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Old 06-08-13, 09:32 AM
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If Manu Ginobili Was Black, He'd Be Your Hero

If Manu Ginobili Was Black, He'd Be Your Hero
When tribalism and basketball intersect, this is what happens.

June 06, 2013, 06:25 PM EST by Khalid Salaam

No Spur will ever wear Number 20 again. At some point in the next few years, Manu Ginobil’s name will get the rafter raising treatment and with it, an accompanying ceremony replete with big lights and a standing ovation by the San Antonio faithful. After that, who knows? It’s likely he and his story will fade away into the retired player abyss of forgotten memories.

Truth is, that’s unfortunate. Ginobil was a great player, not quite transcendent, but undoubtedly one of the most impactful players so far of the 21st Century.

But he won’t get that level of appreciation. Why? Because the optics are bad.

All this time Manu’s career has been a study on how tribalism works. And you didn’t even know it.

Tribalism is roughly defined as a strong feeling of identity and loyalty to one's group. Can’t really say there’s anything wrong with that. For those who follow this way of thinking, it doesn’t mean they are bad people. Humans are social creatures, and thus predisposed to grouping with like-minded people. That includes language, culture, age, religion and race. Most of us know that there is a line of varying width between tribalism and racism. The ones that don’t recognize are, through entirely their own fault, forced to carry that hatred burden around with them.

It makes a mess outta life for the rest of us. These are the people that just found out that Senator John McCain’s son is marrying a black woman, and have commenced to make his online life hell. People have images in their minds of what works and when it doesn’t fit, all hell can break loose.

For a large contingent of black men in America, the sport of basketball and everything in its purview belongs to us. It doesn't matter that it wasn’t created by a black man – we grew it from a seed into the massive cultural extravaganza it is today. We own it. We hold tight to it and grip hard enough to cause callouses on our fingers. For those out there who pray at the altar of political correctness, this might sound perilously close to stereotyping. If that’s the case then close your ears. Just because something doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t matter. What does matter if it is right. As soon as you understand that, you’ll understand why Manu never had a chance to be fully embraced.

To be a star in the NBA, you gotta get that black man co-sign. No negotiating with that. If you’re not black, it’s gonna be rough. A few white guys slide in every couple of years. Larry Bird, Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle, Jason Williams, Kirk Hinrich, even the Birdman (Birdman!) You can’t get in, if you can’t play. And even once accepted, there are still gonna be doubters. But the eyes are cutting a little bit closer if you’re a dude from another country. You’re not black or American? Pfftt, that’s a tough one. It doesn’t matter that Manu is Argentinian and not “white” or even a “European.” The racial specificity needed here only matters that he’s not black.

In the last ten years, you name the shooting guards who have been better than Ginobili. I got Kobe, Wade, Allen, McGrady and Iverson. That’s it. Honestly, the last two are a bit of a reach. In total career output, Iverson and TMac blow Manu away, it's not even close. But from the mid ‘00s on, there’s an argument to be made. Iverson started falling off around ’07, ’08 and McGrady about the same time. Those dudes weren’t out there putting up impactful numbers on championship level squads. Meanwhile, during Ginobili’s peak from ‘05 to ‘11 he was as deft scorer. With playoff averages of 20.8, 18.4, 16.7, 17.8, 19.4 and 20.6, respectively. The rest of his resume includes two All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections. He was the ‘08 Sixth Man Of The Year and made the Second Team All-Rookie back in ’02. He’s also only the second player ever to win an NBA title, Olympic Gold and a Euroleague title and he made the euro-step the behind the back pass of this generation. He also once mollywhopped a bat.


You know we've all known this...

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