While sitting at San Antonio’s greatest burger place a few days ago with some friends, we started talking about the San Antonio Spurs. Amidst the sweet smell of grease and cheese, we got to talking about how Spurs fandom was beside itself about George Hill getting shipped off and not Tony Parker.
The point we kept on coming back to was that Tony isn’t Manu Ginobili and, much like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris with the New York Yankees, a fan base can only have one favorite.
We were all pretty sure that Manu is the most popular Spur right now, but how does he stack up against all the Spurs who came before him?
None of us were in full agreement, but my feeling was Manu is the most beloved Spur ever. Yes, even more popular than my favorite Spur of all time David Robinson.
Don’t start insulting my intelligence just yet. Give me a chance to explain.
There is a relatability Manu has with your average fan that hasn’t been neared by any Spur this side of Malik Rose. It all has to do with Manu’s game. The way he slams into bigger players, how he is always one step ahead of most other guys, and the way he seems to play like every game is his last is what makes fans love him. There’s something about all of those things that make a fan feel like that’s exactly how they would be if were ever blessed enough to be in the NBA.
With David, you never got that same feeling. Robinson was always the best athlete on the court at all times, until his back and knees went out, and he made every single thing look so effortless.
You loved him, but you couldn’t appreciate it as much because it looked so simple for him. With Manu, you can love the fact he got one of two from the line after taking a tough foul in the lane.
When you look at Manu’s career you think of the triumphs. You think of how he played against the Pistons in 2005 or how he’s carried the Spurs in the clutch every time his team needed it for the last five years or so.
You don’t think of his shortcomings. You don’t think of his foul on Dirk Nowitzki in the 2006 playoffs. You don’t think of Manu coming into training camp a little banged up because he chose to play for his country and put the Spurs season in jeopardy because of that.
Because of his relatability on the court and his fantastic personality Manu has been given a handful of free passes.
Less popular Spurs, like Tony or Matt Bonner, don’t get any free passes. A bad series or two and people hope for their trades or for them to be buried on the bench. Even David had his critics after he was embarrassed by Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1995 Western Conference Finals.
Never with Manu though. It’s almost as if he can do no wrong.
Why? It’s the Legend of Manu.
There’s an aura that hovers around San Antonio’s favorite lefty. The list is long. He’s played with a broken nose and arm in the playoffs, dispatched a bat delaying a game, and has thrown on a red cape and saved the Spurs time and again in crunch time during his career.
Every time he’s on the court you feel like something special is going to happen. You always feel like you might see something from Manu that you’ve never seen on a basketball court before.
Much like with Tim, you never got that same feeling from 5-0. Because of that, Manu, and not Tim, is the beating heart of this team. Tim could be the brain, but Manu always has to be the heart.
I know the words I’m writing are near sacrilege. David might be one of the best men in the history of the world, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Manu is more popular.
Even if you don’t side with me, the fact there is an argument to be made for Manu says a lot about him.
Just some food for thought.