Manu Ginobili: An unorthodox Hall of Fame career

Marco Benitez
FILE - SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22: Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs is seen during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Photos by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

#GraciasManu

This was the hashtag that was trending on social media a few days ago, shortly after Manu Ginobili announced his retirement from the NBA on Twitter.

Indeed, the city of San Antonio, the NBA, the country of Argentina, and in fact, the entire basketball world, has plenty of reasons to be thankful for the career of one Emmanuel David Ginobili.

For Argentina, Ginobili is regarded as arguably the best basketball player to come out of their country. He led their country’s Golden Generation of basketball, which included a runner-up finish in the 2002 FIBA World Cup, and so far, their only Olympic gold medal in history in the 2004 Athens Olympics where they defeated Team USA to advance to the gold the sport. He also led their team four years later in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to a bronze medal, their second-highest finish in Olympic history. So great has his contribution to Argentine basketball been that even renowned footballer Lionel Messi, when told that Manu Ginobili was being compared to him, said that it should be the other way around, and that he should be the Manu of football.  

For the City of San Antonio, he was the most mercurial member of their Big 3, the one Coach Gregg Popovich admitted he had to just accept and “let Manu be Manu…” But he was also the most competitive, the most exhilarating, the most unorthodox, and the one most likely to pull off something never seen before on a basketball court on any given night.

Drafted 57th overall in 1999, Manu made his debut on Oct. 29, 2002. By that time he was regarded as the best player in Europe – a two-time Italian League MVP and a EuroLeague Finals MVP. Yet, I don’t think anybody thought that Manu would have the type of career that he did. Throughout his 16 seasons in the NBA – all with the Spurs, and all under Pop – Manu has been able to compile a Hall of Fame career despite coming off the bench for practically its entirety. In that respect, he is the epitome of the Spurs’ “Team First” culture, sacrificing his personal numbers for the good of the team. Despite that sacrifice, he was a member of the All-Rookie Second Team, a two-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-NBA Third Team Member, a Sixth Man of the Year Awardee in 2008, and most importantly, a four-time NBA Champion.

While his career per-game numbers (13.3ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.8apg, 45 FG%, 37 3P%) are not spectacular, it is when you drill down to his career per-36 minutes Numbers that he begins to stand out (18.8ppg, 5.0rpg, 5.4apg). When it came to winning, Manu was a proven winner. In fact, per NBA Stats, Manu has the highest winning percentage (.721) in NBA history of players with at least 1,000 career regular season games played. In the postseason is where Manu joins elite company, as one of only two players to have amassed over 800 points, 800 rebounds and 300 three-pointers in their playoff careers: Ginobili and LeBron James. And when you talk about players with over 3,000 points, 800 rebounds, 800 assists and 250 steals in the Playoffs, there are only a few: MJ, Kobe, LeBron, Pippen, DWade, Bird and Ginobili.

More importantly, beyond the numbers, what he brought to the team night in and night out – the competitiveness, the fire, the flare, the love for the game and the team above everything else – these are among the things that made Manu one of a kind.

Manu Ginobili will be remembered for many things: for popularizing the euro-step that is now a go-to move of the NBA’s elite, for his unorthodox daredevil drives, the no-look passes, impossible shots, and defensive gems (like the block on James Harden in the Playoffs two years ago). He will be remembered as an integral part of one of the NBA’s most successful franchises for the last two decades, and at least in my opinion, he should be remembered as one of the top-five international players to have played in the NBA. Ginobili is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one who contributed immensely to the explosion of international talent into the NBA, which has made it a truly global game.

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