LONDON — Tony Parker shook hands with the Spaniards, then made one, final Olympic gesture. He smashed his goggles onto the floor.
A few hours later, near the same spot where pieces of plastic had skidded, Manu Ginobili made a gesture, too. He and his Argentine teammates sang with the crowd, pointing to those in the stands, hugging, almost dancing.
“Doing our thing,” Ginobili said afterward, smiling.
The two were a contrast, but their emotions were also a contrast to what they do in San Antonio. Parker never smashes anything as a Spur when he loses, and Ginobili never sings when he wins, yet they were here, all while playing for free.
And David Stern, who witnessed all of it in the London arena Wednesday, wants to take this away?
We think we know about rivalries in the United States, but Spurs-Mavs is preseason stuff compared to Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Then, there were three games with geographic pride.
Lithuania and Russia went at it 20 years to the day after they first met in a non-Soviet world. Next came France and Spain, with everything but World Metta Peace with an accent.
The highlight came after what has become the traditional groin punch. A Spanish reporter asked the French coach about the low blow, and the French coach wouldn’t answer because the question came from a Spanish reporter.
Parker chose to beat up himself. Knowing he’s missed his one Olympic chance to medal, he looked in shock afterward and said, “It’s on me.”
It’s on his coach, mostly. There was little direction from the bench when Spain went into a zone, and, besides, Parker was exhausted by then. The French coach played Parker all of the second half and 38 minutes in the game.
As Spain is to France, Argentina has been to Brazil. The play that changed the game: With just over three minutes left, Argentina’s lead cut to two points, Ginobili threw his body in front of a Brazilian driver and took a fast-break charge.
Afterward members of the press wanted to talk about the next game, because it will be against the Americans. Ginobili stopped them.
“First of all,” he said, “let me enjoy this.”
He deserved that much. He’s the only Spur left in the Olympics, and it’s a pattern. With Ginobili, Argentina has made it this far all three times.
The U.S. has been there waiting, in the same slot, all three times. Ginobili won once, was hurt in the other, and now comes the tiebreaker.
But, as he said, talking about the U.S. was for another day. On this one, the Argentines weren’t celebrating what comes next. They were celebrating success and sacrifice and friendship.
Ginobili said he feels similar when he’s won an NBA title. Still, there’s something about playing for your country, as well as with friends he’s known for a dozen years.
Huge is the word he uses, and it comes out “Huuuugge!”
So he hears Stern’s proposal — that Olympic basketball should go to an under-23 format — and he cringes.
Stern isn’t alone on this. Everyone from the Spurs to Mark Cuban question why they are lending out their stars and taking all the risk.
Basic business is to protect your assets, especially when your assets are prone to twist their ankles. Besides, instead of essentially working as yet another Olympic volunteer, imagine the revenue if the NBA took over and created its own World Cup?
Ginobili understands all of that, but this hasn’t been a business deal for him, either. He’s been staying in a dorm, and he’s seen his twins for one day out of the last 45. Yet he couldn’t have imagined his life without this.
“If I was 24 right now,” Ginobili told a reporter last week, “I’d be crying in that corner over there.”
Crying, smashing, dancing.
Who wants to see this end?