After nearly a quarter-century of high-level play around the globe, one of the greatest basketball players of the last two decades decided it was time to hang it up. Manu Ginobili announced his retirement Monday on social media.
Ginobili’s puts a period on one of the best careers since the turn of the millennium, and one of the finest international careers ever.
Starting his career in his home country of Argentina in 1995, Ginobili first starred in Italy before coming over to the San Antonio Spurs. Drafted by San Antonio in 1999, Ginobili first won the EuroLeague title and EuroLeague Final Four MVP with Kinder Bologna in 2001 to cement his status as a top worldwide player before joining the NBA.
Ginobili once again led Kinder Bologna to the 2002 EuroLeague Final Four where he was the Final Four’s top scorer for the second straight season. However, he failed to guide his team to a second straight title as the Italian club lost to Greek giants Panathinaikos. Still, Ginobili had put forth another special season in Europe and was headed stateside to join the Spurs to make his patented Eurostep famous.
Joining the already formidable Spurs roster as an accomplished professional quasi-rookie, Ginobili was an instant revelation that pushed Gregg Popovich’s team to the next level. Despite coming off the bench in his rookie season, Ginobili’s electric playing style earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie second team.
The 2003 Playoffs is where Ginobili made himself a household name. With Gregg Popovich suddenly unleashing Ginobili with a rather hodge-podge roster, the already-playoff tested Manu was the catalyst in the Spurs victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to get to the NBA Finals.
In Game 2 of the series against the Lakers, Ginobili showcased the tools that made him one of the NBA’s premier shooting guards for his entire career. Against the much slower Lakers, Ginobili used his speed and trademark finishing ability at the rim to expose them in a 17 point performance that supplemented Bruce Bowen’s famous 27 point explosion in what was the turning point of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Ginobili and the Spurs moved on to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals before beating the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals in six games to start a dynasty. The Spurs won the title in three of Ginobili’s first five seasons and he made his first All-Star appearance in 2005.
At the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, Ginobili achieved his greatest career success on the international level that made him famous. Up against the malcontent USA squad that birthed the Redeem Team™, Ginobili tore the Americans to shreds in the semi-finals.
Ginobili’s 29 points sent the Americans home packing and after a win against Italy, the Argentinians finished a Cinderella toppling of the USA’s dominance in Olympic basketball since the 1992 Dream Team.
The images of Ginobili scoring at will against the Americans and finishing at the rim like only he could perfectly encapsulate what made him so special as a player. Ginobili could take over a game at any moment and turn it into an art performance at the rim.
Against a wall of seven-foot-tall behemoths, Ginobili would more often than not find a way to score and would make contested layups frustrating made baskets for the opponent.
In 2008, Ginobili registered his career year and won Sixth Man of the Year thanks to a scoring explosion where he averaged 19. Yet, the Spurs dynasty went into a lull as the Kobe-led Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks took over the Western Conference.
In the tail end of Tim Duncan’s career, the Spurs enjoyed one last run in an epic two-year rivalry with the LeBron James-Dwayne Wade-Chris Bosh Miami Heat. In an incredibly special matchup pitting the best team of the 2000s against a team that was at the time poised to be the team of the 2010s, the Spurs first experienced heartbreak in 2013 as the Heat and Ray Allen pulled a series that appeared over out of the fire to stun the veteran Spurs.
After blowing a 3-2 lead in the 2013 Finals, the Spurs and Tim Duncan came back with a mission in 2014. Marching themselves right back to the Finals, the Spurs once again faced the Heat and this time made no mistake.
In a five-game beatdown of the Heat, Ginobili clinched the series in Game 5 with one of his trademark big game performances. Down 22-6 early and risking allowing the series to go back to Miami where they blew a 3-2 series lead the year previously, Ginobili dug deep with a 19 point performance to guide the Spurs all the way back to a blowout win to clinch his fourth NBA title.
Ginobili’s last bucket in the game was a dagger three to put the Spurs up 21 and cement the Heat’s fate. An iconic Finals moment that gave the Tim Duncan era Spurs a title in three different decades.
After the Spurs last championship run, Ginobili contunued to defy the aging process for shooting guards. Come the playoffs, Ginobili would be ready to turn back the clock and provide one of his vintage big game moments.
The last classic Big Game Manu moment came in the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. In Game 5, with the Spurs down 101-99 and 34 seconds left, Ginobili tied the game with one of his patented drives to the rim.
After tying the game and the Spurs taking the lead, Ginobili found himself guarding James Harden on the final play of the game. Up against the game’s best scorer, the nearly 40-year-old Ginobili put the clamps on Harden, blocking his shot and clinching a miraculous win that turned the tide to help the Spurs knock off the Rockets to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Ginobili never had the greatest numbers and because of that, those who view basketball solely through box scores and points per game averages may miss out on just how special of a player he truly was.
The Argentinian who made the Eurostep famous has one of the best highlight reels and resumes of the last two decades of basketball. A EuroLeague champion, a four-time NBA champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a member of the 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors, Ginobili was a special player who thrived on three different continents over 20 years as a professional basketball player.
Many players can call themselves an NBA champion many times over, but Manu Ginobili is one of the rare players who can truly say he did it all on the basketball court and did it with a signature style that may never be replicated. Thanks to Manu, young hoopers will be Eurostepping forever and will be trying to imitate the rim finishing that Ginobili helped bring to the scene from Argentina and Europe.
Ginobili’s type of impact is far greater than what critics may say about his season averages or All-Star Game appearances. When the games mattered and the stage was set for a big moment, Manu Ginobili was one of the game’s most special players.
Hopefully, future generations will feel the same way about his mark on the history of basketball.