SAN ANTONIO, United States (AFP) — The San Antonio Spurs paid tribute to Manu Ginobili on Thursday, honoring a basketball career that included not only four NBA titles but also Olympic gold with his native Argentina.
The Spurs raised Ginobili’s No. 20 jersey to the rafters of the AT&T Center, making him the ninth Spurs player to have his number retired.
“I stand here and I think what am I doing here?” Ginobili said. “This was not supposed to happen to me. I had no expectations whatsoever growing up to be even close to being here.
“When I started to become kind of good I thought maybe I’ll have a quite successful career in Europe, maybe win something with the national team — who knows.
“Then one day I suddenly wake up and I hear what these legends say about me,” said Ginobili, who was feted by former teammates Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and members of Argentina’s Golden Generation National Team with whom he won Olympic gold in 2004.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “I’m beyond, beyond appreciative.
“It was a long ride from growing up in Argentina. But I’ve been lucky. I was raised in a family with two very supportive, present parents that allowed me and my brothers to follow our dreams.”
Former Spurs teammate Tim Duncan, who was the eighth player to have his number retired by the team, was among the franchise greats on hand to honor Ginobili during and after the Spurs’ 116-110 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ginobili spent his entire 16 year career in San Antonio. In addition to four titles, his winning percentage of .721 (762-295) is the best winning percentage in NBA history among players who have appeared in at least 1,000 games.
Selected by San Antonio with the 57th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Ginobili appeared in 1,057 career games, averaging 13.3 points, 3.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.32 steals in 25.4 minutes.
He is the Spurs all-time leader in three-pointers made (1,495) and steals (1,392), while ranking third in games played (1,057), fourth in assists (4,001), fourth in free throws made (3,380) and fifth in points (14,043).
Only two players have more than 800 rebounds, 800 assists and 300 three-pointers in their NBA playoff careers — Ginobili and LeBron James.
Ginobili’s professional career lasted 23 seasons in all, starting with stints in Italy and Argentina.
“For me he is the most complete (Argentine sportsman) of all,” said Fabricio Oberto, with whom Ginobili won Olympic gold and a 2007 NBA title.
Parker called Ginobili a “unique” talent.
“There is no other word to describe you,” he said. “You were so unique that even Pop didn’t know what to do with you the first two years.”
Popovich lauded Ginobili’s willingness to adapt to coming off the bench — not always an easy adjustment amid the egos of the NBA.
“Lucky for our team he is intelligent and he understood it. And one day he will go into the Hall of Fame coming off the bench,” Popovich said.
“As good as a competitor that he was and as much as he loves the game, what he really cares about is those four people right there,” Popovich added with a nod to Ginobili’s wife and children. “He understands priorities and he was one of the greatest teammates anyone could ever have.”
© Agence France-Presse