This week started off even worse than a typical Monday. On the morning of Aug. 27, a legend shocked the world with his decision to hang ‘em up. Four-time NBA champion, two-time NBA All-Star, Olympic gold medalist, EuroLeague Final Four MVP and most importantly one of the greatest competitors the sport of basketball has ever seen, Manu Ginóbili, announced his retirement.
Many people, including myself, thought he had one more year left in his bag and I still think Ginóbili has an ounce of basketball left in him. I believe he had more in him, but it was time for him to leave the Spurs, as there was no chance that he would play under some other name, under some other coach, in a different system.
It would have been a great farewell season had he decided to play one more year, but that would be against his character, his competitive nature and humility, to go out there and turn the attention to himself rather than the team. No, that’s not in line with the player and person who would offer to take a seat on the bench for the good of the team.
I guess Gregg Popovich gave him his farewell present by starting him in his last-ever game last April, but no one saw that coming or at least no one wanted to.
Ginóbili’s retirement is probably the last of a series of knockout punches to the Spurs faithful, with Kawhi Leonard’s messy departure (not really a knockout punch but a punch nevertheless) and Tony Parker leaving for Charlotte. There is no doubt that Ginóbili’s hurts the most.
Salute to those who are still standing upright in San Antonio.
As the Big Three era is officially over at the AT&T Center, I think it is a good time to look back at what Ginóbili helped build in San Antonio.
Possibly one of the best descriptions of what the Spurs’ culture is came from Parker in his farewell letter “Thank You, San Antonio” in The Players’ Tribune.
“(L)eaving the team in better shape than when they found it,” Parker said in his piece. “And that’s Spurs Culture, to me, you know? Fulfilling your expectations, while also making room for this larger responsibility to the whole.”
I think that’s why Ginóbili retired and Parker left even though they may have had more to offer. Just because it was the time. Their biggest partner in crime, Tim Duncan, had retired in 2016, signaling the beginning of the end.
Spurs culture wasn’t only about having the best players, but perhaps more importantly, having the best characters and supporting cast. The team built around Duncan for 19, Parker for 17 and Ginóbili for 16 seasons as Spurs. And this season, for the first time, one of them will wear a different NBA jersey.
With Popovich, these guys weren’t only great — they made everyone around them great and helped everyone develop while continually competing for a title nearly every season. That, my friends, is not easy.
Finally, it is hard to talk about the Spurs at the moment without mentioning the Leonard situation — an unusual problem for the Spurs organization. After developing and sharing a locker room with Duncan, Ginóbili and Parker, everyone thought he would be the one to carry the torch and start something new.
Unfortunately, that script was torn in two.
After all this, I would argue that Leonard didn’t embody the Spurs culture and I don’t think Spurs fans will miss Leonard next season. But they will miss having Ginóbili on the floor and seeing Parker in a Spurs jersey.
What’s next for the Spurs remains to be seen. Fans will need to wait and see if Popovich can continue the culture with the likes of Dejounte Murray, LaMarcus Aldridge and the silver lining of the Leonard trade — DeMar DeRozan. With Popovich, everyone should believe everything is possible.
Thank you, Manu, one last time for all the great memories. You’re a first-ballot hall of famer without a doubt. The words are insufficient to truly describe your value to not just basketball but to the sporting world.
Finally, I will end this column, trying not to shed tears, with the video of his do-it-all approach — defending everyone against a bat.