While we all know about Manu Ginobili’s contributions on the court during his time with the San Antonio Spurs, his actions off-the-court were what made him truly special.
Emanuel David Ginobili will make his emotional return to San Antonio on Thursday night when the Spurs face the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. The Spurs are still fighting for playoff position, but that won’t be the main concern come Thursday night.
All eyes will be on the former Spurs guard, as his jersey number becomes the ninth to hang in the AT&T Center rafters. Manu Ginobili will be remembered for his wacky passes, his impossible finishes at the rim, and simply put, making plays that he had no business making.
What immortalizes the legend of Ginobili, however, will be his unselfish play, his leadership, and his global impact.
He will always be appreciated by Spurs fans, but as his legacy grew, basketball fans across the world began to come to a similar conclusion: Manu sacrificed personal fame for team success.
Ginobili spent most of his career coming off the bench, starting in only 10 of his last 424 career games. His 8,278 points off the bench are the seventh-most all-time, and like most prolific bench scorers, he was good enough to start for the majority of his career.
Instead, he did what what was best for the team. Ginobili could have left in free agency multiple times, most notably to the Nuggets in 2004. He could have gone elsewhere to earn more money and have a bigger role.
But like his former teammate Tim Duncan, Manu always stayed loyal to San Antonio, even if it meant taking a pay cut or accepting a smaller role. I can go on and on about why Manu should be in the Hall of Fame, even if his career stats don’t exactly reflect that.
Ginobili is only the second player in history, along with Bill Bradley, to win a EuroLeague title, an NBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal. His 16 seasons with the Spurs puts him in rare company, and he’s the postseason leader in most categories off the bench including points, assists, rebounds, steals, field goals made, three-pointers made and free throws made.
Undoubtedly one of the best international players ever to step on an NBA court, Manu’s name is etched in the history books for his play in the United States. The importance of his impact as an international player, however, makes his legacy as unique as anyone’s.
Like Yao Ming did with China, Manu’s stardom created a basketball frenzy in Argentina. As the son of two Argentinian immigrants, I grew up worshipping Manu Ginobili.
Argentina was known as a country that only cared about soccer until Ginobili came along. He changed everything.
Ginobili leading the Argentine Basketball Team to a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics is still one of the greatest basketball upsets of my lifetime. Defeating a United States team that included Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Tim Duncan in the semifinals seemed impossible.
Behind Manu’s 29 points, however, the Argentinian National Team pulled out the victory. He had single-handedly created Argentina’s Golden Generation of basketball.
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Argentinian fans are known for being rowdy, and Ginobili gave them a reason to get loud in a sport other than soccer.
During the 2017-18 campaign, when it was becoming increasingly clear that this could really be Manu’s last season, Argentinian fans showed up in impressive numbers to show their appreciation for “Gino.” I saw Manu in person every time I had the chance, but the last time might have been the most special, even if he didn’t log any minutes.
On January 17th, 2018, I went to see the Spurs take on the Nets from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Manu had tweaked his hamstring in a game against the Hawks the day before, so much to my disappointment, he did not suit up for the contest. That did not stop the traveling fans, however.
The section I was sitting in was entirely filled with Argentinians. Everyone had a Manu jersey, an Argentina flag, or both. He wasn’t even playing, and the arena frequently erupted in a chant for Ginobili. Every Spurs game last season was the same- home or away, you could always spot multiple Argentina flags and jerseys with Ginobili on the back filling the stands.
By season 16, Manu was far from his prime. His age and history of injuries had caught up to him. Through the years, he had given so much. In his final season, the fans made sure to give back.
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When Ginobili’s jersey is retired on Thursday night, it will be to honor the career of a tremendous international basketball player who left it all the floor. I’ll forever hold onto memories of him slapping a bat out of midair or giving us some of the wackiest highlights ever.
But it’s his impact on so many fans the culture he helped create that will make me say, “Gracias, Manu.”