats didn't reflect his impact and his timing. At almost 40 years old, he finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 block in 32 minutes. He scored the final basket of regulation to level the scores and effectively send the game to overtime, he assisted on the Spurs' final two field goals in overtime which gave them a match-winning lead, defended Houston's best player in James Harden, and even blocked his three-point attempt which would have sent the game to double overtime.
Most experts were tipping Houston to win game six with Leonard still out of action, and another inspiring performance from Ginobili loomed as the only way the Spurs could win on the road. He had done his damage already, though. Houston were completely demoralized after the defeat in game five; they lost game six by 39 points despite just two points in 17 minutes from Ginobili. When they needed him the most, he delivered a win and inspired the group to find a new gear for the following game.
Ginobili played only 17.8 minutes in the 2017 playoffs and averaged 6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He was years past his best, and his role was significantly smaller than in the past, but he did more than just answer the call when Popovich needed veteran decision making down the stretch of their most important game of the season, he stepped in and led them to victory. Very few believed he could contribute as much as he did in the key moments of game five, but he showcased yet again that he could do whatever Popovich asks of him when he is needed. Even at 39 years old he could step up to not just perform on a couple of late plays, but be the entire focal point of an offense.
Ginobili's career goes far beyond his NBA accomplishments, too. If you need any more evidence that he was one of the best players of the past 20 years, look no further than the 2004 Olympics. Ginobili led Argentina past USA in the gold medal qualifying game and then went on to win gold after a final win over Italy. Ginobili torched the USA with 29 points to lead Argentina to victory by eight points in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. Led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, USA were always going to be difficult to beat, but Ginobili, as he did so many times in his career, rose to the occasion and denied the USA the gold medal. It remains the only time the USA have not won gold at the Olympics since 1988 when NBA players were not yet allowed to represent America.
The impact Ginobili had on basketball will linger forever. He was one of the craftiest players ever, a pioneer for the Euro-step, and he showcased how to use his left-handedness to his advantage. Without Manu Ginobili, there is no James Harden. Look no further than the outpouring of respect for Ginobili from his NBA peers on social media over the past couple of days to fully understand the tremendous positive impact he had on the league.
Don't make the mistake of looking at Ginobili's stats and fooling yourself into underrating him. He was a superstar, he was just as responsible for the Spurs' dynasty as Popovich, Duncan, David Robinson or Tony Parker, he has a gold medal worth more value than a lot of NBA players' championship rings, and he played the game the right way: selflessly, with a passion to win, and a desire to have fun every single time he played.