White Bay. Late 1970s. Every morning, no matter how hot or cold, or how busy the day, Oscar Sanchez has a routine that cannot be avoided: going through the house of the Ginobili, at No. 14 of Pasaje Vergara -they are 200 meters from a dead end street, in a neighborhood near the center-, to have a long round of dunks with Raquel Maccari. While her husband Jorge works at the tobacco company Piccardo nobility, Egg enters, stands next to the already hot kettle and with her friend they begin to retrace the topics, generally basketball in a house that breathes it in every corner, taking into account that the strong man of the family, Yuyo Ginobili, he has been a player until 1973 and two years later he became the first president of a new club, North Bahian, after the merger between Bahiense Junior and Deportivo Norte. “It was Moni Argento’s kitchen -starts Egg, between laughs, trying to describe it- and I always made a place for myself between practice and practice. With Raquel we talked about everything and I remember that we watched a Mexican soap opera called Rina. They were very special moments, when all this madness that is still here began…”. Egg he’s already excited. For remembering that story and for doing it from Springfield, Massachusetts, where he arrived yesterday with Leandro Ginóbili -Manu’s older brother- and Julio Lamas and in the place where, in just hours, he will live the induction ceremony of Manu Ginobili in the Hall of Fameinvited especially for his “chicken” in recognition of his invaluable contribution to him and his family, especially in the beginning of the best athlete in our history.
This is the same Manu who, just over 40 years ago, appeared every morning to break the tranquility of chatting between friends. That baby who had weighed 3.6 kilos on the morning of July 28, 1977 has been walking since he was 10 months old. Unsettled, he stumbles through the kitchen. “He slept little and was very weepy, it was even difficult to feed,” says mom Raquel, who, unlike her friend, preferred not to travel to the United States for her son’s ceremony, basically for two reasons: first, because she doesn’t like him very much – nor did she like to attend the games because of her nerves- and second, because of the absence of her husband, who is going through a delicate health problem and it was impossible for her to be with her son at the moment she had dreamed of so much and that she would have enjoyed so much, As a good basketball lover that he is…
Egg From a very young age he was passionate about this sport and a voracious soul to know more every day. In 1980, after being champion of the Bahia tournament with the Ginóbili club, he traveled to the United States to gain knowledge at the World Coaches Seminar in Indianapolis. There, in addition to learning new things, such as the combined zone (match up) that he brought to the country as a pioneer, he bought some tools to teach better (see photo). And there were two specifically that he tested on the youngest of the Ginobilis. Of course, before using him as a guinea pig, he couldn’t with his forming spirit and gave him a ball as soon as he started walking. Then he taught him the technique with two basic commands (“put your hand like this” and “spread your fingers”) and then, every morning, when Manu appeared in the kitchen, he put the chairs on him as if they were cones so that he would zigzag.
Not satisfied with that, this coach who is today recognized for his fanaticism -to the point that his home office is set up as if it were Madison Square Garden and the pool has a professional ring and the bottom is painted with NBA team logos– arranged for Manu to try on special glasses and gloves made especially to learn how to hit the ball with the proper technique. “With the glasses you couldn’t see the ball, you had to dribble without looking at it. A way to mechanize that technique… And the gloves had a button in the middle that forced you to prick the ball with your fingers and pads, ”he explains. Over and over again he made little Manu repeat the exercise. To the point that Raquel took pity on the baby. “Leave it alone Egg, he is still a boy…”, he repeated. But, obsessed with learning, he didn’t stop…
It is clear then that Manu did not have much of a choice. “I was born with a basketball in my hand”, graphic. Leader father, playing brothers (Leandro, seven years older than Manu, and Sebastián, five) and an essentially basketball context, starting with a city that is famous for being the Capital of Basketball, where in the streets you see more hoops than bows and there are 23 clubs that promote internal competition and keep alive the enormous tradition that began when the first Americans got off the boats and began to play in the port next to the city. Bahiense del Norte, today one of the main institutions of this metropolis of 380,000 inhabitants, is no less than 100 meters from the Ginóbili house. For years, it was the second home of Manu and many other children. “After school, I would spend hours and hours at the club. We played everything from hide and seek to baseball. One day, while batting, we broke a glass”, recalls MG20. “Raquel had to go look for him at night because she didn’t come home. She even hid herself… ”, adds the Egg.
At an early age, Manu did not shine, a story already known by many. “He was just another boy from Bahia, from a neighborhood club, who played well, yes, he penetrated from the left, he arched in the air and above all he felt every possession, every attack, every defense. He did everything with a lot of passion… He had blood, talent too, at that time his physique was not yet with him, ”says Sánchez. And he tells a story that shows how passionate he was. “At 10 years old, he enrolled in my two summer campuses, in December and in January. He was the only one. And he won two tournaments, the 1 vs 1 and the free throw tournament. I still have the video in which, at the award ceremony, I present him as the only boy who was in both editions of the campus”, he specifies. Egg, who today, at 63, no longer directs professionally and is dedicated to organizing his prestigious campuses. For example, he already has everything ready for one of the bases in San Fernando in October while he prepares the 35th edition for the one he does in the summer, in Mar del Plata, and a national classic, in January.
The youngest of the Ginobilis had an obsession with everything related to basketball. It all started with height, seeing that his brothers were 1m90 and he was not growing. That well-known story of measuring himself in the kitchen of his house and asking his father if he had grown up was left for history. “The subject traumatized me a lot and made me impatient to the point of madness.. I measured myself up to twice a week… I dreamed of living off basketball and with 1m75 I knew that the chances were slim”, admitted years ago in the book The Lord of Talents. To such an extent that he made periodic visits to the pediatrician, whom he begged to do a study to find out how much larger he would grow. “When they told him that he would only reach 1m85, he almost stabbed his palate with a fork,” acknowledged Leandro, his older brother, always funny.
Precisely the other obsession was to be like them, their brothers and great mirrors, who were the best in Bahia and were beginning to play in the National League. His competitiveness was such that he could not be less than anyone. “He even looked at my bulletins to see if he got better grades than me,” said Leandro. That is why, in addition to competing every weekend, in the summer he would sign up again on the campuses of the Egg. “Until 1993 it was never missing, I have all the photos. I don’t remember much about her progression from year to year, I can only say that she always played well and that the big difference began to be made when she hit the growth spurt. Game and mentality she always had ”, explains the Bahia native from the USA.
In 1994 the most remarkable event of his time in Bahia would come, the descent with the club of his loves, a situation that is narrated in detail by two protagonists, Ginóbili himself and Sergio Mézquer, the rival who caused him the worst disgrace of his sports career. Manu felt that he had failed himself and, worse than anything, his entire family and his club. For days he cried in his room. But, of course, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say… And crack learned from that, as he learned from that cut of the Bahian cadet team, a couple of years before. As in every important game he lost to Olimpo or Estudiantes, the greats from Bahia who always left him empty-handed in inferiors. “Until I arrived in Italy, the only thing I won was a handball tournament,” he once admitted, laughing.
For now, Egg He never stopped trusting his chicken and made the decision that no one wanted to make in Bahia: risk it for the kid. And so it was that the best athlete in the history of the country had to go far from his house to debut as a professional. It was in Andean of La Rioja, strong team leading the Egg in the National League. That yes, before she had to do a silent and titanic job with her friend Raquel of her so that she would let him take the third of her children. Oscar had already taken the two oldest to play in Quilmes de Mar del Plata, and the mother could not allow history to repeat itself. “You don’t take this one crazy. He is small, they are going to hurt him ”, warned him. But of course, Egg did not accept that early defeat and, with the help of Manu but especially of Yuyoachieved what seemed impossible: with 15 minutes left to close the bona fide lists in the Club Association, Manu was an Andino player…
The rest is a more familiar story. “In training I began to realize, little by little, what I could do. He was a southpaw who shot well but also attacked the rim well. He who does one thing generally does not do the other. But Manu already painted very complete. He was also passionate, ambitious, mischievous, intuition and very brave. Look, Kenny Simpson played on that team, an American who had played in Barcelona and Manresa. And they were rough duels in practice. They were also with Braian Shorter and Carlos Amos as foreigners. They screwed him up. And the kid kept going. At home games, every time he came on, he would stand out and people would go crazy,” he recalls.
However, Oscar avoids hanging a medal that perhaps he should… “I’m not an idiot, I was lucky enough to make him debut and start working with him professionally, but not much else. I recruited Manu, like (Rubén) Wolkowyski, (Junior) Cequeira, (Leo) Schattmann, Pancho Jasen or Manu’s brothers… I did that, because I saw talent, but I’m not going to be hypocritical saying that I discovered him, that I already saw a future NBA. I don’t think my relationship with him was transcendent, as was the case with Ettore (Messina) or Pop. All that was quite circumstantial”, he explains.
— But do you have to have any merit in this story for Ginobili to invite you to the ceremony?
— I could say how much I helped the family and how I was, for some time, an advisor, like when I told them who had to represent him and introduced the parties, Arturo Ortega (Spanish agent) and Manu’s parents. But not much else. With him I did what I told, that’s my story, later, when I was in Italy, more than anything, and at first in the NBA I did talk a lot with Manu. I remember the day we spent an afternoon in an armchair analyzing how he was going to mark Kobe Bryant in his first season. Then, with the status that he took, it was something else, maybe it was necessary for him to listen more to other coaches. He didn’t do badly (laughs).
This Saturday is a historic moment for Argentine sports and for the privileged ones who will be there it will be an even more significant and emotional moment. “Initially, when I found out, I took it naturally, because it is also what I saw in the family… But, with the passing of days, we all begin to lose the tab of what will happen… It began to happen to me when I went to inquire about the ceremony, what the place is like, the place that each star has in this impressive new building that cost 45 million dollars and, above all, how the different speeches of the legends that entered have been. And everyone ends up crying or very emotional. It is a moment that you go back, that the tab falls on you… It is still difficult for me to understand it, some things I still do not understand how they happened… ”, he analyzes.
From the environment of an always unemotional Manu they comment that in the previous days, when he began to recapitulate and look for photos to post on social networks that would allow him to thank all those who will not be able to at the ceremony – he has only 10 minutes to speak -, he was noted “more nostalgic, as if the tab is falling…”. They believe that surely, during the ceremony, the emotion will take hold of him. First because it happened to everyone, second because when he looks ahead and sees so many important people who helped him, very special memories will come to his head and, especially, to his heart. And finally, it won’t be easy to cope with not seeing his parents, especially when Jorge, the head of the family, comes to mind about him. Happiness, without them, will not be complete… “Raquel has been unconditional and Yuyo, a very special father. We are talking about a guy from basketball, from a club, who prefers to make some hamburgers for the B cadets than to see the Spurs against the Lakers… An atypical father, who never expressed an opinion before me or a coach, if Manu had to play more or less. He managed the family with a glance, but he was always very situated. He will be hard for everyone who is not there, ”he explains, excitedly, from Springfield.
Luckily if his “second father” will be there, as Egg calls Gregg Popovich. “He adores him, because he is one of a kind. For him it is much more than a coach, they share many other things beyond basketball. And, of course, they have an incredible history in common. You have to remember how rigid, how structured Pop was when he arrived from Italy and how he changed it, little by little, with his rebelliousness… There you have another virtue of Manu: how he banked two sergeants without saying a word, like Ettore (Messina) in Italy and then to Pop. I remember when, leaving a practice in December of the first season, Many told me ´talk to Manu, explain to him that they are not going to cut him from the team´. There were days when he played little and he had that fear… But do you think that one day he told me or complained? Look, he lost a ball and they took him off the court, eh… And he came from being the best in Europe. If you watch a video edited in Kindergarten and you paint the protagonist black, it looks like Jordan, not Emanuel. But he, when he came to the Spurs and played little and nothing, never objected to anything. Quietly he worked… he never made an excuse, or blamed someone, something very typical of players. I’ve never really seen someone like that in my four-decade career. In that he is like the father. Very located, too much, something very strange in an environment of huge egos. He always thought of the team first and himself second. But always huh. No verse,” he muses.
Egg account that, in the ceremony that will begin around 7:00 p.m. (Argentine time), the most important teammates will also be in San Antonio (Tim Duncan will be in charge of presenting him), at least four from the Golden Generation (Scola, Oberto, Pepe Sánchez and Nocioni), a couple of coaches (Julio Lamas and Messina) and, of the family, there will only be Leandro, the older brother. The rest of the guests, for various reasons, could not attend, although in one way or another they will be present for MG20.
The moment, it is sensed, very exciting. “Today, despite the fact that he has been retired for four years, I am still surprised and find myself saying ‘fucking mother, how grosso was this kid’. And, when I think about it, what strikes me the most is how he did it, respecting the very essence of basketball, the one that we like. It’s not like he got into the Hall of Fame playing 30- or 40-point games, putting up personal numbers or winning individual awards. Manu is essential basketball at its best and entering this place, next to such monsters, being white, Latino and having been born in a neighborhood of Bahía Blanca, is something incredible. And exciting. We are going to really enjoy this ceremony.” So be it Egg. Manu, first, all those who helped him, later, they have well deserved it.
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