The soap opera that has been Manu Ginobili's potential presence on the FIBA World Cup in Spain has reached perhaps its saddest chapter. Only one day before Manu is supposed to have an MRI to see if the injury has healed, it's possible that Argentina's stars will all sit out the tournament in protest of the terrible state of the Argentine Basketball Association. Luis Scola, the unquestionable leader of the squad, gave an interview to Hernán Sartori of Argentine Newspaper Clarín in which he expressed his anger and frustration with the situation, and didn't exclude pulling out of the World Cup.
"It's only right that people are talking about (the crisis) more than they are about whether Ginobili plays or not. The World Cup is much less important than this."
That's how Scola started the interview, making it abundantly clear how the players view the situation. Scola continued to say "we can push for change or protest but we are just players with no political aspirations and with no authority to take over the Association. The only thing we can do is choose whether to be accomplices or not. For a number of years I had no idea what was going on. A couple of years ago, I started to see certain things but I still had doubts. I have no doubts now. Once you know and you stay involved, you become an accomplice. All we accomplished has been squandered. We have to keep fighting for transparency. But if this becomes a circus, I won't be able to play anymore. I won't be an accomplice."
That's how bad things have gotten. And Manu has Scola's back:
— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) julio 24, 2014
The captain got angry and I'm great with that. Well said.
The Association has been led by Germán Vaccaro since 2008. At first things seemed fine but the players started noticing irregularities over the past few years and asked for an audit. Vaccaro refused to concede time and time again. As Scola recalls in his interview "every year we are only exposed to the national team for two months and then we go back to our clubs. Then for the next ten months we lose influence."
It got so bad and Vaccaro was so entrenched in his position that the players had to go to the Ministry of Sports for answers. Because the Basketball Association receives subsidies from the ministry, the two are linked. So with the support of the Minister Carlos Espínola, the players pushed for a change in management. There was an election in which all the same people that were part of the old administration campaigned for the job. Daniel Zanni won the election earlier this month. And that's when all the old problems came to light.
There is a crippling amount of debt involved. How much is still not quite known, and it won't be known until an audit -- which Zanna has promised -- is completed. The power vacuum and internal problems got so bad that the national team that was set to compete in the FIBA Americas Tournament that's (currently being held in Venezuela) had to do no-contact practices because they were uninsured. They only had two friendlies to prepare and had to travel coach, which meant with a seven-hour layover. That's when the stars started expressing their frustration publicly, first with Leo Gutierrez and Andres Nocioni voicing their concerns, then Manu in his typical moderate fashion and now Scola, who didn't mince words.
Things come to a head
Today there will be a meeting between the new president of the association and the players. It's impossible for it to quench all the players' concerns but if the new management can appease them by showing any kind of progress and recommitting to the audit, it seems like they will play. All the older players are aware this could be the last tournament they'll get to share together and that will play the biggest part in making the decision.
But Scola's interview makes it clear that the years of frustration have come to a boiling point. And the fact that most of the recognizable names have gone on the record could be an indication that they are trying to get their version out in case they bow out of the tournament.
If I had to speculate, I'd say the stars will play in Spain. But until news surface about how the meeting today went, it's impossible to be certain. All I know for sure is this is a sad time for Argentine basketball.
Small Manu-specific update
Manu will have an MRI tomorrow to see how the injury has progressed. Olé's Julian Mozo seems to be confirming what I speculated about in the last update: people close to Manu said that if he gets any kind of good news on the test, he'll push to play. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs react to that. Especially in light of this:
And I do repeat, R.C. Buford told us not two weeks ago in person that the Spurs have decision-making ability in this Manu situation.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) julio 24, 2014
There is precedent in the Argentine national team of a player forced to sit out a tournament. The 76ers prevented Andres Nocioni from playing though a pretty serious ankle injury in 2010 by invoking a clause in his contract. But what Nocioni said at the time was that the clause was only valid because he was injured while training for the World Cup. Manu's injury occurred during the NBA season.
Honestly, it's impossible to really know how this will play out without having all the information about just what the clause in Manu's contract is. If indeed there is one. It does seem like forbidding him from playing, even if there is a clause, would be akin to a nuclear option. Manu is a pro and would surely comply and rest. But he's also a veteran that has given the team so much over the years that an imposition like that one might cause friction between him and the Spurs' brass going forward.
Again, this is all moot until the test results are in. For all we now the stress fracture might be healed. We'll bring you updates as more information becomes available.