Manu’s Impact Outstrips his On-Court Production
With the recent news of Manu Ginobili‘s retirement, talk has turned to his Hall of Fame candidacy. While the guard was a key contributor to a bona fide dynasty in San Antonio, some may question if a player who never averaged 20 PPG in any season, and only made 2 All-Star games is deserving of basketball immortality.
However, when it comes to Ginobili, numbers are only a small part of the story. One look at today’s game shows how Manu’s broader influence far exceeds his traditional statistical impact. Take the Euro step.
Now a staple move of many a skill set, the Euro step was once uncommon in North America. While Lithuania’s Sarunas Marciulionis is said to have brought the move to the NBA in the 1990’s, Ginobili is generally accepted as the player most responsible for its spread across the league. It is something that defines the Argentinian’s crafty, herky-jerky style.
“I’ve done it since I remember playing basketball,” said Ginobili of his signature move. “I did it in Italy my four years, and nobody mentioned the awkwardness of my steps or the uniqueness. So when I got here and everybody started to talk about the way I did my steps… And then they put a name on it and everyone started doing it, so I guess there was something different.”
“He changed the game,” said former teammate Kawhi Leonard. “He brought a different feel and a different style.”
Ginobili’s popularization of the Euro step is only a small aspect of his impact. Though born in Argentina, he played in Italy before joining the Spurs, and was named EuroLeague Finals MVP in 2001. Along with a host of other stars of the 90’s and 2000’s, he helped bring an element of the European style and flair to the NBA.
In contrast to the isolation-heavy focus on individual scoring effort often found in American basketball, the European game has long been based around a free-flowing offense predicated upon constant ball movement. During his long run in the Lone Star State, Manu played a significant role on a San Antonio team that would come to resemble a European squad, both in makeup and style of play.
San Antonio’s suprising domination of the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals is one of the greatest displays of offensive basketball many of us have ever seen. The Spurs were a well-oiled machine, sharing the ball with such efficiency as to make Miami’s vaunted Big 3 seem helpless. Take a look at how many scoring oppportunities were opened up by Manu’s fearless drives and creative passing.
The NBA is a league of copycats. That’s why it’s not a surprise that San Antonio’s European-influenced style of play, partly fuelled by Ginobili, soon cropped up everywhere. Just the next year, the Atlanta Hawks, coached by longtime Gregg Popovich disciple Mike Budenholzer, were able to win 60 games without any true superstars, by playing a similar brand of selfless basketball.
Perhaps most notably, the Spurs imprint is felt on today’s powerhouse, the Golden State Warriors, coached by Steve Kerr, one of Popovich’s former players. The Warriors, winners of 3 of the past 4 NBA championships, exemplify the Spurs’ team-first ethos, where everyone must be a capable and willing passer. “It was the epitome of what I’m looking for with our team,” Kerr once said of San Antonio’s system. The results speak for themselves.
Manu Ginobili’s influence is hard to calculate. Far from limited to the Euro step, he has symbolized San Antonio’s, and eventually the league’s, embrace of the European basketball style and attitude. When this is taken into account, it is hard to see a future where Manu doesn’t end up in Springfield.