Manu Ginobili is driven.
There's no bigger competitor, challenging the obsessive man looking at himself in the mirror.
Ginobili has been absolutely everything to Argentine basketball. He's been a dream, an illusion, a projection, a reality, a fantasy and a materialization. Pure surrealism comes from the basketball city of Bahia Blanca, a town in the south of the Buenos Aires province that with a little more than 400,000 inhabitants possesses more than 21 clubs -- all of them with their own arenas.
Since his arrival to the NBA in 2003, Manu has become an icon in his own country. His sustained success and effectiveness have enabled him to transcend as a sportsman and become an attraction whom Argentine people follow with passion. The high interest for seeing Ginobili in action has fans to this day organizing tours to witness the epilogue of his career.
"I sold all my furniture and I saved for six months in order to travel and see Manu," said an emotional Ana Paula from the stands at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, talking to radio show La Licuadora Deportiva, broadcast by Radio Palermo.
The campaign made fans do the craziest acts in order to be able to see the Bahianse star. Several fan tours took place during the NBA regular season, and there was one during the playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. The package, which included air tickets, accommodation, game tickets, food and some extras, was around $4,500 per person -- without a doubt, quite a number for any average citizen in our country.
"It is unbelievable and very comforting to see the efforts all these people have made in order to come here, really. I had a lot of fun," said Manu to the Argentine press, during a visit of the Albiceleste fans.
Ginobili, who each night is fighting against time, has been a bridge among generations: He's followed by grandparents, parents, sons and grandsons. From the posters to the PlayStation, from the Osvaldo Casanova stadium to the AT&T Center. An infatuation that has placed him among a very few Argentine historic athletes. There's a sense of affinity and closeness when you see Manu. People don't sit down to watch a basketball game, they sit down to see Ginobili in action.
It doesn't matter where or when he's playing, it matters because Manu is playing. That love is neither brief nor ambiguous: His history and his legacy have already placed him as the greatest Latin-American player of all time.
Ginobili has emerged as an idol in Argentina because he's a genuine product of effort and sacrifice. He has broken down the barriers and rewritten books since he was a teenager. Manu is an extraordinary athlete, but also his work ethic, his reliability, his altruism and his sports values have made him the perfect example within an imperfect Argentine society.
Manu owns a foundation that has collaborated with other charitable trusts through the years. "We prioritize established organizations that also are, at least at the beginning, from Bahia Blanca (since that's my native town and I feel I owe them a lot)," says Manu on the website for the organization. "The ones we chose back then were the National Children's Council and the Mama Margarita Home. After that, we also extended our help to different entities of Argentina."
Almost 41 years old, he still draws enormous attention and now debates retirement. His legend was born long before his arrival to the NBA, and joining the San Antonio franchise has changed forever the image of basketball for Argentine fans.
"There has never been such a player as Ginobili in the NBA, no one can compare to his style and substance," say the ESPN Player Rankings of one of its most influential players in NBA history. "He's the biggest star in history that has embraced a permanent role as the sixth man."
This story was originally published in Spanish.