“NO, NO, NO… YES!” For 16 NBA seasons, those words were not only echoed by Spurs fans but Greg Popovich as well. Being fortunate enough to live in San Antonio and having Spurs season tickets, the roller-coaster of watching Manu Ginobili play every single night was thrilling. One minute he’d make a bone-headed play and you wonder to yourself, “what was he looking at?” and before the end of the quarter, you saw him make a pass or articulate an acrobatic layup that you had never seen before. That was the beauty of Ginobili, a player so unique, someone you couldn’t keep your eyes off of watching, even at the age of 40 years old. With Manu recently retiring, the Big 3 era has officially come to an end. The Spurs simply won’t be the same without Manu and the ride he took the city of San Antonio on.
Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward ever to ever play basketball. Tony Parker was a Finals MVP and the greatest point guard in franchise history. Neither of them, however, was more loved in the city of San Antonio than Ginobili. While Duncan and Parker were quiet and didn’t show much emotion; showing passion was never an issue for the Argentinian. San Antonio fed off the energy of Ginobili, especially when the Spurs needed them most. When on the court, he never took a play off, and his competitiveness was legendary to see.
He would treat a meaningless December game like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Growing up, my favorite team has always been the Lakers, and I used to hate watching Ginobili play when I wasn’t cheering for him. It felt like he never missed a shot, and his magic was always on full display. Watching Manu and Kobe have battles are something I’ll always cherish, as both of them showed the will to win like few others can.
Ginobili’s selflessness and team-first attitude is something that isn’t recognized enough. During the prime of his career, he was asked to be the sixth man. Not only did he accept the role, but he flourished and made the role cool again. It’s a role that few if any, star players would accept, and he just kept the ball rolling while adding years to his career and the Spurs long-term success.
Sacrificing career stats and individual achievements were something he didn’t mind. All he wanted to do was win. Manu was still able to win the Sixth Man Award in 2008, two all-star nods, and two All-NBA selections. This was a man who never averaged 20 points per game in a season, and yet had a bigger impact on the court than some 25 points per game scorers. Stats will never give Ginobili’s career justice, but the success of the Spurs during his career will.
The unforgettable moments he provided during his career provides such a great insight into how special of a player he was, for example, scoring 23 points in Game 7 of the 2005 Finals, or how about nailing a 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks to give the Spurs the lead? Ginobili didn’t have a great series in the 2013 NBA Finals, a series the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat. However, after coming back the very next year, against the same team, Manu played lights out, propelling the Spurs to their fifth championship in franchise history. You knew that with Manu, you were going to ride or die with him. Most of the time, he came through. However, his greatest basketball accomplishment didn’t happen on an NBA court.
If you ever get the chance, watch Argentina vs. the United States 2004 Olympic Semifinals. If you don’t see the jerseys, you would think Argentina would be the San Antonio Spurs. The way that team moved the ball, set screens, and played team defense was terrific. Ginobili led the charge and was the best player during the entire Olympics. That game featured two legends on the United States team; Tim Duncan and LeBron James. Yet, Ginobili was the best player on the court that day. That just shows the greatness and unique talent Ginobili possessed, and that game made him an international legend. The next day, Ginobili guided Argentina to a gold medal. It remains the only time the United States hasn’t won gold at the Olympic Games since NBA players were allowed to play.
Without Manu Ginobili, there is no Spurs dynasty. His selflessness, his flair, his determination all helped San Antonio secure four rings during his tenure. His career is so dynamic that I don’t believe it will ever be duplicated. He retires not only as an NBA legend but as one of the best international players to ever lace them up. A future first-ballot Hall of Famer, his influence on the game of basketball is something we will see for years and years to come. Not too bad for the 57th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft.