Argentines tell Ginobili he should have been finals MVP

Updated: October 5, 2005, 6:01 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

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"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 difference."

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 alongside him.

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 with Memphis.

"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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press