Manu Ginobili Has Embraced His Role As A Mentor To Victor Wembanyama And The Spurs

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Manu Ginobili

A San Antonio Spurs legend who has been a special advisor since September 2021, former Argentine guard Manu Ginobili is a unanimous favorite with the players, whom he advises both on and off the court.

The last glimpses of brown hair seen during his career have given way to a perfectly shaved head, often concealed beneath a grey and black cap. At the age of 46, Manu Ginobili, a four-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, has pivoted to the role of special advisor to the franchise, a position he has held for the past two and a half years. “I don’t know exactly what his job is, but he does what he wants. And that’s the way it’s always going to be,” jokes Gregg Popovich.

On this March morning, the former superstar made the usual trip to the Victory Capital Performance Center, the Spurs’ training facility, alternating between discussions with the franchise’s management and technical advice, ball in hand, given to the players. Earlier in the season, he was seen playing tour guide in San Antonio, taking Victor Wembanyama and Co. on a tour of the city. Manu Ginobili is also present for the majority of home games, often hidden in the stands between his three boys. “I try to contribute in any way I can. I do a bit of everything, without doing too much either,” he summed up in November in an interview with Tony Parker on Skweek.

“The Wizard” has politely declined our interview requests in recent weeks, justifying “leading a quiet life with lots of family time.” But the players speak for him, and they’re enthusiastic—like Victor Wembanyama, who met him for dinner last June after the draft. “Right from the start, he was one of those who most wanted to welcome us. Me personally, but also the whole team,” explains the French rookie. He gives me advice on basketball, but also off it, on how to manage my training sessions, sleep better, or about my house.”

At 21, Blake Wesley is in his second season with the Spurs. The American guard remembers being “impressed” when he met Ginobili. “Everyone knows what he’s accomplished here. It’s a chance to share the same gym with him. He’s helped me work on my shooting, but also and above all to become a better person.” Adds 20-year-old guard Malaki Branham,  “He’s like a big brother. You can ask him anything, he’ll always be there for you.” 

Main link with Spurs’ past

Among the legendary players who have won with the Spurs, the 2004 Olympic champion is the only one to have a regular role with the current squad. His voice is heard all the more because the team is the youngest in the League (average age 23) and lacks veterans. “It’s important to have people like him around us because they know how to win titles,” confirms Branham.

In press conferences, Gregg Popovich often uses him as an example to send messages to his squad. “If Manu was able to put his ego aside and play off the bench during his career, anyone can do that. I don’t want to hear anyone complaining,” he warned at the start of the season (a quip no doubt aimed at his winger Keldon Johnson, who lost his starting spot in December). “I spoke to Manu about it, of course. He told me it’s for the good of the team, and that I should be ready to embrace the role,” says Johnson.

At 75 years of age (with 28 of them on the Spurs bench), Gregg Popovich hasn’t changed the recipe that has led him to such success: training human beings as much as basketball players. In this quest, Manu Ginobili plays an essential role. “He’s the most intelligent and curious player I’ve had in my career. I enjoy having him around the players every day, for the basketball development work he does, but also to get them thinking about other subjects,” says the coach.

Since his retirement in 2018, Ginobili has been enjoying his new life away from the spotlight. He divides his time between the Spurs, his family, and his passion for cycling, with which he gobbles up miles in the San Antonio area. “I don’t see him having a bigger role in the franchise in the short term. At the very least, we’ll have to wait for his two eldest children (his twins, aged 13) to leave home for university,” says a colleague who has been following the Spurs for over 15 years. “We’re lucky he wants to keep helping us like this. The thing he doesn’t want to do, though, is coach. He’s too smart for that,” continues “Pop,” dismissing an option that seemed so natural for Ginobili.

This post is originally from L’Équipe