While most people dream of and (hopefully) fulfill their bucket list items, teeming with ‘normal’ activities, such as travel, spending time with grandchildren, and finding alternate pursuits to enhance their quality of life, and accomplishing them with aplomb, one of my primary items was to be there in-person for Mr. Emanuel David Ginobili’s Hall of Fame Enshrinement weekend. This weekend of a lifetime was everything I had hoped for and much more for this forever fan of the association and my beloved Spurs.
I remained wistful throughout the days in New England about how little I truly appreciated the span of years that Manu graced our lives. Heck, I even imagined what it would have been like doing the Final Scores for the games that he played. in. I am almost positive that over 50% of my “Observations” would have been poor attempts to capture the enormity of impact Mr. Ginobili had on what ended up being victories over 72 percent of the time.
Hall of Fame Enshrinement - Autograph Session at the Mohegan Sun
In the quest to get into the autograph session at the Mohegan Sun Casino as early as humanly possible (I’m still weirded out that the Autograph Session on Friday and the Enshrinement on Saturday were at venues 70 miles apart). My wife and I met Spurs superfans Mark B. and Michael T. and the four of us warmly regaled each other with stories of how we became part of this extended Spurs family. Mark B., in particular, ended up on various social media outlets for his immaculately designed Spurs helmet and one-of-a-kind Ginobili commemorative shirt, while Michael T. shared that he and his partner bonded over Manu’s on-court magic and charisma over the last several decades. As the hour for the autograph session approached, we noticed that precisely zero NBA personnel were near our entrance. Once we saw other fans dashing quickly away towards Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse above us, we furiously booked it upstairs for entry into the facilities.
I had been practicing all week the exact words that I would tell Manu at the autograph session - namely how much I respected and admired the way he conducted himself and showed up for his post-game interviews after those fateful game 6 and 7 losses in 2013. Instead, both my wife and I froze when we approached my idol and person I styled my playground game after. To help complicate things further, I showed Manu the oil painting that I had acquired from none other than Mrs. J.R. Wilco - capturing him in intentful mid-stare during game action. Ginobili ended up spending what seemed like minutes staring at the immaculate detail and world-class quality in the painting before quipping in Pop-like fashion “I wish you had gotten someone better looking to do the art for.” When I awkwardly asked him to autograph it, he responded with “I think I can sign the neck part?”
As I feebly stumbled away from my hero, the San Antonio Spurs media team asked if they could take a photo of the newly signed painting and needless to say, you’ll have more fun viewing the art than the holder of it. Manu signed my wife’s Spurs vanity license plate and left her speechless, as well.
The NBA did a fine job pairing enshrinees together. Coach Bob Huggins and Coach George Karl shared the first table. I let Coach Huggins know that those exciting and brash Cincinnati teams helped me get through much of my college years. Almost everyone I talked to noted that Coach Huggins had a rather outsized autograph on their respective commemorative basketballs. I showed Coach Karl his likeness on a t-shirt by Simply Seattle ,and he quickly noted that they produced high quality products. I let him know that I enjoyed watching those 90s Sonics teams compete in the West.
WNBA star and New Orleans Pelicans’ executive Swin Cash and WNBA all-time guard Lindsay Whalen shared the next table. I felt badly for largely ignoring Ms. Whalen, but I needed to tell Ms. Cash that she was my first WNBA crush. It was the first (and last) time that I believe I’ve made a professional athlete blush and she thanked me for the compliment.
Coach Del Harris of Rockets, Bucks, and Lakers fame, and as the elder statesperson of the group, sat at his own table. I was able to tell him the story of former Spurs radio announcer Sam Smith derisively calling Rockets guard Robert Reid (drafted locally from St. Mary’s) “Bobby Jo” Reid after Reid and George Gervin got into it in a regular season game. Coach Harris said “well, that’s Robert for you.”
Hall of Fame Enshrinement - Springfield Symphony Hall
The back end of this enshrinement SEGABABA proved to be even more memorable than the front portion. My wife described the NBA’s organizational effectiveness for venue security as “semi-organized chaos,” which explained how we ended up right behind the Miami Heat TV contingent and before a prior enshrinee with a woman nearby screaming undecipherable phrases at all of us.
During the Red Carpet gala in the hour prior to the enshrinement, we were able to see the Red Mamba Matt Bonner grace the walkway into the Symphony Hall, followed by Reggie Miller of Pacers’ fame. Once inside the Symphony Hall’s cramped corridors, and though we did not pay the VIP fee to be able to mill around and take selfies with the NBA luminaries, I was still able to see several of the San Antonio contingent up close.
Former Spurs shooting specialist Chip Engelland and former Spurs assistant Ettore Messina clustered together with several current players near the entrance. Former Spurs assistant and current Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks stood right in front of my wife and me for nearly a minute and I was able to see what 6’11” looks like in real life. All-time great Charles Barkley literally sucked the gravity out of the room upon his entry as nearly everyone surrounded him to get in their selfies. Point guard extraordinaire Gary Payton nearly pulled off the same effect when he entered shortly thereafter. Former Pistons great Ben Wallace traipsed in regally and greeted as many fans as he could. My WNBA crush Swin Cash ambled around the throng to get inside to her seat quickly.
And in fitting fashion, we learned from other folks that Manu, Pop, Timmy, and Tony had quietly entered the Symphony Hall via a secret entrance to avoid the multitude gathered at the Red Carpet gala.
One of the few drawbacks of the weekend was the lack of dining options surrounding the enshrinement venue and, as first world problems go, all attendees went with presumably empty stomachs for the entirety of the 4+ hours spanning the Red Carpet festivities and the Enshrinement itself.
The speeches were both interesting and moving, which is more than one could expect from having 10+ Hall candidates. The really awesome and goosebump-inducing moments were reserved for whenever Manu’s face adorned the screens overlooking the stage and particularly when the announcement of his time to be presented would be coming “soon.” It’s no accident that Ginobili went last, as I imagined his legion would have left the building immediately upon completion of his induction speech to find sustenance.
In what turned out to be more of a celebratory occasion ather than funereal as I feared - the entirety of the balcony sections above the symphony hall floor were comprised of over 75% Spurs fans, including the gentleman whom everyone could hear on TV joyously proclaiming “MANUUUUUUUUU!” - I anxiously recorded the entirety of our hero’s speech with the remaining power on my camera phone while flipping back and forth between Manu, Timmy, and the screens behind them whenever a close-up of fellow Spurs came up. Though I didn’t understand fully what Manu said to his family in Spanish - the emotion laden over his quavering voice brought everyone in my section to piles of tears.
As soon as the building emptied out, my wife and I rushed back to our car in order to find late night sustenance. She nudged me quickly as I tried to divert all thought away from food and pointed to our immediate right - seeing Reggie Miller with a supernaturally long gait strolling past us with his son playing a word association game fathers play with their kids. She whispered “should we ask for his autograph” and I quickly replied “nah.”
It was a firm reminder that these heroes of the hardwood that we canonize are still humans... who also presumably were starving and looking for immediate dining options.