Manu

Copyright San Antonio Express-News

This picture was taken by San Antonio Express-News photographer Ed Ornelas on a trip we took nine years ago to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the hometown of San Antonio Spur Manu Ginobili.

It’s a brilliant photo that much more concisely than words depicts how Manu became the player he is today. Ornelas took the photo at Club Bahiense del Norte, a sport facility for schoolchildren run by his dad, an avid basketball enthusiast who taught his three sons to shoot hoops at a very early age.

I know these things because I wrote the story that ran with the photo. I never write about sports. I barely know the difference between a slam dunk and a three-pointer, so it was a complete fluke that I did the story at all. I was headed to Buenos Aires to dance the tango when my boss at the Express-News suggested I take a side trip to Manu’s hometown. Sensing a reduction in the cost of my tango dancing vacation, I said yes, and the adventure began.

Part one was Bahia Blanca, and once there, it became clear how Manu might’ve been destined for the NBA. His dad’s sports facility focused mainly on teaching kids to play basketball; his two older brothers had become pro players, one in Argentina and the other in Europe; and there — dwarfing everything else in his childhood bedroom — was a life-size poster of Michael Jordan.

Manu’s family and friend’s couldn’t have been nicer, especially if you take into account my aversion to sports. If there was a stupid question to be asked, I asked it. But a good journalist dives in no matter what, and so I did, not only there, but also in San Antonio, where the world of the NBA was much more strange and unfamiliar to me than being on the road in Latin America (where I once lived for eight years).

The hoops I had to go through to gain minimal access to Manu were mind boggling. I showed up for three practices where I talked to him for roughly 10 minutes each time before he was whisked away. I went to an autograph signing session, as well as a game, after which I went into the locker room. None of these things — while generous and accommodating, I’m sure, on the part of the Spurs — was what I had envisioned. I had hoped for the same kind of access I had in Bahia Blanca, the kind that would allow me to get to get to know the adult Manu as well as the boy Manu.

That didn’t happen, but it was an adventure nonetheless, one that I assumed would be a short-lived professional blip. So imagine my surprise when the story and my name cropped up nearly nine years later in a reference — a wee reference, granted — on the Spurs Nation website, where blogger Ikosub had this to say:

“Mrs. Ginobili was an integral part of making sure Manu’s childhood was not only about basketball. In 2003, Lucy Hood, an Express-News reporter, visited Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to meet Manu’s family. Here is an excerpt from her story:

‘Apart from school,’ said Raquel Ginobili, Manu’s mother, ‘everything else was basketball.’

(She) made sure her sons had balance in their lives. Basketballs, for example, were not allowed in the house because ‘they would damage the plants.’ And she doesn’t go to the games, because ‘they make me very nervous.’

Instead, she focused on education. The boys went through Argentina’s public school system and studied English at a language school.”

The Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday in the NBA playoffs, and while I still don’t know squat about basketball, I am a Manu family fan. So Go Spurs Go!

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