SAN ANTONIO – It’s official! Manu Ginobili confirmed his return to the Silver and Black on Twitter early Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, reports circulated that Ginobili was working with the Spurs to "finalize details of his imminent return,” according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Fans were ecstatic with just the thought that the legendary sixth-man would return for his 16th season. Now, that can jump for joy because Ginobili officially confirmed he’s not done yet.
“Back with the Spurs for another season #thrilled #youngat40,” No. 20 tweeted.
So don’t pack up those jerseys just yet because Ginobili isn’t going anywhere.
Arguably the most popular player in team history, Ginobili, who turns 40 on July 28, is considered a valuable veteran presence for the Spurs, who finished 61-21 last season and reached the Western Conference Finals.
The Silver and Black recorded back-to-back 60-win seasons for the first time in franchise history, no small feat considering the 2016-17 campaign was their first in 20 years without iconic power forward Tim Duncan, who retired last July.
Ginobili has won four NBA championships with the Silver and Black since he joined the team as a 25-old rookie in 2002. The Spurs capped Ginobili’s rookie season (2002-03) with their second league title.
San Antonio 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 18 and played seven seasons in Argentina and Italy before joining the Silver and Black.
His long, storied career the stuff of legends, Ginobili is a lock for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is one of only two players who have won an NBA title, an Olympic gold medal and a Euroleague championship. The other is former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.
Ginobili has averaged 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 25.8 minutes during a career that spanned 992 games. He has played in five NBA Finals with San Antonio.
“I think everyone that plays this game, that follows this game, that understands this game, respects a player like Manu on every level,” veteran Spurs center Pau Gasol said after Golden State’s series-clinching victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in May. “Manu has been a fantastic, magnificent player all his career. He’s made a huge contribution on many levels in this league and internationally.”
Although Ginobili averaged career lows in points (7.5) and minutes (18.7) last season, he still was the leader of a bench that helped the Spurs finish with the league’s second-best record. Playing in 69 games, he also averaged 2.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals.
Ginobili’s impact on the success of the Spurs, who have made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, has transcended stats. A fearless playmaker who has continued to befuddle defenders in the twilight of his career, Ginobili still can affect a game with a timely pass, steal or 3-pointer.
His charisma, grit and competitive ferocity have made Ginobili a fan favorite and an exemplary ambassador for the NBA. A consummate team player, Ginobili also has been a leader on and off the court.
“I’ve done this thing since 1992, and just as a person, he’s one of the all-time greatest that I’ve come across,” acting Golden State coach Mike Brown said after the Warriors completed a sweep of the Spurs in this year’s conference finals. “I don’t know if there are many people better than him as individuals.”
With veteran guard Tony Parker sidelined indefinitely as he works to come back from an injury that knocked him out of the 2017 playoffs, the Spurs will lean on Ginobili’s leadership more than ever this season. Parker ruptured a tendon in his left quadriceps in the conference semifinals against Houston, and could be out for at least half of the season.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joked late last season that Ginobili was going to continue playing for the Spurs well into his middle-age years – and beyond.
“I don’t want him to ever retire,” Popovich said. “I want to squeeze every last ounce of juice I can. I’m going to use him like a bar of soap until there’s nothing left for his family or anybody else in the world. Just one. I’m going to squeeze it until then.”
After the Warriors eliminated the Spurs on May 22, Ginobili said he hadn’t decided whether he would retire or return for his 16th season.
“I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, whatever, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels,” said Ginobili, who became a free agent on July 1. “Whatever I decide to do, I’ll be a happy camper.”
Ginobili said he had two “truly wonderful options” – continuing his NBA career or spending more time with his family.
Ginobili had seriously considered retiring after the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. A free agent last summer, he signed a one-year deal worth $14 million after playing for $2.8 million the previous season. The Spurs offered Ginobili the lucrative one-year contract after the Philadelphia 76ers, who are coached by former San Antonio assistant coach Brett Brown, made a run at signing him.
With the Spurs on the brink of playoff elimination, Popovich started Ginobili in Game 4 of the Golden State series at the AT&T Center.
Introduced last by the PA announcer before the game, Ginobili received a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd of 18,466.
While Golden State had much to celebrate after reaching the NBA Finals for the third year in a row, the fans made it a night to remember for Ginobili.
Starting for the first time in more than three years, Ginobili finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals in 32 minutes.
“We started him tonight out of respect,” Popovich said. “That was the whole reason for starting him. Before the game, you think it may or may not be his last game that he ever plays in, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to honor him in front of our home fans for his selflessness over the years.
“I mean, this is a Hall of Fame player who allowed me to bring him off the bench for, I can't even remember now, the last decade or something, because it would make us a better team overall. So, obviously, he's a big reason for our success. And he deserved to have that night of respect, so that he really feels that we appreciate everything he's done over the years.”
The crowd started chanting “Manu, Manu, Manu” when the video board on the AT&T Center scoreboard showed Ginobili on the court before Stephen Curry shot a free throw with 2:25 left. With the action stopped, Popovich sent Kyle Anderson to sub for Ginobili.
The fans gave Ginobili, another big ovation and kept chanting his name. Ginobili acknowledged the crowd from the bench with a wave.
“I think everyone respects what he brings to the table and how he competes,” Gasol said. “He is always classy and at the top level in every regard. It was nice to see that the fans recognize what Manu means to this city and this franchise.”
Most fans stayed in their seats and gave Ginobili another loud ovation as he walked off the floor after the game.
Ginobili told reporters afterward that it was “pretty hard” to describe how he felt as fans showed their affection for him.
“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yeah, I don't have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. It's something that we all can appreciate, we all look for.
“It's not that you go expecting it every step you make. But when it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit. So, it was great. I really, really appreciate it.”
Ginobili quickly became a fan favorite with his passion, hustle and ability to make big plays at key moments in games. That he is Hispanic and embraces his heritage made him a perfect fit in San Antonio.
Ginobili was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award 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.
“He’s going to be remembered for the titles and the scoring and all of that other stuff,” Golden State’s 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.”
Spurs guard Patty Mills, who turns 29 in August, has had a close friendship with Ginobili.
“I don’t know why we have such a good relationship,” Mills said. “He is so much older than me, you know? It’s weird. It’s like grandpa and grandson, but still very close. It has been a great learning curve for me to grow under him and grow on the court, and more importantly for me, off the court.
“It is a relationship that will go on for years beyond basketball. That is the thing you take away the most. I feel like I haven’t taken anything for granted, getting to play with him. I’ve appreciated every day.”