D'Angelo Russell's older brother grew up idolizing the superstar that Russell would one day play with: Kobe Bryant. As for who D'Angelo idolized?
Manu Ginobili. Yes, the Lakers' gifted 20-year-old guard dreamed of one day being like the Spurs' crafty sixth man, according to ESPN. Russell grew up watching clips of Ginobili and trying to reenact them on the court.
Making it to the NBA and playing against Ginobili has been surreal for Russell. Last year, during a free throw, Russell approached Ginobili and said, "it's a pleasure to be out here with you."
"I was like, 'Damn,'" Russell said, "because he was one of my favorite players growing up."
The correlations between their left-handed shooting, deft passing, athleticism, and size (Russell is 6-foot-5, Ginobili 6-foot-6) are obvious. Furthermore, Russell patterned his game after Ginobili because neither was the fastest player on the court.
"He used to tell me that his favorite player was Manu Ginobili," Russell's brother, Antonio Jr., said. "He always used to be like, 'Manu Ginobili, Manu Ginobili, Manu Ginobili.'"
Russell's childhood friends watched, too, as the talented youngster patterned his game after the longtime Spur.
"Yeah, basically everything Ginobili did," said Jamie Johnson, a childhood friend. "He tried to watch how Ginobili moved off the ball—just everything, as far as IQ-wise too, because Ginobili, of course, isn't the fastest guy. [D'Angelo] understood that he wasn't fast either, so he tried to find players that were similar to him."
Russell said he admires how Ginobili can impact the whole aura of a game, how he's always ready to work, and how "fiery" Ginobili is.
"When he gets in the game, it's like, the whole persona of the game just changes," Russell said. "I was like, man, if I can pride myself into being like that, just being a guy that's so unpredictable that even at the age he's at now , he's so hard to guard."
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While Ginobili has had a tremendous NBA career—he's made the All-Star Game twice—the Lakers have even higher expectations for their second-year guard. They're hoping he'll transform into a franchise player, and based on his performance so far this year—he's averaging 16.8 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game—that belief doesn't seem too far-fetched.