CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- The debate over who should have won the MVP award at the NBA Finals did not die down over the summer, at least not in Argentina where Manu Ginobili kept
hearing from his countrymen that he should have gotten the nod over Tim Duncan.
"Well, my mom told me many times," Ginobili said Wednesday,
"and I heard it many times in Argentina, but it's just a statue.
I'm going to have the ring, same as him, and I was feeling as happy
as anyone in the world at that moment, so it doesn't make a
Maybe it didn't matter to Ginobili, but his biggest backers felt
the 6-4 vote in favor of Duncan was a slap in the face.
Their argument focused on Ginobili clearly being the Spurs' best
player in Games 1 and 2 against Detroit, as well as in the fourth
quarter of Game 7 when San Antonio finished off the Pistons. Also,
Ginobili was the one who threaded a pass around Rasheed Wallace to
find a wide-open Robert Horry for the game-winning 3-point shot in
overtime of Game 5.
Duncan's 12 points and six rebounds in the third quarter of Game
7 put the Spurs in control, a factor that carried significant
weight in the minds of the six voters -- one each from Detroit and
San Antonio, two from national NBA writers and two from
broadcasters (all of them Americans) -- who cast their ballots for
Duncan late in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Ginobili's four votes
came from online balloting, one national NBA writer and one beat
writer each from San Antonio and Detroit.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich heard the MVP complaint several times
when he traveled to Argentina during the summer, and the fans in
South America even took it a step further.
"I didn't play him enough, we didn't pass it to him enough and
all that sort of thing, but that's why they love him," Popovich
said. "Either of them could have gotten it, but neither cared
because it was irrelevant."
The NBA championship was the second of Ginobili's career, and he
plans to display both his rings alongside with his Olympic gold
medal from 2004 when he gets around to removing them from a safe
deposit box in Texas.
Ginobili's quest for a third NBA title begins in less than a
month, and this time he'll have another of his countrymen playing
San Antonio signed Argentine center Fabricio Oberto during the
summer, adding another knowledgeable, skilled piece to a roster
overflowing with talent.
The Spurs originally had planned to sign Argentine forward Luis
Scola, but a complicated buyout clause with his Spanish League team
prevented him from making the move to the NBA. San Antonio quickly
shifted gears and made a play for Oberto, who was ready to sign
"It was a shock for me. I was talking to Luis on a Tuesday, and
he was very confident he was going to join the team. But on
Wednesday or Thursday I found out the Spurs were going to sign
Fabricio," Ginobili said. "I was in a very awkward situation. I
love them both, and I've played with them for years, and I knew
that after the decision was made I would feel real happy for one
and sad for the other."
Popovich expects Oberto to begin the season as one of the
backups to Nazr Mohammed, though he left open the possibility that
his mind could be changed over the course of the preseason.
Neither Mohammed nor Oberto has much range on his jumper, and
Oberto is a poor foul shooter.
But Popovich isn't looking for either center to be a primary
offensive weapon, hoping instead that they'll embrace the roll of
setting picks, battling under the boards and generally pitching in.
Both players have shown themselves willing to accept such a
role, and it may come down to a matter of which player's basketball
IQ meshes best with Popovich's mental designs.
Popovich has never denigrated Mohammed, but he often speaks
reverentially of the hardwood smarts all the players from Argentina
players displayed while finishing second in the 2002 World
championship and the 2003 Tournament of the Americas and first in
the 2004 Olympics.
That level of knowledge, Popovich believes, is a product of
their upbringing in Argentina's national program.
"A lot of those kids start so early in a serious program, age
14 or 17 or whatever it is, and it's basically their life. If NBA
teams were together since all the kids on those teams were 16 years
old, they'd show a greater degree of understanding, too," Popovich
said. "Now, on every team maybe there's a couple of guys that
really understand the game. Everybody else is an athlete, but very
few combine athleticism with a really innate basketball quotient."
Ginobili is one such player, and his combination of slashing
skills, outside shooting and flair is what endears him so strongly
to Spurs fans and his countrymen -- even if it wasn't appreciated
quite enough last June to earn Ginobili a couple of swing votes.
"When I real the newspapers in Europe and Argentina, they said
he was the people's MVP," Oberto said. "But the most important
thing is to be a champion."