By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 17 2010 10:36AM
Every serious actor in Hollywood or on Broadway likes to work in ensemble casts. That, they'll contend, is where they get their greatest satisfaction and where their best work gets done. Side-by-side with other accomplished thespians, they can put the story, the writing and the directing first and truly bring their art to life.
And then someone feels snubbed for an Oscar, an Emmy or a Tony and all that familial togetherness goes right out the window. "Get me a star vehicle!" they'll shout into the phone at their agents. "I want my name above the title!"
That is a problem in professional sports, too, when it comes to things such as The Race.
Most Valuable Player awards generally go to star performers on top teams. But if a team is too much of a team -- like one when near-equals fill roles and share responsibilities -- then it gets hard to distinguish one valuable piece from another. Even when there are stars involved, as in All-Star level performers, it's can be tricky to identify them within their group and then measure them next to the superstars who work with lesser casts.
In the NBA, this might stem from the Michael Jordan era, when Jordan won five MVP awards as a transcendant talent not just on the planet but within his own locker room. That might seem backwards, but the drop down from Jordan as the Chicago Bulls' best player to Scottie Pippen as its No. 2 -- and then the drop from Pippen down to the rest of their Bulls teammates was big, too -- kept Jordan head, shoulders, elbows, waist and kneecaps above his mates.
In terms of a gold-silver-bronze Olympic podium, most of the Chicago players from the two three-peat teams were an inch from the floor, Pippen was a foot or two higher and Jordan was high enough to experience vertigo. A similar disparity sometimes was evident in the selections of MVPs such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob McAdoo, early Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Allen Iverson and of course, in each of the past two seasons, LeBron James.
But there have been plenty of MVPs who have come from deep, talented rosters. Stars among stars, sometimes even superstars among superstars. Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash all had plenty of help and often weren't the best on their clubs at some task or another. But they were, sometimes in the most intangible ways, the most indispensable players on their squads. Mixed with their team's success, they rose to MVP heights as individuals.
We mention all this to honor Manu Ginobili, who continues to demonstrate his value to the 22-3 San Antonio Spurs. The veteran Argentinian swingman has lots of help in San Antonio: Duncan, Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson, a kick-butt bench crew and Coach of the Year favorite (for now, it says here) Gregg Popovich. And yet Ginobili can still go out in a span of barely 24 hours and remind everyone how important he is, and how different things might be for the Spurs if he were gone or injured.
There was his game-winning shot to beat Milwaukee Wednesday, after the sort of uncalled traveling violation that -- because he backpedaled rather than moved toward the rim -- seemed to catch the referees unaware. Then there was his dreary first three quarters at Denver Thursday, followed by a strong fourth. Followed by his off-balance shot for the night's winning points. Followed by his guile and instincts in stepping in front of Carmelo Anthony and, this time, not catching the refs unaware. Ginobili got the charging call against the Nuggets' scoring star and, again, the Spurs won.
So even while Duncan had a throwback night (28 points, 16 boards), even as his teammates make their contributions nightly, Ginobili is the Spurs player who, to this point, deserves to be walking the red carpet on the way in and lugging a trophy on the way out. That -- and the fact that his personal stats are as good as or better than any he has posted in his career -- is why he shot up three spots in this week's Race rankings.
By the way, the committee knows a thing or two about ensembles. It believes that every one of its members is a star.
Dropping out: Rajon Rondo (No. 4 last week)
Honorable mention: Westbrook; Rondo; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Al Horford, Atlanta; Chris Paul, New Orleans.
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