Manu Ginobili is me

There is a skinny, dark-haired boy who hits the ball on the cracked sidewalk. Pasaje Vergara’s sunshine bounces off the forehead of his father, Yuyo, Gino, who hugs him and accompanies him in the first steps towards the club. Bahiense del Norte is just there, you just have to cross the street that houses the Maccari self-service and halfway down the block Salta, on the left is the gate that anticipates entry. The institution as such has not existed for so long: the merger of Bahiense with Deportivo Norte took place in 1975, so a little more than ten years have passed for the interpretation of the scene.

“Emanuel, always remember that the important thing is to have fun. It doesn’t matter if you play well or badly, you have to make an effort. And make friends. Above all, friends. There are those from the school, but those from the club are very important. They will be with you all their lives.” you,” says Yuyo. And he doesn’t exaggerate or lie one iota. Emanuel knows something because his brothers Leandro and Sebastián have already left stage fright behind. Fearful, but convinced, Manu crosses the threshold.

He doesn’t know, he doesn’t sense, he doesn’t imagine that a little more than three decades later, the court will be baptized with his name.

Now Emanuel hits the ball with his left hand for the first time. He hits her foot, the ball goes far and she runs to get it. A group of boys around him try to do the same, they roll the balls on the Bahiense parquet. Far from giving up, Manu grabs her again and repeats the bite. He again on his feet. He to look for her to start over. He looks at the mini basketball hoop and takes a shot. He does not touch the net, but nevertheless, in his eyes the essence of his nature begins to be outlined: perseverance. He shoots again and misses again. He shoots ten times. He throws fifteen. He scores the first and does not celebrate or look at the stands. It is absurd for a child, but his behavior is far from that innocent freshness. His goal is on the cylinder and the board. He stings her one more time and it no longer bounces off the foot. He tries again. And he dunks.

Manu compulsively measures himself on the wall of his room. His brothers are close to six feet tall but he is skinny and small. 1.75 meters exaggerated, he takes beer yeast to grow and hangs from the railings to stretch as much as he can. Nothing happens. He like that he will never become a basketball player. With a pencil he draws lines on the edge of the door frame that only lead to depression. Him with a ball he lies down in his room while he looks at the Michael Jordan posters. Raquel, his mother, is worried about her school grades: she hopes she will be a public accountant. “She can’t live her whole life with the little ball, what future will await this boy, Jorge”, she tells her father. And she leaves him.

Watching him play is covering his eyes in every attack. He’s left-handed, he shoots the hoop well, but every foray into the paint is a bruise on his arm. Or a scrape on the leg. However, Manu gets up and returns. As if someone had taught him what it means to turn the other cheek when he was less than eleven years old. He advances, searches, collides and solves. He needs creativity to dive against rivals stronger and taller than him. Perhaps he will one day use these resources on another plane. But for now nothing. He strives to change the situation. Hard. Very difficult.

Now Manu cries alone in his room. He is 14 years old and has been left out of the Bahia team that will play the Provincial Tournament. It is the end, the brothers taking off in professionalism and he in the depths of ostracism. The friends go to Monte Hermoso but he stays. With the key to the club, he goes to shoot hoops. 40 degrees in the shade. As in the beginning, he executes pitches with almost sick determination. Everyone enjoys and he works quietly. One hundred, two hundred, five hundred, one thousand, five thousand. He no longer counts how many shots go. Sweaty, he promises himself a new chance.

The crying, however, deepens. The end of the world is approaching: he, at only 16 years old, descends in the local tournament with Bahiense del Norte. She is literally the black sheep of the family. How to look dad in the eye when he comes back from a trip, Manu thinks. He is already a partner of Pepe Sánchez, they are two children, but he feels the responsibility of his surname on his back. How are we going to go downhill, Pepe. How! What he doesn’t know yet is that this fall will serve to build, build, strengthen and bounce to the stratosphere of this sport.

Egg Sánchez arrives and takes him to play with him in Andino de la Rioja. His expert eye for reading this sport sees in Emanuel a different player. Skinny, stylized, he already has a centimeter stretch that brings him closer to the height of his brothers. “What are you eating, baby?” says Egg. Manuel laughs. In Mar del Plata, a reporter says something that will go down in history: “Ginóbili is not going to arrive.” The following year, he is the best player in the National League with his brother Sebastián and Pancho Jasen as teammates. He will reach Reggio Calabria, Kinder Bologna, the world runner-up in Indianapolis and Olympic gold in Athens. He dominates everything with an ease never seen before. He learns quickly and then teaches by example. Egg Sanchez saw the Aleph meters from his house and gave it to the world. From the city of basketball to the Mecca of the game. The NBA, then, will be a consequence. The weirdness will start later.

Manu Ginobili is me. Its you. We are the ones who once hit a basketball in a neighborhood club. He is the grandfather who takes his grandson to the club that he has nearby. The leader who takes the last pesos out of his pocket so that a boy is not on the street adrift from anything that may happen to him. The thousands of boys and girls who blow on their hands to ward off the cold on some mini-basketball court. Trainers who explain what to do, and how to do it. The hours of defensive posture, of series of shots, of girdles in a worn locker room. Manu is Beto Cabrera, Lito Fruet and Polo De Lizaso together, emerging from the bowels of Bahia to seduce the world in another language. It is Pepe Sánchez and Puma Montecchia. Juan Espil, Andrés Nocioni, Luis Scola, Facundo Campazzo and many others. The ones that were, the ones that are and the one that will finally be the representation of the majority. Ginobili is the Rossetta stone of all of us who have ever imagined being an NBA star on some terrace, in some street, or in some lost patio. Absurd basketball dreams in their purest form, childhood miracles with croissants and lattes. The ones we wanted and couldn’t. The ones we tried and didn’t reach. Those of us who had no talent to convince anyone, those of us who emulated a shooting mechanic against a mirror. Those of us who once warmed up a bench first and a grandstand later. Those of us who follow it because we feel it is ours, as much ours as our own family. Those of us who defended him in times of darkness and spare no praise in good times.

Manu is Néstor García saying that nobody can defend him tonight. It is the despair of Serbia in Indianapolis and the ecstasy of Italy in Athens. It’s the NBA’s twice-defeated dream to reshape the map of basketball at the best schools in the world. The ankle that drops him to the ground in Beijing and the rings that shine on his left hand. The euro-step as a museum piece, the infinite sixth man. It’s Ray Allen’s 3-point brawl in Miami and redemption in a monochrome uniform to star in the greatest team basketball of all time.

Thousands of hopes and illusions coexisted in the same person. Manu is the Argentine that we all wanted to be. Supportive, respectful, honest, low profile. Creative, skilled and winner. The one who interpreted the wish of the grandmasters like no other: there is no better player than all of them together. He pushed his ego to the bottom of the ocean so his actions-and not his words-his would elevate him to eternity. It is the 20 that shines in the sky of San Antonio, the greeting to the stands at Rio 2016, the extreme fan who hid nerves with Kobe Bryant at the 2019 World Cup in China. Emanuel Ginóbili is the perfect athlete who did the best he could with the weapons he had. That he redrew limits and redefined scenarios. That he made others better, that he provoked admiration in Tim Duncan and that he was, perhaps, the best student of the Gregg Popovich doctrine.

In one way or another, we are all indebted to Manu. Players, coaches, journalists, supporters. And it is an impossible debt to pay. He gave us a magic ticket to live a surreal journey of sixteen years in a row. He blazed trails and sailed to El Dorado alone, then handed us the treasure map. He invited us to believe that we were worthy of a party that was impossible to live in any other way. Manu was the Great Gatsby receiving guests from the depths of South America. We puffed out our chests and shouted that Ginóbili was ours. We rub shoulders and discuss as equals with the most weighted analysts. We had arguments and reasons, but we were wrong in thinking that this story would last forever. Here we go, the forgotten since time immemorial, with the flag in the wind. Ready to get on the most important podiums in the world. It seemed easy, of course, or rather, feasible: that was the deception that caused the shared illusion. We wanted to be forever, we thought that the world could be ours for the times of the times, but it can’t: Manu Ginóbili there is only one. The nights glued to the television waiting for another miracle to happen, the absolute belief that there were no limits of any kind. Trips to follow in his footsteps, titles in inhospitable places, his last name in the mouths of the greatest who have ever practiced this sport.

“Emanuel, always remember that the important thing is to have fun. It doesn’t matter if you play well or badly, you have to make an effort. And make friends. Above all, friends.”

No shortcuts, no help, no tricks. From Bahia to Springfield on a wonderful journey. From Bahiense del Norte to San Antonio with a stopover in Athens. Manu left the sport loved by all. On the court he steps on, wherever he is, no one can ever say something bad about his career path. He had no fissures and did not give chances to the nefarious ones who always seek to find the chaff in the wheat. He confirmed that the longest path is the most difficult, but at the same time the most rewarding. That talent without effort is sterile. That perseverance pays, whatever one does in life. Success never comes before work, and those who quit early never meet their goals.

May your laurels be eternal, Manu. One day my children, and my children’s children, will want to know who you were.

And on that day, then, I will have a great story to tell you.

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Manu Ginobili is me