What you are about to read was inspired by a very compelling argument we had in the comments section of this post -- about magic, history and culture between Señor Boss(JRW), triple-six (InThe666), and me. What triggered it can be summed up as one of the most memorable occasions the 2013 Finals have offered so far, regarding creativity and improvisation on a basketball court during a game. There have been other amazine moments, like this one or this one, but the one that got us started compromised the sanity of several Spurs' fans, basketball supporters, some world leaders and Gregg Popovich.
Oh yeah, the culprit? Emanuel 'Manu' Ginóbili. None other than the Chemist himself. Pinocchio. The magician. The great balls of steel. El contusión. Neo. The Argie flopper. The time traveler and space bender. Schnozzo. My countryman, and in my eyes and in most Argentines', the greatest Argie sportsman of all times (besides Messi).
Then and there I realized that Manu cannot be fully appreciated without analyzing the gears that make his machinery roll. He is evidently not a by-product of a true basketball culture like most of his USAians fans tend to believe. Not even the by-product of the most famous basketball family in Argentina. Not even a true mint in mint Argie collectible. No sir, not at all. He belongs to us, Latinos. He is ours. Proof will follow.
Manu, like most Argies, comes from a cultural environment highly influenced by Spanish and Italian heritage. Simply because most Argies' ancestors are either Spaniards or Italians. And if you've ancestors of a different ethnic group, chances are you are married to someone with Spanish or Italian ancestors. So, you're either 'tano' (napolitano: neapolitan) or 'gallego' (español: spaniard). Ready for some history? Keep reading then, lads and lasses.
What the world calls Latino is a cue to our origins, an area next to southern Rome called Latium (Lacio, nowadays), the people that lived there (latinos) and the language they used (Latin). The actual ethnic group ruled the life of the Italian peninsula for a good hundred years, around the 500 BC. They were solid workers and amazing phylologists. Their language is still alive in the scientific and academic world. Also, Romance languages stem out of it: Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Romanian and many not so well known others like Aragonese, Aromanian, Arpitan, Asturian, Catalan, Corsican, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Friulan, Galician, Ladino, Leonese, Lombard, Mirandese, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian and Walloon (source: Wikipedia).
Also, they were the forefathers of the Roman Empire: the city of Rome was a Latium neighboring village. Even more, they were the reason behind the unbelievable development of written laws and codices. Or for that matters, they were the creators of the trianomina, the system for naming people: pronomen, nomen and cognomen (first name, last name and alias). Tight family ties? Check. Religion as a bond between family members? Check. As you can see, we nowaday Latinos have a lot in common with those amazing men and women that populated the city of Alba Longa in the dawn of times.
But nothing last forever and Latium was invaded by another ethnic group that inhabited the peninsula and wanted the 'septem montes romae' (Seven hills of Rome) for themselves. The etruscans. These guys had a knack for intrigue. Passionate, vehement and heated, they conquered the Latium and did what you are supposed to do if you have a tad of common sense: they took the best from the conquered and quickly mingled with them, minimizing the chances for retaliation. Thus, they adopted the legal system and the naming conventions, some of their religious guides and principles and the language. They, in turn, graced the latin people with their own treats: love for art and strong aesthetic principles and the rejoice in contemplation of beauty and perfection.
Latins used to take pride in execution before focusing in results. So did Romans after them, and so do we Latinos, eons after that. Have you seen Gladiator? There you go... One thing is to hang a person by the neck till they meet the maker and another thing is to throw them to the lions. Instant showtime. Romans consumed that entertainment with fruition. Bread and circus, my friends, panem et circences. Even criminal prosecution had an added exhibitionism component. Shiver me timbers!
But we progressed and became more civil. You may or may not have seen movies set in the 1600-1700 where Spaniard swordsmen fight for their pride in duels (duelos). Or the ever present bullfights (toreos o lidia de toros). Or football. All these things have a common denominator: finesse and embellishment in execution, thus creating art, is probably more important than subjugating your opponent.
See a pattern there? Manu is a duelist. He will rip your heart because it's the inevitable consequence of his actions, not because he wants you dead. If it were for him, he'd stab dagger after dagger through your inert basketball body and would ask the referees to void the shots so he can do it over and over and over again. It is not the score he is after. It's the beauty in the execution he craves for. In the wise words of Señor Boss, Manu doesn't give a pickle about risks. He is the tortured artist. An altered state of mind taking over a basketball court. Petaflops worth of basketball knowledge thrown at you, reacting in a yoctosecond. The life of a Higgs boson dedicated to contemplate beauty and perfection. And the joy that comes with that.
As a side note, I want to bring to the table one example that's been bothering me as of late. Flopping. Either flopping falls within the category mentioned above, embellishment, or it's the act of totally creating the illusion of physical contact when it had not happened, not both. I firmly believe flopping is the not the latter. Faking contact is preposterous and violates both, the game and sportsmanship rules. Moreover, it contradicts the principle of creation that states that nothing comes from nothing.
Ergo, since Manu is a creator, he despises that kind of behavior. True flopping is the proper way of owning a hot-headed adversary that, putting results ahead of execution, gets overwhelmingly eager to make things happen forgetting about creation. And beauty. Not totally deceitful, just your prototypical mise-en-scene emphasizing choreographed movement within the scene rather than through editing, Manu creates a theatrical play where was chaos.
That is how our culture thrived. Or not. Many stories come to my mind right now, both positive and negative, that define the way we react to challenge. But you cannot deny the fact that we, Latinos, have an overgrown sense of aesthetics. Largely due to years upon years of cultivating our heritage and accepting what we are with christian resignation as a pre-requisite for both physical and spiritual freedom.
That is the spanish on Manu. In my simple eyes, he is a true Latino. A swordsman, a bullfighter... and yes, a football player that's been successfully transplanted to a basketball court. A creator above all. An artist that takes pride in execution, hoping for results.
And that, right there, is why I love him.