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The person Manu Ginobili chooses to be

The story of my brief close encounter with Manu Ginobili.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs-Game Four Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
-John Wooden

This is a story about Manu Ginobili, but it’s a different type of story. It’s an experience I had (or almost had) with him, and how he responded to the situation. The story is about Manu the Person, not Manu the Famous San Antonio Spur.

There are many words we could use to describe the public persona of the Ginobili we have enjoyed watching since he first came to San Antonio: passionate, intense, unbelievably competitive, an artist on the floor, team first guy, the X-factor, the heart and soul of the team, the consummate professional. And that’s just for starters.

If you follow sports long enough and live long enough and are in the ‘right’ places long enough, sooner or later you encounter that person you have admired and discover just how close the public persona is to the actual person.

Sometimes we find out there is a profound disconnect between what is on display and what is real. Sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised. And, at times, you’re blown away.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that a bad or negative one-time encounter means the person is a jerk. We all have bad days. And, can you imagine, if you’re famous enough, no matter where you go, who you are with, what you are doing, there will always be a person or many persons converging on you. It would drive me nuts.

I can’t believe that’s him! Hurry up! Let’s ask him to take a picture with us and see if he’ll give us his autograph!

These people know that fame comes with the territory, but they are also real people. We all need some semblance of privacy. Nobody wants to be on every second of every day. That would get old — very fast.

“Fame is a funny thing. I like doing normal things with friends. Disney World. Big 4th of July Picnic with friends. The problem is you’re either worried you’re going to be recognized or you’re thankful you’re not. It’s always there.”
-Chris Evans

My family and I have been walking sports injuries for years, and we go to the same sports doc that most of the Spurs do. We love the physicians in that group. They do awesome work.

There is a back way into the office for well known athletes to check in and receive care without having to walk through a waiting room filled with limping people asking for pictures. The pros have their own elevator and entrance, which makes complete sense.

One day I was there with my son for his checkup after his latest basketball-related ankle injury. We didn’t know it at first, but we were sitting in the right seats for a perfect view on a unique day.

Between the reception desk and an a adjacent wall, there is a narrow open space behind the door, a through that narrow space, we saw a former big name Spur on his way out. Soon after, another big named Spur walked in who had recently retired. One leaving, one coming in. What are the odds?

I nudged my son, “Crazy, isn’t it? Seeing two legends like that one right after the other.”

Then his name was called, and as we followed the nurse to our room, the last room we pass before ours happens to have Manu Ginobili sitting in it. It was Spurs day at the doc’s office. An urgent but very quiet meeting was immediately called between father and son about how to give him his privacy while still giving ourselves the best chance to interact with him in some way. Even if it was just a polite nod as we passed in the hall.

Our hushed conference went back and forth for a few minutes and he was firm in his decision that he’d only seek an autograph if he bumped into Ginobili outside, even if that was highly improbable.

After our appointment, we are discharged and leave our room while casually glancing to our left to see if he’s still there ... precisely as Ginobili was prepping to leave.

As we walk into what is now a fairly crowded waiting room, the unexpected happens: Ginobili doesn’t take the private elevator. He walks right out to the ‘regular people elevator.’ I have no doubt he knew that people in the office were aware of his presence and decided that instead of slipping out the secret way, he’d be gracious.

Manu was swarmed.

A few thoughts ran through my mind. The first was that he didn’t have to do that. He could have taken the back way out. My second thought was how very silly I felt even thinking about bothering the man like that. And then, I watched him engage the people pressing in on him, children, teenagers, adults, with even more advancing from the waiting room to that elevator area, willing to miss their name being called by the nurse if that meant they could just get a picture with Manu.

Ginobili smiled, shook hands and signed autographs and let people take their picture with him. If he was frustrated, it didn’t show. There was a humility and graciousness about him as he thanked fans for their kind words.

We walked slowly past that little mob and Manu, watching his reactions. We never asked for an autograph or for a picture, though there was no doubt if we had stuck around he would have obliged.

Instead, we both left smiling and talking about our little brush with fame.

Dad, I can’t believe he’s doing that!

Son, that’s a rare man, right there. Most guys wouldn’t do that.

That statement about Manu the person could just as easily be made about Manu the player. He does a lot of things on the floor most guys wouldn’t, or couldn’t do because most guys don’t have that kind of fire burning inside them. The thing that makes Manu so special is ultimately what’s inside him. That is why this city will always have a special love for Manu Ginobili.

It’s why we also hope, that after a summer of rest, he’ll return for one more year.