Spurs coach Gregg Popovich breathed a sigh of relief last summer when guard Manu Ginobili announced he was returning for his 15th season with the Silver and Black.
Losing Tim Duncan and Ginobili in the same offseason would have been “like death by a thousand cuts,” Popovich said. “It would have been awful.”
With injured point guard Tony Parker sidelined until at least January and Ginobili considering retirement again this summer, Popovich faced another unsettling prospect: starting the first season of his career without at least one of the Big Three on the court.
Ginobili rendered the speculation moot Wednesday when he tweeted that he would be back for his 16th season with the Spurs, the only team he has played for during his storied NBA career.
That Ginobili, arguably the most beloved player in franchise history, has postponed retirement for yet another season should not surprise anybody familiar with his competitive ferocity, passion for basketball, and loyalty to the Spurs.
Make no mistake: Ginobili, who turns 40 on July 28, is returning because Popovich has told him the team still needs him.
While Ginobili still can inspire his teammates with a timely pass, steal, or three-pointer, it’s his mere presence, his spirit, that makes him such a vital cog for the Spurs on and off the court. When it comes to corporate knowledge and “The Spurs Way,” Ginobili is the embodiment of what sets the Silver and Black apart from other NBA franchises.
Highly intelligent, Ginobili is a great communicator who continues to be the media’s go-to guy. Throw in his charisma and Hispanic heritage – a big plus in San Antonio – and you’ve got the total package.
With Parker out, the Spurs are going to need Ginobili’s leadership more than ever this season. Parker ruptured his left quadriceps tendon against Houston in the Western Conference semifinals in May, leaving Ginobili as the longest-tenured active player on the Silver and Black’s roster for the remainder of the postseason.
Thanks in no small part to Ginobili, whose block of a 3-pointer by James Harden at the buzzer preserved a 110-107 overtime win against Houston in Game 5, the Spurs took the series against the Rockets in six games.
But San Antonio’s playoff run ended in the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, which went on to win its second NBA championship in three seasons. The Spurs jumped all over the Warriors in the series opener, leading by 23 points before Kawhi Leonard left the game with an ankle injury and nearly nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Golden State rallied to squeeze out a 113-111 victory. The Silver and Black were no match for the Warriors without Leonard, losing in a sweep.
In the end, Ginobili walked off the court at the AT&T Center to a tremendous ovation from fans who chanted his first name. They also chanted “one more year.” It was a night to remember.
“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said in an understatement.
Ginobili will be the second-oldest active player in the NBA behind Vince Carter when the 2017-18 season starts. Warriors forward Draymond Green had plenty of good things to say about Ginobili after the Western Conference Finals.
“He kind of worked us pretty good these four games, so I think he’s got quite a bit left in the tank,” he said. “Obviously, it’s up to him how much longer he wants to go. But one thing about it, he’s definitely not a liability on the floor. He can still defend. He can still score buckets with the best of them.”
And, more importantly, help the Spurs win.