SAN ANTONIO — In pondering retirement from the NBA, Manu Ginobili consulted with family and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, but perhaps 8-year-old son Nico uttered the most compelling case for a return for a 17th season.
Ginobili recalled asking his three children whether “they were excited that Dad is not gonna be traveling as much, that we were going to be able to go to Argentina.”
“They said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,'” Ginobili said, laughing.
Then Nico butted in to speak his piece.
“I don’t want you to retire, Dad,” Nico said.
“Why?” Ginobili asked.
“Well, the chicken tenders in the family room are awesome,” his son answered.
In typical lighthearted fashion, Ginobili addressed San Antonio media for the first time Saturday since announcing his retirement Aug. 27 on Twitter and explained the terror he felt in actually typing out his decision to close the book on a storybook professional career.
“After the announcement, I didn’t have the chance to see you guys, to talk to you,” Ginobili said. “I didn’t want to announce it with this type of environment and with all the things that were going on in my head. Even though I am very sure about the decision, it’s still awkward. It’s still tough. You are convinced. You’ve talked to your wife, and you know what you’ve got to do. But my fingers shook a lot before hitting that enter [button].
“I’m telling you, it wasn’t an easy decision in the sense that after so many years, 23 seasons of doing this, it was kind of hard to put the last nail in that coffin. It was an intense situation that was a little bit sensitive. So I wanted to wait a couple weeks before facing you and responding to your questions.”
Ginobili competed in a total of 23 professional basketball seasons, winning four NBA titles, an Olympic gold medal for Argentina and a EuroLeague MVP award.
He turned 41 on July 28 and explained taking careful consideration in arriving at his decision, despite playing last season believing that it would likely be his last. Before heading off on vacation with his wife, Marianela, and their three sons in Canada and the Pacific Northwest over the summer, Ginobili told Popovich that he was more likely to retire than to continue playing.
Once Ginobili returned to San Antonio, he headed back to the team facilities for workouts, which would ultimately cement his decision.
“I took last season mentally as my last season,” Ginobili said. “So every place I went, every situation, I kind of knew it was going to be the last one. But I left the door open, just in case. Slowly, the door started to close more. I couldn’t see my body going through that kind of grind again. I felt that I had a good season, that I left everything I had in that previous season both physically and mentally.
“When I came back here and I came to work out a little bit, to lift, bike or whatever, I saw Bryn [Forbes], I saw Dejounte [Murray], I saw 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.”
Still, Ginobili wanted to make sure to speak with Popovich first. The two finally sat down to talk after Popovich returned from working at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp in Belgrade, Serbia.
Popovich made one last effort to convince Ginobili to return, but the coach knew it was time.
“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, they will do so without a single member of the franchise’s famed Big Three — Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan — on the floor for the first time since the 1997-98 season. Ginobili believes that for Popovich, “It’s going to be maybe awkward for him sometimes,” but he is also convinced the coach is up to leading an almost entirely new team.
“It’s going to be a challenge to learn more about the new guys and see what buttons to push,” Ginobili said. “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.”
Ginobili said his future plans are fluid, but he plans to spend the next couple of months in San Antonio before heading to Argentina next summer. He will spend some time around the team’s facilities, similar to the way Duncan visits regularly. Duncan has a locker inside the coaches’ locker room and often works out with the team.
Popovich has joked in the past that Duncan can return to the organization in any capacity he would like. So it wouldn’t come as a surprise for the organization to extend a similar offer to Ginobili.
“We have no plans long term, and I am loving that,” Ginobili said. “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 when I can go to a gym whenever I want, that I can take the kids every morning to school or do things that before I couldn’t.”
Asked about the most significant moment of his NBA career, Ginobili mentioned he had “a few moments in each of my stages of my career” but pointed out the team’s 2014 championship as “outstanding emotionally” after the Spurs had floundered the year before in the 2013 Finals loss to the Miami Heat.
“I was carrying a very heavy load in my bag for what happened the year before,” Ginobili said. “Being able to leave that aside, feel that I helped the team to accomplish that goal, was huge. A very important moment of my career. We did it with a great team, a team that played great in a fun way, altruistically. And I was already older. When I got here and we won the first championship, I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t know what was going on, how hard it was. At 37, and after a couple of frustrating moments where we were very close, that was very fulfilling and a big joy.”