With the foundation they've laid for the future of basketball in their country crumbling around them, the final chapter penned by the historic core of Argentina's national team may be its most important.
At the 2002 FIBA World Championships, an Argentine team featuring a 25-year-old Manu Ginobili, 23-year-old Andres Nocioni and 22-year-old Luis Scola handed the U.S. its first post-Dream Team international basketball defeat on the way to a silver medal. A cohesive and complementary bunch, they went on to win 2004 Olympic gold, creating the model to which even Team USA ultimately aspired.
In more than a decade since, basketball's popularity has grown immensely in Argentina, ultimately becoming the nation's second most prominent sport behind only soccer. Throughout, Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola remained, proudly wearing their white and blue jerseys on courts around the globe.
In their mid-30s now, entering what could very well be their last international competition as a trio, they should be leaving behind a legacy that lasts long after they're gone. But the widespread corruption that has poisoned many of the nation's government programs has apparently infected basketball, too.
According to reports translated from Spanish in the San Antonio Express-News and the great Spurs blog Pounding the Rock, the Argentine Basketball Federation has fallen roughly $20 million in debt and has at times forced national team members to train uninsured for free under less than ideal travel conditions.
Complaints from the Argentine players have since resulted in the ousting of ABA head Germán Vaccaro, but doubts about new president Daniel Zanni and the remaining board members reportedly persist.
As a result, Scola declared in a blunt interview with Argentine newspaper Clarín, "The crisis is more important than the World Cup. If I don't play, the horrendous management of the basketball association will be to blame." Soon afterwards, both Ginobili and Nocioni pledged their support on Twitter.
"The captain got angry and I’m great with that," Ginobili wrote. "Well said."
"Embarrassment!" added Nocioni. "I apologize because Argentine basketball does not deserve this!"
As relayed expertly by SB Nation's Jesus Gomez in recent days, that triumvirate's demands of a thorough audit looking into the alleged corruption have gone unanswered, but a meeting between Zanni and the Argentine players on Friday seems to have put an end to a potential World Cup boycott for now.
Scola: "there's not risk of us not playing as long as the things that the Secretary of Sport promised us are delivered. We'll see"— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
Scola: "we want deep changes in the association. Changing just one name at the top is not enough"— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
Manu: "the easiest thing for us to do would have been to just play or stay at home. We are getting our hands dirty because we care (1/2)— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
(2/2) "We are getting muddied by this. But we care about the future. We are on our way out."— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
All these years later, Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola are still laying the groundwork for Argentina basketball.
As for Ginobili's health, he has reportedly been cleared to play following an MRI by the Argentine national team's doctor on Friday, but the Spurs have final say on whether the stress fracture in his right leg is healthy enough for competition. Naturally, Ginobili wants to take the floor, since next month's FIBA Basketball World Cup might be his final opportunity to represent Argentina — on the court, at least.