I knew there was something going on the day many years ago when I found a tiny coyote made of pipe cleaners in La Jefita’s bingo bag.
There, among a fist full of fun size Snickers and a half dozen Dab-O-Ink markers was un coyotito formed out of brown furry wire; its bright green eyes formed from a pair of plastic beads. In his hand, he held an orange circle with basketball markings on it. He was wearing a jersey cut from a piece of white fabric with a big “20” on it.
“Ese es Manu,” she said.
Then she showed me a black and silver bracelet she had with a sparkly Spurs logo and a rhinestone “20” on it. A plastic noisemaker shaped like a pair of clapping hands. A black cap bedazzled with more bling than a showgirl. But the coyotito was special. It was a homemade gift from one of her Bingo Night friends. Apparently, they suit up during the playoffs.
“Nos emocionamos todas cuando ganamos,” she said.
Como que Spurs fans? La Jefita had not been a basketball fan. When I was growing up, she didn’t know a power forward from a power bar. She has always been a soccer fan and years of watching us play CYO sports gave her a good handle on baseball. Pero basketball? Como que no. Es más, las viejitas del bingo tambien? It didn’t make sense.
But something happened in San Antonio around the time David Robinson became The Admiral. All of a sudden, a lot of people who hadn’t paid attention to basketball did. Spurs wins became a cause for free coffee and T-shirts. Spurs players started to appear in commercials.
And then, Manu Ginobili appeared in commercials speaking Spanish. He talked with the media in Spanish. He spoke English with an accent, like so many San Antonians who prefer to speak Spanish.
And, unlike a lot of professional athletes who find themselves flush with cash and celebrity at a young age, siempre se porto bien.
People like to be part of a winning team, so it makes sense that when the Spurs are winning, San Antonians suit up. There’s a sense, however, that Manu also joined Team San Antonio. He did his job sin mucho circo, he didn’t ditch us in favor of a bigger city and bigger bucks y, hasta eso, he spoke to us in Spanish.
I think that’s why San Antonians who normally spent their evenings waiting for “I-19” in order to make the “X” on the bingo card started demanding the score be announced between games, and why ladies who make cositas out of pipe cleaners learned who wore the number 20.
With Manu, we really hit el premio mayor.