As the final minutes ticked away for the San Antonio Spurs 2016-17 season last night and coach Gregg Popovich pulled his starters off the court, there was a realization that came to fans in the AT&T Center and fans across the world. Manu Ginobili, the soon to be 40 year old guard whose professional basketball career began when Peyton Manning was a sophomore QB at Tennessee and Derek Jeter had yet to become shortstop for the New York Yankees, might be walking away from the game of basketball.
Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard wrote this about Ginobili and his teammates Tim Duncan and Tony Parker during the 2013 NBA Finals.
"They have spent 11 seasons together, and they are no longer young. Duncan is 37. Parker is 31. Ginobili is 35 but thinks he's 25. His body is closer to 55."
During his 15 career in the NBA, Emanuel David Ginobili Maccari has played in 992 regular season games, 213 postseason games, 144 games during his three years in Lega Basketball and the Euroleague, and spent another four years from 1995-98 playing in Argentina for the Argentinian pro league. Combine that with his normalcy on the Argentinian national team during the summer, and we have a man has spent more minutes on the basketball court than most of us have spent in school, in our house, or alive!
Oh, and don't forget the two All-Star games.
The two All-Star games are very telling though. Aside from Kobe Bryant, no other shooting guard was better in the Western Conference since the turn of the century.
In Europe, Manu was the top player in his league. In the NBA and under the Gregg Popovich and Spurs system, with players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and eventually Kawhi Leonard, Manu's game became an integral part of Spurs basketball and four championships.
Just look at James Harden (the bearded guy Ginobili rejected in the final seconds of a postseason game two weeks ago). He is the top man in Houston after coming off the bench as a sixth man with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Had Ginobili chosen to leave San Antonio after the 2004-05 championship season to become the man on his own team, his career numbers would look just as good, if not better than the numbers Harden is currently putting up. Manu's influence in the game is clear. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ever wonder where Harden got that Euro step from?
What fans and people are going to miss about Ginobili is the passion he brings to the game and the "feel" he has on the court. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who looks like the human version of grumpy cat, often jokes about the levels of patience coaching Ginobili is needed.
The best player to compare him would be quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, who retired the all time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes, and interceptions. With Manu, you will have the player that makes you want to throw a brick through a television and will increase your blood pressure. But Pop said it the best.
"I had to stop coaching him because if you put him too much in a cage, you lose his benefit."
Only a player with supreme confidence and competitive will would try in vain to block a 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki in the 2006 NBA postseason or successfully block James Harden 11 years later. Only someone crazy would take a game winning charge from a speeding Carmelo Anthony moments after making the go ahead layup over three defenders. And only a great floor general would lead his nation's team past the powerful USA in the 2004 Olympics and obtain a gold medal.
If this is the last time we see the Long Star's wild card on the court, it's been one hell of a ride.