Web Posted: 09/04/2006 01:21 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
Manu Ginobili's final attempt at a title in Japan ended as his final attempt in San Antonio ended last spring. With a drive that produced no points.
This time, instead of shooting as he did against the Mavericks, he passed to an open teammate who missed.
And with that loss came another. Had Argentina beaten Spain that day and followed with another win over Greece, Ginobili would have completed an unprecedented run of global championships.
Given that, wouldn't he have been a lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame?
The question doesn't fit for a one-time NBA All-Star who averages below 15 points — except that some think Ginobili is already destined for the Hall of Fame. He's exactly the kind of candidate this club embraces.
The requirements for this Hall aren't as statistically quantifiable as they are in baseball. The standards are broad and eclectic; Meadowlark Lemon and Chick Hearn are in, as well as a dozen referees.
"Contributors" to the game are admitted, such as the same Jerry Colangelo who contributed to the latest U.S. drive for bronze. Then there's the class of 2006 that will be inducted this week.
Everyone in America knows Charles Barkley, yet few know one of his fellow honorees, Sandro Gamba. He coached four Italian Olympic teams, winning a silver once, and he won five Italian League titles.
This Hall invites the world, and that works for Ginobili. He, too, was an Italian League champion. That was in 2001, and every year from then until now, he won something.
From a Euroleague title in 2001, to a silver in the World Championships in 2002, to an NBA title with the Spurs in 2003, to the Olympic gold medal in 2004, to another NBA title in 2005. No one in the history of the game has this assortment of championships.
Had Ginobili continued the streak with a gold medal in Japan, he would have taken that résumé to a dramatic extreme. And he was close, and not just because of his final drive. A decision by his coaches provided the very deficit he had to overcome.
Tied with less than 20 seconds remaining, Argentina fouled intentionally and let Spain shoot free throws for the lead. Why not play for the defensive stop as all NBA teams would have done? International teams would rather control their own destiny.
Argentina would lose the next one to the Americans, and, again, coaching was an issue. Ginobili picked up his third foul with a few minutes left in the first half, and traditional American strategy would have protected him on the bench to avoid that. Instead, with three fouls, Ginobili sat the entire third period, which is when the U.S. pulled away.
Something else was at play, too, and this signals the global turnaround that Ginobili helped create. Argentina, following such euphoria in Athens, was the one which felt deflated after losing a chance at another gold. The Americans, wanting to make a statement for the future, were more inspired to win bronze.
Ginobili still walked away with reputation intact. He was named to the all-tournament first team, joining one Greek, two Spaniards and one Carmelo Anthony.
Given that, Ginobili likely will spend a September weekend in Springfield, Mass., for his own Hall of Fame induction. The voters will cite his success at every stop, and how he was a South American pioneer, and how he took Argentina to a level that once seemed impossible.
The Argentines won gold two years ago, all right. But they've also been in the semis in the last three international championships ('02 Worlds, '04 Olympics and '06 Worlds), and no other country did the same in that time.
But these are the kinds of details that can fade in time. Perceptions can change, too, as well as the context of Ginobili's relatively low NBA numbers. In 10 years, when he's eligible, his Hall of Fame candidacy will require debate.
But had he won in Japan?
There would be no debate.