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.

Bruce Bowen after Kawhi Leonard-related ouster: If Clippers can’t attract free agents to L.A., that’s on them, not me

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The Clippers ousted Bruce Bowen as TV analyst after he ripped Kawhi Leonard, a Clippers target in 2019 free agency.

The Dan Patrick Show:

Bowen:

Oh yeah, it was, well, basically, “We don’t view your views that way and because of your comments of Kawhi Leonard, we are choosing to go a separate way.”

One thing that I’ve thought about in all of this is that Kawhi never said, “I want to play for the Clippers.” Kawhi said he wanted to play for the Lakers. And so unfortunately, if you’re going to run your organization based on hopes, maybe, and getting rid of others – now, again, if I tore him down and I was disrespectful to him, that’s one thing. But that’s not the case. As an analyst, I’m supposed to talk about what I see and what I feel for this game that I love. And so, if you can’t do that, what does that say about your organization?

I don’t think I’m that powerful, where I would be the reason why someone would not want to go to a team. What are you doing? Are you playing, or are you listening? And if you are listening, then listen to the words that are said and receive the constructive criticism. Because that’s my job, to be critical of someone’s play. Now, if I’m just tearing a player down, that’s one thing. But I don’t think I’m big enough that someone would say, “You know what? I’m not going there, because Bruce Bowen is there, and he’s on the mic. I’m not going to deal with that.”

If you can’t get free agents in California – in Los Angeles, that is – that has nothing to do with Bruce Bowen. That has more to do with the organization.

It’s unclear whether Leonard prefers the Lakers or Clippers. I wouldn’t take Bowen’s telling as gospel on that.

It’s also worth revisiting exactly what Bowen said about Leonard:

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Despite his latest spin, Bowen didn’t simply critique Leonard’s play. Bowen ripped Leonard’s leadership and, more troublingly, implied Leonard wasn’t as hurt as the star forward claimed.

Bowen’s TV work was intertwined with the Clippers, an organization trying to win. Nobody should have ever viewed Bowen as an objective journalist. His job was, in part, to help the Clippers promote their product. That can, at times, include criticism of players. It’s just basketball. Critiques help fans understand the game and engage.

But this went beyond that, and I have a hard time siding with someone who suggested Leonard embellished his injury. We’re not in his mind or body. We can’t know he feels. Maybe Leonard was malingering, but I don’t see a better method than just giving him the benefit on the doubt.

Bowen is right: We shouldn’t overstate his importance to free agents. But this was also an opportunity for the Clippers to signal how well they look after players. Maybe Leonard will appreciate that. Maybe he won’t. It’s tough to get a read on the quiet Leonard. But he’s potentially so valuable, I understand trying to preemptively appease him.

Considering Bowen’s status as a Clippers-adjacent employee and what he actually said, ousting him looks fairly reasonable.

Watch Aretha Franklin own national anthem before 2004 NBA Finals Game 5

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The NBA is at its best when teams have strong identities, and the 2004 Pistons sure had one. Overlooked, proud and hustling, they fit the city they represented.

That’s why there was nobody better to sing the national anthem before their championship-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals than Aretha Franklin, who grew up in and proudly represented Detroit:

Franklin died at age 76 yesterday, and everyone who heard her music was blessed – anyone at The Palace of Auburn Hills that night particularly so.

Report: 76ers hire former WNBA No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding as scout

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The 76ers were reportedly looking for a female scout.

They’ve found her.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired former Duke and WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout for next season.

Harding – the No. 1 pick in the 2007 WNBA draft – played nine years in that league. She was an assistant coach for the Raptors’ summer-league team and completed the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates Program. By all appearances, she’s well-qualified for her new position.

NBA teams haven’t hired enough women in basketball operations. Relative to men, there are far more women with an aptitude for these positions than are on NBA payrolls. Teams should hire the best person for the job, but fair consideration will lead to more women hired than currently.

At some point, an NBA team hiring a woman as a scout wouldn’t be so notable. But the league isn’t there yet.

Greg Monroe says he’s working on shot to help Raptors space floor

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Last season, Greg Monroe took zero three pointers. Not one in Phoenix, nor Milwaukee, and zero in Boston. He’s not a guy known for his shooting range, last season 90 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket. His game is old-school.

That’s not what is going to get Monroe more run in Nick Nurse’s unleashed offense in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry can drive into the paint, but they need shooters around them to space the floor and finish the shots they create. Monroe gets it and is trying to fint in, he told Josh Jewenberg of TSN.

 

We’re not going to nickname Monroe “Curry Jr.” but if becomes any kind of a threat beyond the paint it will help. It also would help Monroe’s longevity in the league.

That said, we’ll buy in when we see it. This is not some flip-the-switch change to make.