MANU – IT’S NOT A WORD, BUT A LIFESTYLE

SAN ANTONIO – I wannu be Manu.

I wannu have his flopping, sweaty hair. I wannu have his mile-wide smile. I wannu enter a news conference after taking over an NBA Finals game and begin by answering a question in Spanish. I wannu be bilingual. I wannu be international. I wannu be large in two Americas, North and South.

I wannu be Manu.

I wannu have his basketball moves. I wannu heave up three-pointers and circus shots. I wannu hear announcers yell, “There goes Ginobili!” as I fly to the hoop, passing my defenders, looking like I’m falling but then slamming the ball one-handed. Haha! Fooled u!

I wannu drive that lane like a train off a bridge, awkward and speeding and bent out of control, yet somehow finish with the ball in the basket – and me, quite often, on my rear end watching.

Who doesn’t wannu do that?

I du.

I wannu laugh like Manu. I wannu enjoy life like Manu. I wannu have Tim Duncan, after my 26 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, call me “unbelievable.”

I wannu have Larry Brown say, “He was marvelous.”

I wannu have Chauncey Billups admit, “He was good, man.” Only I would change that to: “He was good, manu.”

You know, to be consistent.

Working on my Italian and Spanish

I wannu be where Manu is right now, on the cusp of it all, 27 years old, the spotlight coming like a crown to a prince. I wannu be Elvis on the “Louisiana Hayride.” I wannu be Bill Gates looking at Windows 95. That’s where Manu is these days, in the new curl of a new wave on a ride that is fun and furious.

I wannu rebound like Manu. I wannu do behind-the-back passes. I wannu contort my 6-foot-6 frame like a wire hanger in the hands of a sumu wrestler.

Hey. “Sumu Manu.”

There’s something nu.

I wannu have his back story. I wannu tell people about my childhood in Argentina, a nation better known for soccer. I wannu talk about my father making me dribble around chairs. I wannu talk about my early playing days, in Argentina and Italy. I wannu talk about my trophy for Euroleague Finals MVP. I wannu say it in Italian, which is another language Manu speaks.

I wannu say “arrivederci” with the proper accent. I wannu say “buenos noches” and not sound like a tourist. I wannu have screaming fans who love me on three continents – in three languages.

I wannu brag about the Olympics, last year in Athens, where I won a gold medal while leading Argentina past the U.S.A. I wannu put that gold medal next to my first NBA championship ring, from 2003 with the Spurs, and maybe next to my next one, which is three victories away.

If I du what I du. Working on my hairstyle

I wannu be reckless like Manu. I wannu be fearless. I wannu drive into Ben Wallace, knock him over and still get the call. I wannu be such a good actor that the slightest brush of Lindsey Hunter’s forearm sends me flying backward like a cowboy tossed through a saloon window.

I wannu have all his cool attributes. I wannu be left-handed, strong yet wiry. I wannu think they will all go in, even when I throw the ball over my shoulder, mid-air, with my back to the basket.

I wannu celebrate like a World Cup soccer player. I wannu dazzle people with my smile and kindness. I wannu sign autographs an hour before the game, like Manu did Thursday night. I wannu hear old ladies and little kids scream, “Manu! Manu!” because all the big ones go by one name, don’t they? Elvu? Madonnu?

I wannu say, when asked about Game 2 Sunday night, that I expect the Pistons to put two or three guys in front of me, so “I really got to play smarter.”

I wannu say, about my personal growth, “now I know that even if I don’t play that well at the beginning … in the fourth quarter, I’m going to have the ball in my hands.”

I wannu have such dewy confidence, such energy, such charisma. I wannu be basketball’s version of Roberto Benigni, jumping over chairs at the Oscars and laughing all the way. I wannu be so young, so happy, my stringy hair flying over my forehead, coming off the best game I’ve ever played in an NBA Finals.

It’s not that I’m unhappy with my own life. It’s just that, now and then, you see a kid so perfectly aligned with his time and his talent, you want to revel in it, if only in your mind, if only for a moment.

I wannu be Manu.

U tu?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He will sign copies of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Borders in Southland Mall in Taylor.

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