SAN ANTONIO – Ok, Spurs fans. You know who turned 40 today.
Have you wished him a happy birthday yet?
Manu Ginobili wears jersey No. 20, but he’s been No. 1 in the hearts of Spurs fans for longer than most can remember.
Born in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, on July 28, 1977, Ginobili is a lock for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But Ginobili has meant so much more to the Spurs and the city of San Antonio than just basketball since he joined the franchise in 2002.
Ginobili’s dignity, spirit and ability to connect with people from all backgrounds has made him one of the unique pro athletes of his generation. In the 40 years I’ve covered sports, I’ve never seen an athlete move in and out of different circles as easily as Ginobili. The guy can flat-out relate to anybody.
A voracious reader, Ginobili has a natural curiosity. In many ways, he’s an intellectual in basketball shoes.
Ginobili’s pro career is the stuff of legends, and even that falls short of describing what a great ambassador he has been for the sport he loves. Charismatic and highly intelligent, Ginobili is also a man of character who has connected with Spurs fans in a special way since his rookie season in 2002-03.
Arguably the most beloved player in franchise history, Ginobili postponed retirement again this summer to play a 16th season with the Silver and Black, the only NBA team he’s suited up for during his storybook career.
To be clear: George Gervin was the franchise’s first superstar and Tim Duncan ended his career last year as the best player in team history. While Ginobili was one of the league’s best players in his prime, he has continued to contribute to the Spurs in the twilight of his career.
There is no way to quantify heart, passion and grit, but Ginobili embodies all three every time he steps on the court. Ginobili’s uncanny ability to make timely big plays on both ends of the court still inspires his teammates. His intrepid spirit is contagious and can spark teammates and fans alike. Ginobili’s leadership on and off the court also has played an integral role in the success of the Spurs.
To say he has a high basketball IQ would be an understatement. Like most great players – Larry Bird and Magic Johnson quickly come to mind – Ginobili has an innate feel for the game and can see plays unfold long before they develop.
You know the book on Ginobili, but I’ll mention some of the highlights of his career for the record. He has won four NBA championships and played in five Finals since joining the Spurs at age 25.
The Silver and Black selected Ginobili late in the second round of the 1999 NBA draft with the 57th overall pick, but he didn’t join the team until three years later. Ginobili began his pro career at 19 and played seven seasons in Argentina and Italy before joining the Silver and Black. The Spurs won their second title in his rookie season.
Ginobili has averaged 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 25.8 minutes during a career that has spanned 992 games. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year after the 2007-2008 season, and was an All-Star in 2005 and 2011. Ginobili has come off the bench throughout most of his career.
Count me among the many who are glad Ginobili is returning for another season. Win or lose, he’s always been upfront and cooperative with the media throughout his career. As we say in the business, Ginobili is a “great interview.”
Acting Golden State coach Mike Brown spoke highly of Ginobili after the Warriors completed a sweep of the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals last season.
“He’s going to be remembered for the titles and the scoring and all of that other stuff,” Brown said. “But you talk about a guy that’s as talented as he is, could have done anything in the NBA for many years, he was humble enough to be one of the first to accept coming off the bench graciously. That speaks volumes.”
Yes, it does.
Happy birthday, Manu.