During his time deliberating retirement from the NBA, Manu Ginobili had conversations with his family and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to determine if the four-time NBA champion would return to the team for a 17th season.
Ginobili’s eight-year old son, Nico, made an appealing case to remain a Spur.
“ ‘I don’t want you to retire, dad,’” said Ginobili, on his conversation with his oldest son. “ ‘The chicken tenders in the family room are awesome.’ No. I’ll get you some different chicken tenders in a different situation. That can’t be the reason why I stay!”
The future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili spoke for the first time publicly since he announced his retirement last month.
“I am very sure about the decision, it’s still awkward,” said Ginobili on making the decision to retire. “But my finger shaked a lot before hitting that enter (button). It wasn’t an easy decision.”
“It was hard to put that last nail in the coffin,” Ginobili said. “I couldn’t see my body doing through that kind of grind again. When I came back here and came to workout a little bit to lift or bike or whatever, I saw Bryn (Forbes), I saw Dejounte (Murray) and some of the guys working out and preparing for the season and I was so far from that. That’s when I said, ‘For sure, this is it.’ There was a little bit of that door opened, but it closed pretty quick. I couldn’t see me getting ready for another 82-game season, 65 in my case.”
“It’s been an amazing journey, way beyond anything that can be expected.” – @manuginobili
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) September 15, 2018
However, before he made his final decision, he spoke with Popovich first. Popovich tried unsuccessfully to get him to return for one more season.
“What was said is private, of course,” Ginobili said. “He briefly tried to convince me. He saw me very convinced. I guess he saw it right away. He respected my decision, of course, and we had a great talk.”
When the Spurs open training camp on Sept. 24, it will be the first time since the 1997-98 season that no one from the franchise’s Big Three – Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan will not be around.
Ginobili believes this will be a time for adjustment for Popovich, who will not have at least one of his trusted lieutenants on the court.
“It’s going to be maybe awkward for him sometimes,” Ginobili said. “It’s going to be a challenge to learn more about the new guys and see what buttons to push. With us, it was already too easy. He knew us so well. I think it’s going to be a great challenge for him, having a different kind of team, maybe less corporate knowledge, but still young with energy and wanting to prove a lot of things. It’s going to be a fun challenge. I think he’s going to do good.”
It will also be an awkward time for Ginobili because he has been part of the Spurs’ routine for the past 16 years.
“For all these years, since adulthood, I’ve been taking care of my body, getting ready for the Olympics, getting ready for the World Cup, for the season, recovering from an injury, getting in shape for the next thing, and I’m loving this uncertainty. I’m loving this time that I can go to the gym whenever I want, that I can take my kids every morning to school,” he said. “I guess, eventually, I’m going to miss it, because it’s been 23 years and, I’ve said it multiple times, I loved doing what I did, so for sure, I’m going to miss it in different moments.”
Getting enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame would seem like a certainty for Ginobili. The No. 57 pick in the 1999 draft, Ginobili averaged 13.3 points and 3.8 assists in 1,057 regular-season games. He was a two-time All-Star and was the league’s Sixth Man of the Year for the 2007-08 season (getting 123 of 124 votes), plus he teamed with Popovich for 135 playoff wins – the third-highest total for any player-coach combo in NBA history.
Ginobili’s pro career lasted 23 seasons in all, starting with stints in Italy and his native Argentina. His drawing power was massive even in his final season, and it was common for him to spend plenty of time before road games posing for photos and signing autographs for fans — often international fans who came out to proudly display an Argentinian flag.
Ginobili is a fan favorite in San Antonio and is one of the most accomplished international players in basketball history. He is a two-time NBA All-Star, won an Olympic gold medal for Argentina and is a former Euroleague MVP. He has played 1,057 regular season and 218 playoff games with the Spurs, ranking among the franchise’s all-time leaders in game played, points (14,043), assists (4,001) and steals (1,392).
Ginobili averaged 8.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 20 minutes per game last season for the Spurs.
Looking back at some of his favorite memories, Manu cited the 2014 championship team as “outstanding.”
“The 2014 championship was outstanding,” Manu said. “I was carrying a very heavy load for what happened the year before. We did it with a great team.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report