By Ron EvangelistaEvery once in a while, someone comes along that completely changes the whole blueprint of a sport. Sometimes, the game makes a player more than just a superstar, legend, or hall of famer. Sometimes, a sport breeds a hero. Jamaica had Usain Bolt, Mexico had Marco Antonio Barrera, and Switzerland had Roger Federer. For basketball-crazy Argentina, they have Emmanuel Ginobili.
Manu Ginobili is one of basketball’s most influential players, winning 6th Man of the Year awards, championships, and the hearts of fans all around the world. Perhaps the game’s most potent slasher, Ginobili has prided himself on putting the opposing team’s best player on a poster, or in an embarrassing situation.
He has been carrying teams on his back for two decades from the Euroleague to the Olympics and the NBA. Ginobili is one of the few men who can boast that he has won an Olympic gold medal ever since they allowed professional NBA players to join the world’s biggest sporting event.
However, the journey of the man who is generally credited for popularizing the Euro step is almost coming to an end. He is almost 41 years old and has lost the quickness of his step, most of his athleticism, and the stamina of his younger self. Like an aging bloodhound slowly losing his innate sense of smell, Ginobili’s days are definitely numbered.
The past two seasons have been more of a burden than a blessing to him as he has to double his efforts to keep up with the pace of the ever changing game. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has to use him sparingly in order for him to maintain his level of play. His minutes have certainly gone down, but his production has been steady. As always, Manu displayed that he was an old reliable veteran that the team can lean on in times of trouble.
Despite his diminishing physical condition because of his age, the heart and passion of the man can never die down. He just won’t give up. Father time may be undefeated, but Ginobili will go down swinging, and did he swing for the fences as his team slowly faced the inevitable during the playoffs.
The first round exit this season was a sad but crystal clear omen. The old and traditional Spurs, led by Manu and LaMarcus Aldridge, bowed down to the younger, more exciting Golden State Warriors. It is a symbol of a changing of the guard, like the retiring employee turning over the work to the new replacement. It’s a sad reality, a vicious cycle that shows your time is done and the keys to the kingdom should be passed on.
Gone are his long locks, free flowing into the air as he drives for a vicious slam. The wrinkles on his face are more visible, and the dashing good looks are now replaced by a weary, battle scarred facade that has seen more basketball wars than anyone can ever fathom.
It is on the court where Ginobili laid his blood, sweat, and tears for the millions of people watching, and it is for his contributions that he will be remembered for what he truly is: a hero.
We may have very well seen the last of Manu Ginobili and it is a pill that is difficult to swallow.
But no matter what happens, he will never be forgotten. Heroes never die, and the contributions of one kamikaze slashing Argentinian will forever be immortalized in the scrolls of the basketball gods.
[Video from YouTube; thumbnail image from NBA]