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El ultimo tango del Contusión

The Basketball Disease

El ultimo tango del Contusión The Basketball Disease

"Papaàà, Papá, Papààà! Leandro y Sebastián no pasan la pelota."

"Manu vienen aquí, que sean solos los dos, venga a ver la televisión con mi."

If this kid, 7 and 5 years younger than his two brothers, wouldn't have gone to his father while the television was broadcasting the NBA Finals, probably my life at 4.26 in the morning would be very different. Unfortunately for my body and for you, basketball wins over everything, and so I’m right here, talking about him, and there’s no cure for the “Disease”.

 

1) Two cats can bother an old lion (ancient saying)

In Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, you breathe and you live for football, but there’s a small exception in his region. On the shore, 4 hours away from the city, there’s Bahía Blanca, where basketball is the most followed sport. In fact, Jorge Ginobili is the coach and the manager of Bahiense del Norte, where his two children, Leandro and Sebastian, used to play. Then, there was another thin one, that used to play some basketball in the spare times, pauses and during training, just like a young Kobe Bryant was doing on the other side of the ocean, in Italy, during his father’s games.

He falls in love with the ball like Paul Varjak of Holly Golightly, interpreted by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The coaches that teach him how to touch the ‘woman’ with the orange dress and the black outlines are Fabian Horvath and Oscar Sanchez, but he’s not good at all, while his best friend Pepe Sanchez, a lefty like him, is already in the National team at 14.

 

2) Without obsession, there’s no champion 

There’s an episode in Ginobili’s history that masks off the obsession or the devotion, you choice, towards this game: in 1991, someone gave him Michael Jordan’s “Come Fly With Me” VHS, narrated by Jay Thomas. This could be ‘point zero’ or better, the point of no return. He eats it, his parents should’ve taken it from him because he used to play it again and again and again, “all days and every day”. More, he bought a natural-sized MJ’s poster, and every night he used to check that it was still on the wall.

While Manu can’t enter in the Bay All-Star, his best friend Pepe ends up at John Chaney’s court at Temple University. His body doesn’t help him, he can’t gain muscles and he only weights 65 kg for 180cm, so light that some say that his coach prohibited him from shooting from the three-point line because he hadn't had the strength to reach the basketball. However, he used to go in the paint, sometimes more savagely than Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s Harleys in Easy Rider.

When he’s 18, someone noticed him. Every time he left the field high-fiving all the supporters and all the Andino Sports Club ‘followers’, in La Roja region, used to love him, even if he didn’t play that much. When he signed for Estudiantes Bahia Blanca, something on the parquet at every game started to change. Here, even if he ended the season with the highest scoring in the league, he was pointed as “the worst of the Ginobili brothers”.

 

3) R.C. Buford’s call

In San Antonio City, as I call it with my best friend Marco - because let’s say it, it’s not a dreamy New York on the North-American West Coast, but more like a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone, and nothing can be hidden - arrived Tim Duncan. Alongside with David Robinson, they formed the ‘Twin Towers’ and they win the first title for the franchise, in 1999, defeating the New York Knicks. 

On the other side of the ocean, while growing ten centimeters in one summer, in Viola Reggio Calabria arrives “El Diablo Mancino”, which does everything on the court with his number 10, included the first pass between the opponent’s legs to launch his teammate to the basket. Ginobili used to light up the game when he wanted. He became the leader inside and outside the field, leading his team to the promotion in Serie A1, and he started a fantastic relationship with the manager.

 

Before all this, though, in 1997, El Narizòn, another nickname took because of his strange familiar nose, he crushed all his opponents at the “Tournament of the Americas”. At the end of a game, a wine and restaurants enthusiast, former agent of the Central Intelligence Agency that started his coaching career at Pomona-Pitzer, approached him. He’s Gregg Popovich, that looks him and say just two words: “Hey, kid”, and then he goes. Nothing more, two words, which Manu answers with a doubtful look on his face.

A few days after, San Antonio Spurs’ GM, R.C. Buford calls him, telling him that he has been drafted with the 57th pick. And while all the other player goes to New York for the most important day of their lives, he doesn’t. He discovered everything three days later.

 

4) Tango Lessons

In Reggio Calabria, Gaetano Gebbia plasmate him for an entire year, teaching him to read the game and the space in the two sides of the field, and giving him the ball on offense. These conditions allowed him to lead the team to the playoffs, with an inspired “Mascalzone Latino” and in fact, at the end of the year, all the biggest teams in Europe want him. Gebbia was an assistant and he had as a mentor ‘o Paròn’, Tonino Zorzi, that teaches many things to his student.

There’s no way to keep him in the Southern Italy, he ends up at Ettore Messina’s court in Basket City, in the home of the ‘Black Vs’ in Bologna, winning a ballot with the signing of Andrea Meneghin. The coach didn’t even wanted him, and the dialogue with a journalist friend was something like this: “Ettore, you made a huge deal with this Argentinian instead of Andrea Meneghin. Listen to me, this is an hell of a player”. “Damn you Franco, everyone talking about this bloody Argentinian”.

In the history of every champion there is a moment when he has to “take the lead”, thanks to an occasion, and here it comes Obi Wan-Ginobili’s one (another nickname). He should’ve been the second violin with Danilovic, but he decided to retire before the season started. So Manu, with arrogance and elegance, like a tango dancer, entered in the main orchestra, becoming the director on the field. And Messina have to reconsider him, creating plays crafted for him.

He’s a poet with the ball in his hands, it’s like William Shakespeare, inspired by one love. He wins the Cup, the Italian Championship and the Euroleague, eliminating Tau Vitoria with a superb performance, more like a show by Harry Houdini, seen with the eyes of a children. He has a move in his repertory that enchant everyone: the ‘Behind the Back Step Back’. He could’ve easily been a tango dancer, maybe he was in the first three lessons of the dance school. He does it on the left side of the field, with his strong hand, pushing toward the basket and then going behind the back, like for going to the right, but then he does a two-time stop, stepping back and shooting. Then, in Italy he learned to ‘flop’, a technique that he will pay later with the referees. 

 

5) El capitán y El Hombre Presidente De La Nación

In that moment, maybe the Spurs remembered to have him from a couple of years, and they gave him a decent contract. He argues many times with Popovich, that of course has his own way to talk to his players, and introduces him into his system, without even offering him a glass of wine as a welcome. But the team took two years to find the right chemistry and in the end, in the 2002/03 season, they win the title, defeating the New Jersey Nets in seven games, where Emanuel David “Manu” Ginobili is fundamental.

And then came the 2004 Olympics, where Argentina is led by him, and he’s not called Manu but ‘El Capitan’. Why? Here’ why. In January of the same year, the first day of training with the National selection there’s no heating system, so in the gym there are like three degrees. Everyone is complaining, threatening not to train in that frozen gym, where Rubén Magnano goes for a coffe, trying not to listen his players’ talking. No one notices that Manu doesn’t say anything and suddenly starts to run with the eskimo, the hood and the gloves on him. If ‘El Capitan’ goes, everyone go. Carlos Delfino, Andrés Nocioni, Gabriel Fernández, Fabricio Oberto, Hugo Sconochini, Alejandro Montecchia and all the others follow him.

Magnano comes back from his coffee and leaves the kid lead the training without interfering. From this episodes borns and amazing synergy, that will help them to defeat the United States after 58 games unbeaten, and lead them to the gold metal against Serbia, with the winning shot by Manu. That, by the way, in another game against Russia dropped 21 points in 23 minutes, crashing Alexei Savrasenko and his NBA future.

 

6) The last tango at the AT&T Center (maybe). Otra vez Manu, por favor.

In the later years there’s no way to stop his talent, he became a manifestation of zen control of the body and touch control. With the Spurs he wins the NBA title in 2005, 2007 and 2014, getting so close in 2013, when Ray Allen’s three stopped them. The seasons that he has played have been unbelievable, his game changed over and over, he gave assists that only Maradona could’ve predict from the trajectory. In these two last seasons, they found the OKC Thunder and Steph Curry’s Warriors, but they always gave everything. Especially Manu, that without Tony Parker, and after Tim Duncan’s retirement, and Kawhi Leonard’s injury, he stopped James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Will it be Ginobili's last chapter? The last Argentinian tango lesson? In this last period he has been some sort of game master for his style of play and how he led his teammates. All basketball supporters were waiting for an answer, but right now we don’t know if we’re going to see his tears. And maybe we will never know.