As the San Antonio Spurs entered the AT&T Center for what many assumed would be their last game of the season, a grim undertone played beneath the surface.
Manu Ginobili may be playing the final game of his lengthy NBA career.
The first part of the equation was decided — decisively — when the Warriors swept the Spurs for the first time since the 2000-01 season in the Western Conference Finals. Ginobili started Game 4, his first start of the season, and scored San Antonio’s first bucket. The Spurs would have needed 50 more points from him to keep up without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker.
Still, Ginobili did his best with 15 points and seven assists. When it was over, it sure looked and sounded like a finale.
Should Ginobili decide to hang it up after these playoffs, as the second domino to fall after Tim Duncan and preceding Parker (ruptured quad), he’d have a fantastic career to look back on.
After all, at 39 years old having played 15 seasons in the NBA — all for the same team — Ginobili has seen more in his illustrious career than most franchises have seen since their inception. Internationally, Ginobili put Argentina on the map at the 2002 World Championships. At the 2004 Olympics, he scored 29 points to defeat Team USA on the way to a gold medal. His teammates, Andres Nocioni, Walter Hermann, Fabricio Oberto, and, most notably, Luis Scola, found themselves in NBA jerseys shortly after.
Over a decade-and-a-half, the Spurs’ wing became a household name, a linchpin in four championship runs as a beautifully erratic bench scorer who helped pave the way for the influx of international talent the NBA has enjoyed. Along the way, he picked up the 2008 Sixth Man of the Year award, donned the euro-step, and laid waste to a bat.
I was only six years old when the Spurs drafted some no-name Argentinian kid 57th overall in the 1999 NBA Draft, and just nine when he eventually came over to the United States to play as a rookie. At that point, the only names I knew were Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson, and whichever Knicks players stepped into the revolving door.
Time flies, doesn’t it?
Now, Ginobili has etched his way as a sure fire Hall of Famer and one of the best international players to ever grace an NBA floor. Now, the move Ginobili brought over from Argentina has become contagious in a league that can’t seem to live without it. And now, time may have run its course for a senescent player who has remained effective while staying true to his play style.
We still don’t know if Monday was the last we’ll see of Ginobili. Many thought last year was the end of the road, but Gregg Popovich was able to talk him into one more. If Pop believes the Spurs can still compete with the Warriors, we may see one more run out of the Argentinian wing.
But if this is the end for Ginobili, in a dismaying sweep at the hands of a superior Warriors squad, his head should be held high. Few players have come off the bench to have a better season than Ginobili did in 2007-08, averaging 19.5 points, five rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 40 percent three-point shooting to claim Sixth Man honors. Few players have played at the level Ginobili has, competing for four championships and falling an incredible Ray Allen three-pointer shy of a fifth one. And few players have had the lasting impact Ginobili has had on basketball in America, bringing over a new move and prospects from other parts of the globe with him.
Ginobili has been a one of a kind player in the NBA, and we’ll be hard-pressed to find another like him. For that reason, if he calls it quits, he should do it happily.
Thank you, Manu, for all you gave to the game.