One of the best sportswriters around, ESPN's Zach Lowe, is at it again, this time with an outstanding piece on our very own Manu Ginobili. The article begins with the Argentina men's basketball team mourning their heartbreaking loss to Russia in the 2012 bronze medal game in London. Players are inconsolable, and then Manu steps up and delivers a heartfelt message to his fellow countrymen:
"I would rather lose with you guys than win with any other group of players," Ginobili said through tears.
Spurs faithful are certainly not surprised by this display of leadership and love for his teammates from Manu, but we rarely witness or get glimpses of these moments due to the private nature of the Spurs organization. One can't help but love Manu even more after reading that amazing quote.
The article then goes on to detail a dinner the Argentine national team had together after losing the 2002 FIBA World Championship gold-medal game. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Indianapolis was the setting, and the Argentine team was not alone:
R.C. Buford, the Spurs' general manager, watched from a few tables away. He couldn't sleep after the gold-medal game, and strolled to Ruth's Chris to eat alone. He sat transfixed by the camaraderie of the Argentine team. "I just stared at them," Buford said. "It was the best team environment I had ever seen." He finally went over and said hello to Ginobili, who would start his rookie season in San Antonio a few months later.
The Spurs were far from Ginobili's first team that cultivated a family environment. R.C.'s impressions of Manu still hold true to this day. Some of the things Manu does make sense, and some doesn't. And the Spurs drafting a Hall of Famer with the 57th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft is lucky, to say the least.
Manu came into the NBA with a huge chip on his shoulder to try and prove wrong NBA players that doubted his ability to hang with the "big boys" -- including his own teammates. Lowe describes vividly some amusing anecdotes from Spurs practice and Kobe Bryant's first matchup against Ginobili.
"The Spurs tested him right away. During one training camp practice, Ginobili and Steve Kerr, then 37, took turns defending each other in a pick-and-roll drill with Kevin Willis setting screens. Willis, perhaps taking pity on Kerr, whiffed on a pick, prompting Mike Budenholzer, then a Spurs assistant, to scream at him.
Kerr and Ginobili switched roles, with Ginobili on defense. Willis leveled Ginobili, sending him flying onto his back. "Now that's a screen," Willis yelled to Budenholzer, players and coaches recall. He then looked down at Ginobili: "Ain't that right, rookie?"
But Manu stood up to the pressure.
Ginobili won Bowen over, too. In one of Ginobili's first matchups with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant sidled over to Bowen and asked about Ginobili, Bowen recalled: "Tell me about the white boy." Bowen warned Bryant, "Oh, you're gonna see. He's not a white boy, and he's got some stuff."
Oh, Manu's got some stuff, alright. He's got the stuff of legends.
To read the full Manu piece in its entirety, click here.