San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili walked off the AT&T Center court for perhaps the final time in his brilliant career on Monday, showered with cheers from the home crowd and respect from both teams.
With Golden State completing an inevitable 4-0 series sweep over the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the contest became an ode to Argentinian great Ginobili who may announce his retirement this off-season after 15 years in the NBA.
With the end a possibility for the 39-year-old Ginobili, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich put his veteran in the starting lineup for the first time this campaign.
Ginobili responded with 15 points, seven assists and some vintage moments as the crowd chanted “Manu, Manu” throughout the night.
“I started him tonight out of respect. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to honor him in front of our fans,” Popovich told reporters after the Spurs lost 129-115 to the Warriors, who applauded Ginobili as he left the court in the fourth quarter.
“He deserves to have that night of respect to feel we appreciate everything he has done over the years.”
Drafted by San Antonio in 1999, Ginobili did not break into the league until the 2002-03 campaign, but quickly made an impact with his left-handed play-making wizardry.
A four-time NBA champion who willingly accepted a sixth man role with the Spurs despite his talent and profile, Ginobili has yet to decide if he will return or fade off into retirement.
“I always said I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, whatever. Sit with my wife and see how it feels,” Ginobili said. “I have to choose between two wonderful options.
“One is to keep playing in this league at this age enjoying playing a sport I still love. The other one is to stay at home and be a dad, enjoy my whole family and spend time with them. Whatever I decide to do, I’ll be a happy camper.”