Player Capsule (Plus): Chaos, Death, and Manu Ginobili

“Everything ends in death, everything. Death is terrible.” -- Leo Tolstoy

Death approached the entrance to Manu Ginobili's childhood home. The lonely ghoulish figure rapped his skeletal fingers on the door, as per his usual -- once to notice, twice to affect, thrice to open. Tap. Tap. Tap. The locked door swung open on its hinges. He slid into the house, closing the door quietly behind him. A cat hissed. A gesture was made. The cat fell softly into a good night's sleep. Death was not cruel. He would not kill, at least not indiscriminately. He was tasked only to take, to claim what was rightfully his. That is Death's dictate. His curse, as some say.

Manu Ginobili had been a great player for a long time. But nothing lasts forever. No player is immune to age, to the slow churn of skills lost and injuries accrued. And Death was there to exact his dismal calculus. Another withdrawal from a major athlete's bank of tricks. Sometimes a player's bag is so full that his taking is imperceptible. Nash, Malone, Duncan. Other times, he goes a bit overboard -- he will never forget his mistaken sleight of hand with the great Muhammad Ali. Tonight, he needed to make a large withdrawal -- Manu had dodged him for several years, predicting his approach and hiding out away from it all. The game was growing tiresome.

As Death stepped through the home, he could find no sign of the man he knew was there.

• • •

There is one thing Manu Ginobili brings the Spurs that, in his absence, may never be properly replicated.


In previous editions of these capsules, I've talked of many ways that various Spurs have helped their teams. I've talked of Tony Parker's cubist bent, Tim Duncan's rocksteady foundation, and Kawhi Leonard's evolving role as the one to throw the finishing punch. All of these are important and essential. Without Parker's artistic command of the floor, there'd be scant next-level cohesion on a team built around the outsized achievements of roleplayers and Death-defying talents of once-great superstars. Without Tim Duncan, there would be nothing. Without Kawhi Leonard's development from the finishing punch to the intermediate barrage, the Spurs' days as a contender may be numbered. These are all important.

But Manu brings something very different. Gary Neal comes closest, but with Neal, there's this unstated knowledge that any useful possession will end in the creation of a Neal shot -- from anywhere, mind you, but a shot all the same. Manu does not bring any specific, intrinsic skill. He is a talented shooter, a deft defender, an incredible passer. But there's a fundamentally different look that Manu Ginobili brings the Spurs with every lurch and shot he takes -- there's a wholescale impact Ginobili has on the team as a whole. The pace quickens, the heart trembles, the fans cheer raucously.

This general feeling is exemplified by one of his signature moves, one that few realize is as impossibly difficult as it is. Manu Ginobili is the master of the step-back in-motion three -- takes a dribble right, steps back into his shooting motion, launches an (often) quite well-guarded three from above the key. Some imagine this to be relatively easy. They are wrong. When you get a minute, go to the nearest basketball court with a ball, a friend, and a tape measure. Measure out an NBA-distance three-point line. Dribble around it, imagining defenders and teammates beside you. Embrace the ball, the line, and the moment. Dribble, dribble, dribble. Step-back, cradle, launch. As quickly as Manu does it, please. Wait longingly and watch as the ball sails through the air. Hold your form, if you'd like to look like an idiot.

Because nine times out of ten, you'll miss the basket by four to five feet.

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