The smart money has always been on Manu Ginobili retiring after the 2016-17 NBA season. The San Antonio Spurs legend is one of the oldest players in the league at 39 years old, several years beyond his prime, and played a career-low 18.7 minutes per game this season. He can still be a valuable player, but his future was already in doubt after San Antonio’s elimination in the 2016 postseason and figured to be again this spring. He even said “I do not think it will go much longer” in reference to his career this March.
The Golden State Warriors controlled Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday night at the AT&T Center, which means that Ginobili has potentially played his last NBA game. Fans and peers didn’t take any chances on Monday and celebrated Manu as if he were on his way out of the league. However, the man himself did not commit to any decision in his post-game press conference. Instead, he said he feels like he can still contribute but will decide if he wants to return after letting it “sink in” over the next few weeks.
Ginobili’s uncertainty is not surprising, because it would be irresponsible of him to commit to a decision less than an hour after being swept out of the playoffs. Retirement is a serious choice, and he’s going to treat it as such.
However, everyone else at the arena on Monday understandably did not want to take any chances. For Spurs fans, one of the few positives of the sweep is that Ginobili got to play the potential final game of his 15-season career at home. If he does choose to retire, then the home crowd sent him off in style.
The tributes began with several minutes remaining in regulation. San Antonio fans began to chant Manu’s name and continued the cheers when head coach Gregg Popovich subbed him out with 2:25 left on the clock. Take a look:
The “MA-NU” chants continued until the final buzzer, with a little “Let’s Go Spurs” and a soccer-style “Olé Olé Olé” mixed in. But the love didn’t stop with the final buzzer. After exchanging pleasantries with the Warriors after the season-ending loss, Ginobili left the court to plenty more cheers.
His future was also a topic of conversation for everyone post-game, including the Warriors. Stephen Curry was seen applauding Ginobili as he left the court, and Kevin Durant spoke of his admiration for the Spurs great during his interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke. Acting head coach Mike Brown spoke about his experience as an assistant coach with the Spurs during Manu’s rookie season in 2002-03, as well.
Naturally, though, the words of Gregg Popovich took on a special importance. Pop opted to keep his on-bench words to Ginobili private and did not go into great detail about what his retirement would mean to the franchise, but he did make sure to relate how happy he was that the fans got a chance to cheer for Ginobili both at the end of the night and pre-game due to his rare inclusion in the starting lineup. Popovich obviously has great affection for his longtime star, and it showed on Monday.
If this game was Ginobili’s last, then he went out proving he can still play at a high level. After putting in several terrific performances in the conference semifinals to get the Spurs to this point, Manu continued to provide a creative offensive presence for the Spurs against the Warriors. He put up 15 points (6-of-12 FG), seven assists, and three steals in a team-high 32 minutes and was often the Spurs’ greatest attacking threat in Game 4. That last quality is perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Spurs weren’t able to succeed without the injured Kawhi Leonard, but it’s also a testament to Ginobili’s staying power. Few players have such an impact only two months shy of turning 40 years old.
Monday’s reflections and honors were obviously well earned. Ginobili’s career has included many accolades, including four championships, two All-Star berths, two All-NBA Third Team selections, and an Olympic gold medal. He’s the best South American player and one of the best foreign-born players in the history of the sport.
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Beyond those tangible achievements, though, he has won the love of Spurs fans and neutrals alike with a creative, joyful style that never deteriorated even as age limited his production. Even those who decried the Spurs as boring always named Manu as the exception.
If Ginobili chooses to return for one more year, then Monday’s cheers and chants won’t feel like a premature goodbye. He’s the kind of player whose every season deserves a celebration.
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