Editor's note: This story originally appeared on ESPNDeportes.
BUENOS AIRES --
BUENOS AIRES --Manu Ginobili has reached the NBA Finals once again, his fifth in 12 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. More than anything, the Argentinean shooting guard has made it clear that he embodies the paradigm that every athlete should aspire to, without actually meaning to do so and regardless of the valuable legacy that this ensures.
This has happened because Ginobili has all the prerequisites needed to belong among the select few who make history in sports: He has had a consistently high-quality level of play, was a key member of each and every team that he has played for and managed to maintain both virtues with the kind of staying power made possible by an iron will. The years go by, but against all odds the cruel and relentless passage of time doesn´t seem to punish him like it does other athletes, even those with even more distinguished careers than his.
The quality of his productivity on the court is the first thing people notice about him. He will turn 37 on July 28, and yet his 2014 playoff stats would be the envy of players in their prime. Ginobili is averaging 14.3 points (2.9 more than last season), 4.1 assists (he averaged 4.2 during his prime in the NBA in 2005), is shooting 42 percent from the field (a higher percentage than in 2007, when he won his last title) and is making 38.3 percent of his 3-pointers (his highest percentage in that category of the past six years).
It´s true that his average of 25 minutes per game is a career low, but at the same time, that is something natural and predictable due to the fact that he is in the home stretch of his career, making his level of production that much more remarkable.
Ginobili manages to stand out as the Spurs' sixth man off the bench, always keeping his ego in check by focusing on doing what the team needs from him. No more, no less.
Despite his penchant for putting the team ahead of his individual numbers, a virtue unknown by many NBA players, Ginobili manages to have a big influence in San Antonio. He does that by scoring, being the third-leading scorer on the team behind Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
Are his 14.3 points per game making a difference? Well, we can compare him to a legend, such as Wilt Chamberlain, who at Ginobili´s age averaged 10.4 points per game in the playoffs. Or how about another legend, such as Larry Bird, who averaged 11.3 points per game in the postseason when he was 35 years old.
At the same time, Ginobili also leaves his mark by making others shine.
Ginobili possesses the enormous virtue of having remade himself, going from being that kid who averaged 18.9 points a game between his third and eighth career playoff games to the player we know now: less athletic but a whole lot wiser. Ginobili has taken it upon himself to organize the team, to set the pace, to make the team play selflessly and to bring the ball over to each of his teammates' sweet spots because he reads the court so well.
Ginobili´s plus/minus during this season's playoff run with San Antonio is of plus-98 through 18 games, while he does so many different things to contribute. The Argentinean shooting guard almost never goes unnoticed when he is on the court playing for the Spurs. He makes himself stand out by being influential as a trustworthy and productive member of San Antonio's Big Three alongside Duncan and Parker.
His contributions are still indispensable for the Spurs, even as he nears the end of his brilliant career and many players his age accept marginal roles or are at the end of the bench as a mere veteran presence.
If you want to find out when Ginobili became Ginobili, you have to go back 14 years (yes, 14 years), to the 2000-01 season, when his team in Italy obtained Europe's Triple Crown (League, Cup and Euroleague titles) and he was named the Italian League MVP and the Euroleague Finals MVP. From there on out he would go on to establish himself as an international star and, as even he admitted, he became addicted to winning and to big games. There was no stopping him now. Ginobili kept racking up titles anywhere he went, in Europe or the United States, with his franchise or with Argentina and always, absolutely always, winning them with outstanding contributions that also allowed him to garner individual accolades.
As I write that number -- 14 years playing at the highest level of international basketball -- I can hardly believe it. It's just that that is so unusual, there are very few athletes who have had long careers without a noticeable decline in their contributions or the results obtained on the court throughout so many years. It is a privilege few ever experience; only the chosen ones do.
The NBA is a grueling grind; it wears on your bones and your muscles mercilessly, and yet Ginobili remains in the kind of shape that draws praise as an (almost) 37-year-old thanks to rigorous training and a balanced diet, another reason why he remains active and relevant.
However, the thing that raises the most eyebrows, the quality that deserves to be highlighted, is his blend of flair, leadership and steadiness that have paved the way for his basketball career.
All of those are attributes that are hard to find and when put together become the ideal combination for any athlete. However, there aren't many examples of athletes who have achieved it, and that is why Ginobili is an extraordinary athlete -- one of a kind in Argentina.
Ginobili is already a San Antonio Spurs legend, and yet he continues to push himself with the stubbornness of those who don't set limits for themselves, as he remains focused on helping his team win more championships. That obsession will drive him during the series against Miami.
He also will want to write another chapter in his own story, a story that already is huge and is on its way to becoming a myth.