In praise of the brilliant, baffling Manu Ginobili

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When I went to San Antonio to write this piece on Gregg Popovich (and, later, this piece on Tim Duncan) I was told, time and again, that the most popular San Antonio Spur in town, by far, is Manu Ginobili. At first, I found it a bit curious. I mean, Ginobili has been a terrific player, no question, but he’s certainly not Tim Duncan — who is the best, well, the best whatever-position-he-plays (big-power-center-forward-postman) in the history of professional basketball.

Manu is an amazing scorer and distributor and shooter, but he does not seem quite as much the force of nature that is Tony Parker, who is flashier and a bit less mercurial and speaks with a cool French accent and was married to Eva Longoria.

But, again and again, people said they loved Manu most of all … and watching him again these last few weeks I think I’ve figured out a reason why. I think there’s something about Manu Ginobili that is easy to recognize in ourselves. In the end,we might not connect with the consistent, almost numbing, every day brilliance of Tim Duncan, every move right out of a coach’s clinic, every game a perfect repeat of the one before. That kind of greatness may leave us wonderstruck but, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is hard to relate to.

MORE: Duncan, man of mystery … and fundamentals

And so it goes with Tony Parker’s blurring quickness — could we ever identify with a player who, at any point, can simply run around LeBron James? He’s so quick, so mind-blowingly quick, that sometimes he skips a video frame. He’s an optical illusion, and when watching him makes one of those moves you might involuntarily gasp, then pause for an instant to let the mind catch up, then explode in a croak that is half cheer, half disbelief. But, can you envision yourself — even with a few extra helpings of talent — making that move yourself?

Ginobili meanwhile — he’s utterly human. He makes preposterous blunders. He dishes no-look passes that blast the mind. He takes ludicrous shots. He makes some of them. He seemingly wins games singlehandedly. He seems to lose games all by himself too. At times, he seems like the gunner who shows up at the gym and takes every shot. At other times, he seems like the one guy on the floor who sees the game clearly, like he’s wearing Terminator goggles.

Obviously, you only have to look at the last two NBA Finals games to see the contrast. In Game 4 against Miami, Ginobili was a rare kind of abysmal. The numbers don’t quite quantify it — he shot 1-for-5, missed all three of his three-pointers, committed four fouls and one turnover. It’s not good, but it doesn’t tell the story. Maybe this does: Minus-22. That was how his team fared against Miami when he was on the floor. They were outscored by 22 points. There was something about Ginobili in Game 4 that seemed almost jinxed. He was like that guy Mayhem in the insurance commercials.

And Game 5? Well, you already know: Brilliant. Amazing. Spectacular. Ginobili started for the first time all season — seriously, Gregg Popovich should be given some sort of basketball knighthood and just wear robes when he’s on the sidelines — and he made eight of 14 shots, scored 24 points, dished 10 assists, added a steal and a couple of rebounds, and yes, this time he was plus-19. The Heat had no idea what to do when he was on the floor.

MORE: Pop — the bully, the buddy, the winner

The extremes are greater now that Ginobili is older and his body is beat up, but really this has always been true of him.  He has always been great and terrible, unstoppable and un-goable. Thirty two times in his career, he scored 30-plus points. One hundred thirty times he has played at least 20 minutes and scored single digits. He’s had nine games with double digit assists, and 10 games with double digit rebounds, and almost exactly as many when he had no rebounds (10) and no assists (13). He takes dives that are sometimes embarrassing, and he also makes no excuses and points at himself when things go bad. He ranges from the best player on the floor to a very good player to an OK player to invisible to car wreck.

And watching this, night after night, I can see how that gets inside you. Just when you think he’s shed the inconsistencies of the past, he has a game that makes you want to poke out your own eyeballs. Just when you wish the Spurs would just get rid of him, he saves a season with some bit of transcendent genius. In a weird way, it’s like the relationship with your kid. One minute, you want to ship them off to boarding school. The next minute, they bring you to a level of joy that never seemed possible.

I think now of a Spurs fan who tweeted me after Game 4. I had cracked wise about how great Dwyane Wade was in that game and how dreadful Ginobili had been. A brilliant reader named Ray Bailey tweeted back:

And so it was. See, that might be the best part of being a fan of a player — when you know them so well, so deeply, that you sense their patterns and feel their pain and know their rhythms. San Antonio certainly treasures Tim Duncan for being so reliably awe-inspiring and San Antonio certainly adores Tony Parker for being a wizard capable of powerful magic.

But you could see how it is something a little bit different with Ginobili. They have lived with him, died with him, screamed at him and blessed his name. He could cost them Game 6 or he could win them Game 6. They know him, maybe, at a deeper level. And at some point, with Manu, there’s really nothing left to do but love the guy.

Grizzlies’ Josh Jackson to enter diversion program, have resisting arrest charges dropped

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On the court, Josh Jackson‘s status had fallen so far that the No. 4 pick of just two years ago was traded to Memphis in a salary dump for Phoenix (so it could sign Ricky Rubio and re-sign Kelly Oubre).

Off the court, Jackson appears to have dealt with his arrest at a Miami music festival this summer by reaching a plea deal that will keep him out of the courtroom. TMZ broke the story.

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram says he’s “pretty close” to resuming normal workouts

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram says he’s “pretty close” to resuming normal workouts as he continues to recover from surgery to address a blood clot in his right arm.

Ingram says he has not resumed shooting, but has worked on his shooting form while also conducting ball-handling and passing drills, as well as lower-body workouts.

Ingram did not give a specific timeline for his return to full basketball activities with the Pelicans, the team to which the Lakers traded him this offseason as part of a multi-player and multi-draft pick deal for six-time All-Star Anthony Davis.

Ingram spoke about his health on Tuesday during formal introductions at Pelicans headquarters for him and three other new players: guard Lonzo Ball, swing player Josh Hart, and center Derrick Favors.

Ball and Hart also were part of the Davis trade. Favors was traded by Utah to New Orleans.

Ingram was averaging 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds last season before he was diagnosed with deep venous thrombosis in early March.

Lawyer sentenced to 5 years for fraud, scamming Charles Barkley among others

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A lawyer convicted of swindling NBA star Charles Barkley and using the name of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bolster an investment scam was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre also ordered Donald Watkins to pay about $14 million in restitution.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of 17+ years for Watkins and 6+ years for his son, Donald Watkins Jr. Both were convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges earlier this year. The two men stole more than $15 million from investors and a bank, prosecutors said.

Bowdre said she took the elder man’s age, 70, into consideration in imposing a lighter sentence, but the term was stiffer than the home confinement requested by Watkins. She then began a sentencing hearing for the son.

During the pair’s trial earlier this year, witnesses including Barkley testified about losing money in an investment scheme run by the elder Watkins.

Barkley, who grew up near Birmingham and now works as a television analyst, described himself as a friend of the elder Watkins, who has split time living in both Alabama and Atlanta.

Barkley lost more than $6 million in investments and loans, prosecutors said, and so did other professional athletes including former NFL players Takeo Spikes and Bryan Thomas and former NBA star Damon Stoudamire.

Stoudamire’s wife, Natasha Taylor-Stoudamire, spoke at the sentencing and said she couldn’t comprehend what Watkins had done.

“I can’t even comprehend how Donald Watkins Sr. and Jr. can take money from me or the rest the victims that were trying to have generational wealth for our children’s children,” she said, according to al.com .

Rice, a native of Birmingham, testified that Watkins wrongly used her name in promoting an energy business at the heart of the case. Prosecutors said Watkins included Rice’s name in an email to investors although she had declined to get involved.

Watkins once served as a city council member in Montgomery and helped successfully defend HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy in a massive fraud that nearly bankrupted the company, now known as Encompass Health. He also has worked on civil rights cases.

More than 15 years ago, Watkins drew media attention when he attempted to purchase a major league baseball team. More recently he said he was attempting to purchase the NFL’s St. Louis Rams before the team moved to Los Angeles.

Although he portrayed himself as wealthy, prosecutors said Watkins had a net worth of only a few thousand dollars.

Writing in a blog post before the sentencing, Watkins Sr. said he would continue to appeal his conviction and claimed he was innocent.

“Jurors try to do the right thing, more often than not. However, my 46-years of active participation in the American judicial system has shown me (and the world) that well-meaning jurors often convict innocent defendants,” Watkins wrote.

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

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Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

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Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.