SAN ANTONIO — True to his character, recently retired Spurs legend Manu Ginobili handled his last session with the media at the team’s practice facility Saturday with just the right touch.
The next time Manu stands in front of so many reporters will be at the AT&T Center, when the Spurs retire his number and hoist a No. 20 jersey to the rafters. That will be a special night, indeed. I already can hear the fans chanting “Manu, Manu, Manu” as they give him a long, standing ovation.
Ginobili spoke from the heart Saturday, but there were no tears. He wasn’t long-winded and he didn’t get schmaltzy. He answered questions thoughtfully, directly and moved on. In other words, Manu handled his “farewell” news conference the same way he did scores of others throughout his storied 16-year career with the Spurs. Like a consummate professional.
To the end, Manu was classy and an exemplary ambassador for the NBA, the Spurs and his native Argentina. And, man, are we going to miss No. 20 on so many different levels. Talk about a man of dignity.
Life goes on and it’s not like anybody died here. But the Silver and Black never will be quite the same without Ginobili, who inspired teammates and fans alike with his tremendous heart and grit.
Looking rested and happy less than a month after announcing his retirement, Ginobili left no doubt that he’s at peace with his decision to end his 23-year career in pro basketball.
Ginobili played in Europe for seven seasons before joining the Spurs as a 25-year-old “rookie” in 2002. Not surprisingly, the Silver and Black won a championship in his rookie season. I’m not very good at math, but even I can figure out that Ginobili averaged an NBA championship every four seasons during his storied career.
Besides winning titles, Ginobili was an integral part of one of the greatest runs in league history. He teamed with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to win more games than any other trio in NBA annals. All three are locks for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
"I'm one of those that believes that the playing does the talking," Ginobili said Saturday, when he was asked what kind of example he wanted to leave the Spurs. "What they're going to see or what they know about you is the way you played and you behaved, and hopefully that's my example."
Quite simply, Ginobili retired because he had no more left to give after turning 41 in July. Not that it was easy, mind you, to walk away from the game that has been his passion for so many years.
“Even though I am very sure about the decision, it’s still awkward,” Ginobili said. “It’s still tough. You are convinced and you know what you’re going to do, but my fingers shook a lot before hitting that ‘enter’ (key), I’m telling you."
“It wasn’t an easy decision in the sense that, after so many years, 23 seasons of doing this, it was kind of hard to put the last nail in that coffin. It was an intense situation. I was a little bit sensitive, so I wanted to wait a couple of weeks before facing you and answering your questions.”
Ginobili said he approached last season as though it would be his last.
“Every place I went, every situation, I kind of knew it was going to be the last one,” he said. “But I left the door open just in case. If, after a month or two on vacation, I watched a game or felt like I needed something, I would give it a try. But, slowly, the door was starting to close more. I couldn’t see my body going through that kind of grind again. I felt that I had a good season, that I left everything in that previous season, both physically and mentally."
“When I came back here and I came to work out a little bit, to lift, to bike or whatever, I saw Bryn (Forbes), Dejounte (Murray) and some of the guys working out and preparing for the season, and I was so far from that. That’s when I said, for sure, 'this is it.' If there was a little bit of that door open, it closed pretty quick.”
And that was that.
As always, Ginobili’s sense of humor kept things light at different points of the session. The funniest moment came when he recounted that one of his three sons wasn’t on board with his decision initially.
“I don’t want you to retire, Dad,” Ginobili said, recalling what 8-year-old Nico told him. “Really? OK. Maybe he has a point. Why?”
Nico’s reply: “Well, the chicken tenders in the family room are awesome.”
Dad’s reply: “I’ll get you some chicken tenders. That can’t be the reason why I stay.”
As always, Ginobili answered questions in English and Spanish. When the session was over, I made sure to shake his hand as he mingled briefly with the media.
“Fue un placer,” I told him. “Te vamos a extranar mucho.”
“It was a pleasure. We’re going to miss you very much.”
And that was that.