“Noooo!” I screamed in a panic that startled my wife who was at her desk in another room. While she was calmly preparing for her job, I was in terror as I watched Manu Ginobili leave his feet to contest James Harden’s potentially game-tying three with one second left in Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals. I had a horrifying vision: Ginobili was about to foul a player whose best skill is drawing fouls and whose second best skill is making free throws.
But in a playoff miracle, Ginobili made a block so clean that Harden didn’t waste a single breath complaining about not getting a foul call. As I realized the Spurs were going to win, my concerned wife ran into the room and asked, “What happened?”
“Ginobiliiiii!” I screamed in a jubilant tone that confused her.
“You like him now?”
“He’s my favorite player!”
“You just said he’s your least favorite player in history.”
“That was then! This is now!”
Ginobili’s style of play has made him one of the most popular players in San Antonio. He is a basketball-playing metaphor for what would happen if we let go of our fears and went for it. What if you shared your opinion in that staff meeting even though you knew it wouldn’t be popular? What if you put all of your money down to start that business you’ve always had in mind? What if you had the courage to choose excitement over security?
Ginobili drives Spurs fans to the edges of their seats because he goes against the conventional wisdom of basketball. He takes ridiculous risks. He takes years off our lives and decades off of Popovich’s. He captivates the city with breathtaking plays that few have the courage to try. Sometimes he’s our least favorite and most favorite player in the same game.
But if you’re like me, you have an inhibiting tendency to play it safe. You think of a good idea for a business, an initiative for a cause you care about, or an opportunity to travel to a place you’ve never been to, but then you think of all of the bad things that can happen. You screamed, “Nooo!” as Ginobili looked like he was about to foul Harden.
But the Argentine guard sees risks differently. To him, the biggest risk he could take was to not do anything while one of the league’s best players was about to shoot a three-pointer that could tie the game. My fear was that Ginobili would cost the Spurs the game by doing something stupid. His fear was costing the Spurs the game by not doing anything.
Many of us watch the Spurs as an escape from the real world. We crave the emotional rush of Ginobili throwing a half-court one-handed bounce pass through the legs of a defender for an assist, but we allow nervousness to stop us from talking to the people who might become the love of our lives. We watch Ginobili risk everything as he dives head first into the stands for a loose ball, but then pass up the job that would make us excited and give us more fulfillment in favor of the job with more security and money. We notice something wrong with the world and say, “Well, that’s just the way things are,” or “Gosh, I hope someone else fixes that.”
We probably have only one more year to watch Ginobili, who turns 40 on July 28, play NBA ball. As I reflect on his career, I think of someone who squeezed out every bit of potential he had into amazing results. His recklessness may have cost the Spurs a few games, but it also made his spectacular career possible. As we look forward in our lives, we should pursue our full potential with the same reckless abandon – The risks you face in this pursuit are failure, disappointment, and heartbreak. But the greater risk is never becoming the person you have the potential to be. The greater risk is to not jump for Harden’s shot and watch passively as he ties the game.
As we celebrate what could be Ginobili’s last year in basketball, we should seize the opportunity to learn life lessons from his play.