Tim Duncan is the greatest Spur, followed by David Robinson and George Gervin.
But most beloved? One could make a strong case that honor belongs to one Emanuel David Ginobili, whose flamboyance, intensity, humility and Latin American roots earned him a level of affection in San Antonio that no other player could match.
“He was unlike any other basketball player we had ever seen,” former teammate Sean Elliott said during the ceremony. “He was a magician who stole your breath away.”
In the case of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, that often meant literally.
“I never cursed before I met him,” Popovich joked before the game, remembering the ill-advised passes and out-of-control drives to nowhere that inspired fits of rage.
But there were many more moments of brilliance, providing creativity and unpredictability to a defensive-minded Spurs team that, despite its excellence, sorely needed both.
“Without Manu,” Popovich said, “there were no championships (in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014).”
Said Duncan, “It was all genius. You saw things before anyone else did. You did things nobody else would.”
Ginobili’s cult status in San Antonio is matched by outright deification in his native Argentina, which he led to Olympic gold in 2004 during a national career that covered nearly two decades.
Add it all up, and you have one of the most unique careers in basketball, which ended with Ginobili matching Bill Bradley as the only players in hoops history to win European, Olympic and NBA championships.
Not bad for a kid who grew up on the other side of the world, loving the NBA but never imagining he would be good enough to get that far, let alone be great.
“It was not even a second thought,” Ginobili said. “Not one Argentinian in history had made it to the NBA. So why was it going to be me? There was no way me or anyone that was near me could ever envision a career like this.
“The game gave me so much, I am in debt forever.”
So are we. Gracias, Manu.
Ginobili was retired by the time DeMar DeRozan joined the Spurs last offseason. That didn’t stop him from sporting some sweet Argentina-inspired kicks in his honor.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 29, 2019
Roughly 2,000 Slovenians gathered in Miami for a momentous occasion: The first NBA meeting between national heroes Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic.
The Wade jerseys outnumbered tonight. pic.twitter.com/IBxTH5LoLe
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 28, 2019
The two teamed up to perfection several summers ago, leading the tiny European nation to its first continental championship at EuroBasket 2017. While Dragic starred with 35 points against Serbia in the final, it was Doncic who drew headlines over the course of the tournament with his uncommonly mature game.
Said Dragic after that victory: “He’s a born winner. Mark my words, he’s going to be one of the best in the whole world.”
Doncic isn’t there just yet, but give the Kia Rookie of the Year contender time. He’s still only 20.
In the meantime, Dragic was more than happy to school his young compatriot, dropping just the second triple-double of his career with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists as the Heat prevailed 105-99.
Taking a page from Dwyane Wade’s book, Dragic and Doncic swapped jerseys during a warm postgame meeting. And their fellow Slovenians? They didn’t want the night to end.
this is just amazing!!!🇸🇮🇸🇮❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/qvdBKSeiAS
— Luka Doncic (@luka7doncic) March 29, 2019
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 29, 2019
The Bucks’ championship hopes flashed before their eyes as superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo went down in a heap and limped to the locker room late in their league-leading 57th victory, over the Clippers.
Antetokounmpo returned shortly thereafter and was actually getting ready to check back in before the Bucks pushed far enough ahead for coach Mike Budenholzer’s liking.
Though Antetokounmpo wouldn’t say exactly what happened, it appeared to be an aggravation of the right ankle sprain that has hampered him in recent weeks.
“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” said Antetokounmpo, who piled up 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists. “Usually when you sprain your ankle, you’re out three or four games. But I don’t like missing games, so I have to work through it. I’ll be ready to play until coach tells me not to.”
Budenholzer said he’ll wait to see how Antetokounmpo feels in the coming days before he makes any decisions about his availability for the Bucks’ next game, against the Hawks on Sunday.
“I’m definitely working on it on a daily basis trying to get it healthy, stronger… I have to work through it while playing and try to get my strength back.”
Giannis on his ankle: pic.twitter.com/kj0tsZykcY
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 29, 2019
Jamal Murray did a pretty passable Ginobili impression with this ridiculous shot against the Rockets:
Last laugh vs. The Joker
Like pretty much everybody else who follows the NBA, Houston’s Clint Capela never imagined Nuggets star Nikola Jokic would be this good.
“He was really smart and talented,” Capela said of their initial meeting at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit, the annual showcase pitting the best junior prospects from around the world. “He had all that but to translate that to the NBA and have that much impact, I would never guess that.”
Capela might as well have been talking about himself after developing into one of the league’s most dependable and consistent players since the Rockets took a flyer on him with the 25th pick in the 2014.
The hard-working center outplayed Jokic in their latest meeting, scoring one more point (17-16) while grabbing nearly twice as many rebounds (15-8) in the Rockets’ 112-85 victory. It was Capela’s 40th double-double of the season, good for fourth in the NBA.