During their first-ever meeting, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had no clue who the “white boy” Manu Ginobili was.
When discussing the league’s greatest dynasties, enthusiasts often talk about the likes of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers, and even Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors. One particular team that many a time goes unnoticed is the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs squad.
Between 1999 and 2007, Gregg Popovich’s boys managed to win 4 championships (winning a 5th title in 2014) and were one of the most dominating and winningest teams during the 2000s. And while he might not have been the best or even the second-best player on the squad, Manu Ginobili was a huge reason behind SAS’s success in those years.
With a career average of 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, the Argentinian started off his career in the sixth man role, winning the 2008 Sixth Man of the Year honors. The southpaw, later, fixed his spot on the starting line-up alongside Tony Parker and Duncan, who then managed to terrorize the league for the next few years.
“We had never seen a player play with that kind of rhythm before”: Kobe Bryant on Manu Ginobili
Kobe Bryant was one of the stars who Ginobili loved going at it with. While Bean averaged more points, rebounds, assists, and even blocks than Ginobili in all of their 53 clashes, the Spurs legend did end up winning more games.
However, initially, the Lakers legend was unaware of who Ginobili was when he newly set foot onto the NBA hardwood. Bruce Brown once recalled an incident when Kobe came up to him and asked who Ginobili was. Brown recollected:
“I remember a time when Kobe Bryant comes up to me and said: ‘hey Bruce, who’s this white boy?’ And I’m like, ‘He’s no white boy,’”
Later on, Kobe did speak great things about the elite combo-guard:
“So I first matched with him. He was real shifty with the ball. He would shift one way then went the other way. I was like ‘who the hell is this kid?’ If anything, I don’t think he personally felt like he had to adjust to the tempo of the game in the NBA — the physicality of it. Maybe he did. I don’t know. But it was really the adjustment for us. Because we had never seen a player play with that kind of rhythm before.”
As Kobe rightly said, Manu had one of the most unique games the league had seen. Effectively handling the rock, efficiently knocking down shots, and being willing to put his team first, were some of the attributes that helped Ginobili be a great player.
Yes, he may not be a big name when discussing the league’s history, however, Manu Ginobilli has his legacy cemented by being a Hall-Of-Famer with 2 All-Star appearances, 2 All-NBA selections, and 4 titles under his belt.