When David Stern, the NBA commissioner, presented the Spurs’ players, owner and coach with the Lawrence O’Brien championship trophy, he proudly characterized the Spurs as “truly an international team of stars.” Having seen and heard Stern export America’s game at the same time the foundation of the product crumbled domestically, a collective groan could be heard from the press room.
At least three players not playing in the Finals spoken to this week on condition their names not be used — black players whose NBA jobs are being outsourced — desperately wanted the Pistons to beat the Spurs. For no other reason than, as one of them candidly said, “We gotta put some of these guys back in their place.”
Rasheed Wallace was asked why Manu Ginobili was so tough to guard earlier in the series. Wallace refused to give Ginobili his due, stopping just short of putting him down as a player while making it clear he did not think Ginobili was a special talent. Sean Elliott, the former NBA forward who now works as a radio and TV analyst for the Spurs, has seen this dismissive behavior before by NBA players when it comes to Ginobili. He believes it goes much further than merely professional jealousy.
“When you have a Dirk Nowitzki or Larry Bird-type players, big guys who play their positions well, there’s not a lot of backlash,” Elliott said. “But when you have a 6-6 white guy beating the black player at his own game, then it’s a little different. Every series he’s been in, guys have been slow to give him respect. It’s an amazing phenomenon.
Added Elliott, “If he was an inner-city kid, if Manu Ginobili was from Chicago or New York, and he was bringing the game like he’s bringing it now, all the players in the league would say, ‘Manu is the truth.’ Instead they say, ‘He throws his arms, he flails.’ Every series in the playoffs this year, it’s been that way. Denver did not want to give him credit in the first round. Seattle, same thing. Now Detroit.”