Ginobili gives Pop so much that the coach calls him "our Doug Christie," referring to the do-everything Sacramento Kings guard. A glance at the 6'6" Ginobili's stat line against the Nets reveals his value: 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, five steals. A few of the thefts were works of art (not to mention the steal he almost made when, with his back to the ball, he sensed a pass was being thrown over his head, threw up his hands at the last moment and made a deflection). When Kidd fell asleep for a moment, Ginobili flicked the ball out of his hands. When Kidd stormed downcourt against Parker, Ginobili leaped out and knocked the rock away. Rodney Rogers thought he saw an open Kidd; Ginobili jumped into the passing lane and picked off the pass. "I have always been a—do you say it this way?—good stealer," he said. Yes, Manu, you can say it that way.
Ginobili, who speaks English fluently even though it's his third language (behind his native Spanish and Italian, which he picked up during his three years as a pro in Italy), almost can't believe his good fortune in landing in the NBA, never mind with a contender. "I heard I got drafted, and my first response was, 'Me? You sure?' " says Ginobili, whom the Spurs took with the 57th pick in 1999. "Nobody was thinking about me as an NBA player at the time." He limped into camp with a right-ankle injury suffered at the world championships last summer and sat out most of December. By the time he had healed, Popovich was comfortable starting Jackson and small forward Bruce Bowen. Ginobili has since found his niche as a reserve swingman who can ignite the Spurs with his defense, his passing or his snaking, southpaw forays to the hoop.
To a certain extent, Ginobili feels as if he's playing for his homeland, which is beset with political and economic problems. "When you do something good, my people really attach themselves to you," he says. "They're looking for somebody to be proud of. I feel good that it's me." He gets about 50 hits per day on his website (manuginobili.com), and double that after he plays well. Ginobili looks around at the Spurs' spacious new training facility in suburban San Antonio (built, not coincidentally, a five-minute drive from Duncan's house), spreads his hands and beams. At that moment Carlesimo breaks into the conversation, points to Ginobili and says, "Major league a———."
Manu smiles. "You see how they treat me?" he says.
Jackson may feel even more relieved than Ginobili to have found a home (he hopes) in San Antonio. He's lived a lifetime since he played in the 1996 McDonald's All-American game with future pros Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal, Mike Bibby and Tim Thomas. Jack, as the Spurs call their third-leading scorer (11.7 points per game), admits that he was "a kid who knew everything and wasn't as coachable as those other guys." After skipping college he was taken in the second round by the Phoenix Suns, who waived him. Jackson played in Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and at two CBA stops, La Crosse, Wis., and Fort Wayne, Ind. He has also been cut by four NBA teams and was soundly dissed by Nets coach Byron Scott after he spent an unhappy and unproductive 2000-01 season in Jersey. Jackson almost climbed off the merry-go-round in '98. Three days after returning to Port Arthur following his release by the Timberwolves, his brother, Donald Buckner, was beaten to death in a quarrel over a woman, his head split open by a pipe. "A little bit of me died with him," says the 24-year-old Jackson, "and playing didn't seem worth it. But then I thought, I don't know anything but basketball."
Catching on with the Spurs, a quality franchise 300 miles west of his hometown, has been a dream. For all his travels, Jackson has never forgotten Port Arthur. He plans to reopen Jackson & Company, the defunct soul food restaurant owned by his late grandfather, and raise his profile in the town. "Janis has some stuff in a museum and Jimmy has a boulevard named after him," said Jackson. "Me? I'd like a boulevard."
An eponymous San Antonio street—Tim & Tony Lane has a nice ring to it—might one day honor Duncan and Parker should they continue as the Spurs' top twosome. Considering that Duncan is only 26 (even though it seems as if he's been around forever), they have the potential to become the second coming of Stockton & Malone, a tandem that can beat teams in transition ("Many people don't realize how Teem loves to run the floor," says Parker) or torture them with pick-and-rolls. Parker has played so well that lately the idea has taken hold around San Antonio that the team should not go after Kidd, an understandable but hopelessly quaint sentiment. (Career triple double scoreboard: Kidd 49, Parker 0). Another theory is that Parker and Kidd could coexist in the backcourt. They could share the playmaking chores, and, on defense, Parker could check the whippets while the 6'4", 215-pound Kidd handles what Carlesimo calls "the big-ass guards."
San Antonio has met the Kidd Question head on, as one would expect of Team No Turmoil. Popovich, who because of NBA tampering rules can't talk specifically about free agents, has told his team, "This is a business. Any damn thing can happen." Translation: Of course we might go after Jason Kidd. Parker has heard the same thing in his private talks with Pop and has gotten the message. "Who knows what happens in the future?" Parker said last week, sounding like a 10-year veteran. "Maybe we win the championship and everything's fine. But maybe we lose in the conference finals or earlier and we're mad and we want to make some changes. Jason Kidd is the best point guard in the league. Every team he's gone to has gotten better." Could he envision them in the same back-court? "Of course," Parker says. "We both know how to play the game. We would know how to stay out of each other's way."
As for right now, though, the Spurs could hardly be more delighted with the performance of all three of Teem's young playmates. With or without Kidd, these kids appear to be all right.