So there was this time on Halloween Night in 2009 when Manu Ginobili, one of the greatest guards in NBA history, showed exactly how quick his hands were.
There were 45 seconds to play in the first quarter of the Spurs’ game with Sacramento at the AT&T Center in San Antonio when a bat set sail around the arena. Reports said players from both teams scrambled around in panic. But not Ginobili.
He coolly snagged the intruder with a flick of his left hand then calmly walked it over to an attendant before the team trainer could reach him with sanitizer.
Problem was, the bat quickly got away so officials couldn’t check it for rabies. So Ginobili had to receive 16 injections as a preventative measure.
“It’s just a mouse with wings,” he said that night. “When you can’t dunk anymore, you have to find a way to make it into the news. So that’s what I did. I grabbed a bat. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m going to be retiring soon. If anybody has a pest problem …”
Nine years later, Ginobili may finally be ready for his retirement job.
On Monday, after 16 years with the Spurs, he announced on Twitter he was leaving the sport.
“Today, with a wide range of feelings, I’m announcing my retirement from basketball,” he said. “It’s been a fabulous journey. Way beyond my wildest dreams.”
At 41, Ginobili was balding and his physique could hardly be compared to LeBron James. If James was a mountain, Ginobili was more a sailboat, sleek and lean, effortlessly gliding through the waves.
But that did not diminish the type of player he was, at the end or at any part of the years he spent building the foundation of four NBA champions with the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs never missed the playoffs during his time with them.
The Spurs were hopeful there would be a 17th season. Ginobili, who has been toying with retirement for a few seasons, was working out while the team gave him the space he needed to make his decision. Now, for the first time since 2002, they will be without one of the great sixth men in league history.
“An NBA champion and All-Star, Manu Ginobili is also a pioneer who helped globalize the NBA,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “He is one of basketball’s greatest ambassadors who believes in the power of sports to change lives. And for 16 years, we were fortunate to watch a legend compete at the highest level. Thank you, Manu, for a career that inspired millions of people around the world.”
Ginobili began his NBA career three years after the Spurs drafted him in 1999. He was the 57th overall pick.
“Someone woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me,” Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News in 2013. “I said, ‘They’re the defending NBA champions. Are you sure?’ I had no idea they were even looking at me. I was excited, for sure. Then again, at 57th, I knew the chances of playing were not that good.”
Before he came to the Spurs, Ginobili played seven seasons internationally in Italy and Argentina. He helped Argentina win the 2004 Olympic gold medal after first scoring 29 points in the semifinals against the USA. It marked the first time since 1988 the USA would not win gold. He was the 2001 EuroLeague MVP while playing in Bologna, Italy.
He played in 1,057 regular-season and 218 playoff games with the Spurs and finished his career in the franchise’s top five all time in games, points (14,043), assists (4,001) and steals (1,392).
“You embody how basketball is meant to be played,” tweeted Steph Curry.
According to USA Today, Ginoboli came off the bench in 708 of the 1,057 games his played for the Spurs and they won 72.1 percent of those games. That is the greatest winning percentage in league history among players who have appeared in at least 1,000 games.
He scored a career-high 48 points in a 128-123 overtime win over Phoenix on Jan. 21, 2005, a game he played with two bruised quads and briefly sprained left ankle. Ginobili would score 46 (eight three-pointers) in a game against Cleveland on Feb. 13, 2008.
Ginobili and James are the only two players in league playoff history with least 3,000 points and 300 three-pointers. And according to the Spurs, Ginobili is the all-time postseason leader in points, assists, rebounds, steals, field goals made, three-pointers made and free throws made.
Most notably in this era of player mobility, Ginobili retires as just one of seven NBA players to have spent his entire career (at least 16 seasons) with one team – Reggie Miller, John Stockton, Tim Duncan, John Havlicek, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Howitzki are the others.
And like them all, he will soon be in the Naismith Hall of Fame.