Argentinian. Left-handed. Out of control. Sixth man. A basketball wizard. Manu Ginobili has created a standard in a multitude of areas, helping to define what it means to be a foreign basketball player. But his influence isn’t limited to his assistance in growing the international game of basketball. Manu Ginobili has reinvented the game of basketball through his quirky playing style and fearlessness, and his Spurs, and the NBA, have reaped the benefits.
Born into a basketball family, Ginobili grew up with the ball in his hands. After beginning his career in the Argentinian minors, he entered the Italian league at the age of 18, and soon led his team to success in the first division by winning the Italian Championship and the Euroleague Finals, the latter in which he was named MVP. Ginobili entered the NBA Draft in 2002, and was taken by the Spurs with the 57th overall pick.
Having been drafted onto a championship contender, Ginobili didn’t have to create an impact immediately during his rookie season, which was probably for the better considering his rookie struggles. Having grown up playing the less physical, more jump-shooting style of basketball preferred by Europeans, Ginobili found it difficult to adapt to the NBA lifestyle. His innate passing ability and fearless drives for which he is renowned today were turnover-inducing, to such an extent that he was benched for parts of his rookie season. Beginning in the 2002 playoffs, however, Ginobili began to showcase his true talents, and his skills were displayed on the world stage as the Spurs became NBA champions. Each year of his career, Ginobili has continued to grow, alternating between starting and playing as the sixth man, scoring when he needs to and passing when he must.
Ginobili’s success with San Antonio spurred coaches and front offices around the league to search the world for hidden talent in the hopes that another gem like Ginobili would arise. Since his drafting, the number of international players being taken by teams has increased each year, and the majority of coaches point to Ginobili’s development and talent as the main instigator. Numerous European players have also claimed Ginobili as a source of inspiration when developing their games. Ricky Rubio, Spanish international and Minnesota Timberwolves point guard, alleges his unique passing style was spurred by watching Ginobili thread passes through the legs of his defenders.
But it’s not just his international influence that makes Ginobili so prevalent in the world of basketball. His unique playing style, which has evolved from exposure to two types of gameplay, has influenced a worldwide movement to play a creative game, and most importantly, spread the Eurostep. Ginobili grew up forced to shoot well, and his consistent three-point and field goal averages attest to his meticulous preparation in developing his shot. In addition to his shooting ability, Ginobili is legendary for his vision on the court. His knowledge of the game and perception has allowed him to assist his teammates in ways none would have thought possible. These two skills, along with his craftiness in driving to the basket, have led Ginobili’s style to become one of the most defined throughout the world. James Harden plays the exact style as Ginobili, and has extrapolated it further to develop his scoring abilities, but without Ginobili’s initial influence, Harden’s abilities most likely would not have surfaced.
Although Manu Ginobili has been instrumental in expanding the NBA beyond its American borders, his significance in expanding the game isn’t simply limited to being an international advocate. His playing style, and overall gamesmanship, has spurred thousands to adopt an aggressive play-making attitude, and as we can already see, the results have been extraordinary.