Manu Ginobili

Ginobili and the Spurs are gearing up for the franchise’s fifth appearance in the NBA Finals, where they will meet the defending champion Heat starting Thursday in Miami.

Not since Hall of Famer George Gervin finger-rolled his way into the hearts of San Antonio fans during an 11-year career have the Spurs had a player as popular as Ginobili. Duncan, Tony Parker, David Robinson and Sean Elliott all hold a special place in fans’ hearts, but Ginobili has become one of the city’s own.

”I don’t know how we connected at first,” the Argentine said. ”I just know that they kind of adopted me from the first minute I got here. Maybe it’s my Latin roots, Spanish speaking, or maybe it’s my type of game. I guess it was a little bit of everything.

”But it really helped me, especially early in my career. Now I’m a developed player, I’ve been everywhere and now I’m more used to it. But at the beginning, when I had so many doubts, I was the new guy in the NBA, the uncertainties and all that, having 18,000 people supporting me and cheering you up was a big help.”

The 6-foot-6 guard has given Spurs fans plenty to cheer about - and groan over.

He averaged 20.8 points and 5.8 rebounds during the postseason in guiding San Antonio to the 2005 NBA championship…

”It’s great to have had this opportunity to keep playing,” Ginobili said. ”I feel better. If we had lost in the first round, I wasn’t even back. After three weeks sitting, then four games, five games and the season’s over, you go back home with a really bad feeling about the season. But since the way things have turned out, to tell you the truth, I even forgot what happened during the season. I’m feeling good now. We’re in the Finals, so who cares? No one is going to remember I missed 20 games during the regular season.”

Reported by Raul Dominguez of the Associated Press