IT was most certainly just a matter of time before Manu Ginobili announced his decision to hang up his sneakers. He had been working out at the Spurs practice facility daily, and he was, to be sure, tied to a contract that secured for him a roster spot should he have opted to play for one more year. The writing was on the wall, though, beginning with the retirement of Tim Duncan in 2016 and culminating with the departure of Tony Parker earlier in the offseason. The subsequent trade of Kawhi Leonard didn’t help, although it wouldn’t have mattered a whit to him had The Original Big Three still been intact.
And so Ginobili announced the end of his playing career yesterday, no doubt an agonizing development given his singular love for the sport that made him an international star and a local legend. His exit closes the book on a 16-year affair with the National Basketball Association that saw the Spurs nab four championships and establish a well-deserved and unparalleled reputation for consistent competitiveness. Season in and season out, they were in the thick of things, certain to vie for the hardware with a decidedly team-centered philosophy. And, just like them, he was expected to produce like clockwork, surely and efficiently sans any effort to draw attention to himself.
Given Ginobili’s style of play, however, staying out of the limelight couldn’t have been possible. He was a tireless dynamo armed with a velvet-smooth touch, superb court vision, and, most importantly, utter fearlessness. His unique skill set and willingness to defy the odds — and, occasionally, the Spurs’ system and head coach Gregg Popovich’s instructions — spelled both success and stardom. The Euro step was his, even when it wound up being copied to the point of being part and parcel of his peers’ basic drills; a mere crutch to them, it defined his game.
Not surprisingly, Ginobili noted that he would continue to be involved with the Spurs. Basketball is in his blood, flowing in his veins and compelling him to keep investing in hoops, as much a testament to his work ethic as an offshoot of the rewards he has derived from it. “It has been a fabulous journey,” he tweeted. “Way beyond my wildest dreams.” Indeed — for him and for every single fan who understands how much he has made the sport all the better for having touched it.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.