Manu Ginobili closes an era for the Spurs, basketball

Exit, stage left

Manu Ginobili might not have invented the Eurostep, but he made it his own. A quick step one way, then just as quickly a deft change in direction to score an easy basket, leaving defenders guarding thin air.

As much as the move was Ginobili’s, the San Antonio Spurs employed the same clever misdirection in team management for the past two decades. Just when you thought they would be counted out, they would quickly change, moving swiftly towards an easy victory.

Led by the trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Ginobili, along with head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs embodied not only the best of basketball but the best of what a team could be thanks to their unique brand of selfless play.

But now it’s all over.

After 16 years in the NBA, four championships, a Sixth Man of the Year trophy, Olympic gold and one swatted bat later, Ginobili has called it a career, marking the ultimate end of a team culture that was the envy of all professional sports. But the writing was on the wall far before Ginobili’s announcement earlier this week.

The tectonic rumblings of impending doom began to shake in 2016 when Duncan quietly retired after 19 years with the Spurs. Despite the warning signs spiking on the basketball Richter scale, Spurs faithful believed that the team’s new foundation of Kawhi Leonard, Parker and Ginobili could keep the team in the competitive mix. But those seismic ticks turned into a full-blown earthquake the last two seasons as the team Eurostepped in the wrong direction.

Leonard upended the Spurs no drama culture with his season-long trade sideshow, Parker shockingly left the Spurs for the Hornets, and most devastating, Popovich’s wife Erin passed away in April. It seemed like Ginobili would be the only stabilizing force on a team unaccustomed to such tumultuous change. But now the rock is gone, leaving Popovich alone to bridge the gap between the team’s storied past and uncertain future.

Popovich described professional basketball as “playing a child’s game and getting paid for it,” and he’s right to an extent. It is just a game, but no one will ever play the game again quite like Manu Ginobili and the San Antonio Spurs.

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