Manu Ginobili and New York Yankee Legend Mariano Rivera have a lot in common, chief among them, their roles within the game they were fully devoted to for most of their professional lives.
In the eyes of most baseball experts, Rivera is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but the same is not always said about Manu without resorting to “look at his international numbers.” Ginobili is worthy of the same recognition as the great Rivera.
Manu Ginobili announced his retirement from basketball last week through twitter to mixed personal emotions both from himself and his millions of fans worldwide. His impact on and off the court can’t be overstated and his legacy within the basketball world will be cemented forever. Let’s take a closer look at his accomplishments and compare them against Yankee’s Sandman.
Mariano Rivera grew up in Central America. Ginobili in South America. Rivera played soccer and baseball with whatever scraps he could find – he idolized Brazilian Great Pelé, and wanted to be his Panamanian equivalent. Ginobili grew up around basketball and idolized Bulls’ legend Michael Jordan.
His family had all been disciples of the game, and Ginobili struggled early on to gain the size required to become a legitimate threat professionally. One phrase is mentioned constantly when describing both Manu and Mo that sets them apart from the pack – unmatched competitive spirit.
The sixth man role in the NBA is a valuable one. The San Antonio Spurs have been top five in bench plus/minus over the last decade, and have been incredibly successful – making the playoffs 21 consecutive seasons. The leader of the San Antonio bench has been Manu Ginobili.
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There is a similar role to that of NBA’s sixth man in Major League Baseball, the closer. He is the relief pitcher who’s meant to enter during the last inning or two and try to shut the door on the opposing team. That success is measured by whether or not this individual can attain the game’s final outs without giving up the lead, gain the save, and secure the win. No player has ever done this better than New York’s Mariano Rivera.
Similarly, the role of basketball’s sixth man is to provide the starting lineup adequate rest without making the lead disappear, or allowing it to fall too deep into a hole that the starters won’t be able to dig out of once they return to the floor. The success of these players is normally measured by whether or not they added to the lead or erased a deficit. No one has ever done this better than Manu Ginobili.
— The Nylon Calculus (@NylonCalculus) September 1, 2018
Rivera holds the record for most saves in MLB history with 652 (Trevor Hoffman is second with 601, and the active leader is Craig Kimbrel with 328.) He’s also first amongst relievers in a number of statistics, including Win Probability Added (5th overall in MLB history), Adjusted Pitching Wins (27th overall), and Wins Above Replacement for Pitchers (77th overall).
Ginobili is also first amongst bench players in many statistics, including Win Shares per 48 minutes (26th overall in NBA history), Defensive Win Shares (54th overall), Win Shares (66th overall), Player Efficiency Rating (63rd overall), and Box Plus/Minus (21st overall).
Note: For the purposes of that list, a bench player must have started in less than 50 percent of games played.
Manu and Mo share some scary similar career happenings within their own professional sports.
- Mariano Rivera made his MLB debut at age 25, and the New York Yankees won the World Series on the first full year of Rivera’s tenure with the club in 1996.
- Manu Ginobili made his NBA debut at age 25, and the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title on the first year of Ginobili’s tenure with the club in 2003.
- Rivera made the All-Star team during his third season in the majors. Ginobili made the All-Star team during his third season in the NBA.
- Rivera had won three World Series rings at the age of 29. Ginobili had won three NBA championships at the age of 29.
- After Rivera made his 6th World Series appearance in 2003, he waited six years before making it to baseball’s biggest stage again. After Ginobili made his 3rd NBA Finals appearance in 2007, he waited six years before making it to basketball’s biggest stage again.
- Rivera won his 5th and last World Series in 2009, then played four more seasons before retiring from the game. Ginobili won his 4th and last NBA title in 2014, then played four more seasons before retiring from the game.
- Later in his career, every hitter knew Rivera would be throwing cutters exclusively, and yet they couldn’t stop him. Early in his career, every defender knew Ginobili would be driving left, and yet they couldn’t stop him.
- Rivera played only for the New York Yankees and made the postseason 16 times. Ginobili played only for the San Antonio Spurs and made the postseason 16 times.
- Rivera is arguably (although not a very good argument exists against it) the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history. Ginobili is arguably the greatest bench player in NBA history.
NBA’s Sixth Man Role vs. MLB’s Closer Role
There is a huge contrast between basketball’s key reserve player, and baseball’s key relief pitcher. Although their appearances are limited compared to the starting players, recognition for these players is handled differently in each sport.
Let’s compare the numbers between Rivera, and fellow Yankee Andy Pettitte. Pettitte pitched 3,316 innings, and struck out 2,448 batters in 18 seasons. Rivera pitched 1,283 innings, and struck out 1,173 batters in 19 seasons. That’s a considerable advantage in innings pitched by Pettitte while only allowing 3.85 earned runs per game (Rivera allowed a ridiculous 2.21), but his place in Cooperstown is doubtful. The case against him is mainly due to an admission of having used performance enhancing drugs, but if baseball experts were to just look at the numbers, they’d say Rivera had a better career than Pettitte despite the fact he pitched 2,083 more innings than Mariano and also won five World Series rings.
The careers of supporting cast members tend to go unappreciated in the basketball world. Only one NBA Sixth Man of the Year award recipient has ever made an All-Star appearance on the year they earned the award – Kevin McHale 34 years ago (he started 10 games, and played 31 minutes per game).
In this year’s All-Star game, MLB deployed 11 relief pitchers on the combined rosters. The NBA deployed zero bench players during this year’s All-Star game. There’s a reason forward Carmelo Anthony is so hesitant to come off-the-bench. The perspective seems to be that bench players are not good enough to earn recognition aside from the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Yes, it’s understandable that some players benefit from playing for winning teams, as is the case with All-Star Klay Thompson, but let’s look at his numbers this year compared to Lou Williams,’ who by-the-way has won NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors twice, and never made an All-Star appearance. Klay Thompson per 36 minutes: 21 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game. Lou Williams per 36 minutes: 24.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. It’s a tough argument against Lou not being the best current Clipper, and he had the team in playoff contention all year with zero All-Star teammates.
The NBA had the perfect situation to make Lou Williams an All-Star for the first time in his career with multiple injuries plaguing previously selected players, and passed on it by naming Paul George instead of Williams.
Manu has been a starter for the Spurs twice in his career, both times he was selected as an All-Star. The argument against his lack of All-Star appearances or empty stats is heavily flawed. The team had greater synergy with Ginobili coming off-the-bench and he embraced that role for the greater good. His international accomplishments are icing on the cake, but shouldn’t be needed for his Hall of Fame resumé.
At the end of the day, whether it’s baseball or basketball, the name of the game is winning – that’s all Manu and Mo ever did. Rivera will be a Hall of Famer next year, five years after retiring from the game, and Ginobili will add another statistic in which both players coincide.