Ginobili's reputation gets big bounce with first All-Star berth

Spurs guard gets honor with well-rounded game

February 20, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Of the 24 players who will take the court tonight at Pepsi Center in Denver for the NBA All-Star Game, Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs might be the most unlikely.

It's not because the 27-year-old guard is the first Argentine to be accorded such an honor, considering how global the league has become over the past decade.

It's also not because Ginobili was coming off the bench for the Spurs for much of his first two years in the NBA. Others have gone from being role players to All-Stars in a similar time frame.

What makes Ginobili stand out among his peers are his statistics this season. They don't jump out like Allen Iverson's points or Steve Nash's assists or the overall stat line of the league's wunderkind, LeBron James.

Ginobili does a lot of everything: At 15.9 points, he's third on the team behind fellow All-Star Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker in scoring; he's also second in assists (4.0) behind Parker and first in steals (1.7). His 39 percent three-point shooting is the best among San Antonio's regulars.

"He'll be one of those guys who'll score 25 one night and score six the next, but draw three charges, get four steals and have six assists," said Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Truth be known, if the players in the Western Conference voted for the reserves on the All-Star team rather than the coaches, Ginobili probably would not have been picked. It's not that he's unpopular, but his style is appreciated more by basketball purists.

Since many of the coaches fit that description, including San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, it's not difficult to see why Ginobili beat out the likes of Sacramento's Mike Bibby and Dallas' Michael Finley for a backcourt spot on the team.

"I was hoping that the coaches had seen and respected what he's done," Popovich said of the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Ginobili.

Asked if he was surprised to be chosen, Ginobili gave an answer that was as difficult to decipher as one of his moves.

"Yes and not so much," he said. "For a period of more than a month ago, it would be very surprising. But for the last few weeks, people were talking about my possibilities. So I started to believe it, that I had a chance, so I wasn't that shocked. Maybe a little surprised."

Not bad for a player who grew up idolizing his two older brothers, Sebastian and Leandro, and other players in the Argentine professional league where his father coached the powerful team from their hometown of Bahia Bianca.

Not bad for a player whose first memories of the NBA came from a highlight tape of the legendary dunk contests between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins at the All-Star Game.

"I don't remember the games," Ginobili said.

Perhaps his invitation this year is merely just another acknowledgement of what he did last summer, when he led Argentina to its first Olympic gold medal in basketball.

"I think the Olympics certainly helped, but I think the GMs and the player personnel people in the league knew for years that he was, in my opinion and in our opinion, the best player outside the United States," Carlesimo said.

"Every time I watch a tape or a DVD, I get goose ... " Ginobili said of the Olympics, looking at his arm and searching for help to finish the word.


"Yes," he said.

Ginobili has fond recollections of the entire Olympic experience. While his NBA counterparts from the United States, including Duncan, were spending their time in Athens on a luxury cruise ship, Ginobili was living in the athletes' village.

"It was special sharing the village with the best athletes in the world, living in an amateur way, the way many sportsmen live daily. We live in another world in the NBA," Ginobili said. "It was very cool to have the opportunity to share the experience with other guys from tennis, judo or whatever."

The Spurs first saw Ginobili during the 1999 European championships, drafting him later that year in the second round and making him the 57th pick overall. He stayed in Italy for three more seasons, being named Most Valuable Player in the prestigious Italian league the last two years.

Having watched the NBA for years, Ginobili thought he would be able to pick up where he left off in what he viewed as a wide-open game.

"It wasn't a big adjustment in lifestyle because when you become a professional basketball player in Europe, you have a nice life," Ginobili said. "The change was in basketball. You adjust from being the go-to guy to being a role player and playing with a guy like Tim Duncan. I wanted to show the world that I belonged here."

An ankle injury in his first training camp with the Spurs slowed Ginobili, and he finished the season averaging 7.6 points in 20.8 minutes a game as a rookie on a team that won the NBA championship. His scoring number went up to 12.8 last season, when he split time as a starter with Hedo Turkoglu.

When Turkoglu signed with the Orlando Magic as a free agent last summer, Popovich put Ginobili back into the starting lineup.

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