How To...Own Your Own Country After his star turn with the Spurs, MANU GINOBILI is all the rage in Argentina

October 27, 2003

The economy is a disaster, the political situation is precarious,
the national psyche is fragile. But one thing Argentina has going
for it these days is Manumania.

It is axiomatic that as big as NBA players from Europe and South
America get back home, they aren't nearly as revered as the
soccer stars there. But after one NBA season 6'6" Spurs guard
Manu Ginobili, who was born 350 miles southwest of Buenos Aires,
in Bahia Blanca, is starting to redirect his countrymen's focus
from midfield to midcourt. Ginobili was chosen as Argentina's
outstanding athlete of 2002 by Clarin, one of the nation's
largest newspapers--and that was before he averaged 9.4 points,
3.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.71 steals in c's
triumphant postseason. His number 20 jersey is a hot item in the
sports shops of Buenos Aires, an honor previously reserved for
astros del futbol. Argentines get three live NBA telecasts per
week, many of them Spurs games, and they follow Ginobili's
exploits in Page One stories and on prime-time news.

Part of Ginobili's Manumaniacal summer schedule looked like this:
He returned to Bahia Blanca to have a gym dedicated in his honor;
presented Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, with a Spurs
jersey in a ceremony; gave a series of NBA-sponsored clinics in
South America, including Argentina, where he was escorted by
police motorcycles and followed by caravans of thousands of fans;
visited Italy, where he first made his hoops reputation while
playing for Reggio Calabria and Kinder Bologna; and represented
his homeland in the Olympic qualifier in Puerto Rico. (Argentina
finished second to the U.S.) "It took some people in Argentina by
surprise that I have done so well," says Ginobili, "but they are
happy for me."

How has he captivated so many so fast? First, he's a solid
contributor on a championship team. Second, Ginobili plays with
elan, something style-conscious Argentines can appreciate. In an
oft-replayed sequence from Game 4 of the Finals, for example, he
took off on one of his pell-mell drives to the hoop, dribbling
behind his back while hurdling over fallen Nets defender Lucious
Harris. No matter that he missed the layup; he had brought the
crowd to its feet.

Most important, Ginobili is keenly aware of his cultural
significance at home. "When you do something good, the Argentine
people really attach themselves to you," he says. "They have so
many problems back there that they're looking for somebody to be
proud of. I think about that, and I won't forget it." --Jack
McCallum

COLOR PHOTO: LA NACION COLOR PHOTO: LA MANANA DE CORDOBA COLOR PHOTO: CRONICA COLOR PHOTO: MARCOS BRINDICCI/REUTER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)