Retired NBA player Manu Ginobili had the type of career most NBA players dream of. Playing his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, the Argentinian won several titles and appeared in many All-Star Games.
Scouts didn’t necessarily view Ginobili as a star-in-the-making by scouts before he joined the NBA. In fact, every team passed on him — some more than once — in the draft. Here’s how Ginobili went from an NBA afterthought to a cornerstone of the Spurs dynasty in the 2000s.
Manu Ginobili’s pre-NBA career
Prior to making the move to the NBA, Ginobili played in his native Argentina. In 1995, he made his pro debut at age 18. In 1998, he headed to Europe to play in Italy. Ginobili continued developing his basketball skills in Italy. In his first season in the Italian league, Ginobili averaged 16.9 points per game and showed he can perform on defense, too.
Ginobili was named the Italian League Player of the Year in his second season in the country. He was also playing in Italy when he developed his infamous “flop,” which became one of his signature moves in the NBA.
Ginobili meets the Spurs
Ginobili was so low-profile entering the draft that his name was mispronounced when the draft pick was made. Scouts apparently weren’t impressed with his play internationally. Ginobili didn’t sign with the Spurs upon being drafted. He returned to Italy for another couple of seasons and finally make his NBA debut in 2002.
Ginobili played 16 seasons in the league — all with San Antonio — and won four NBA titles. He averaged 13.3 points per game in his career, with 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In the 2007-08 season, he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and became a centerpiece of the Spurs dynasty.
We’re certain that all of the front offices who passed on Ginobili in ’99 kicked themselves after they saw the kind of star he became. But he could have been an even bigger star if he wasn’t overshadowed by longtime teammates Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
Ginobili’s retires from the NBA
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end — and that includes Ginobili’s NBA career. He announced his retirement in an August 2018 tweet, when he was 41 years old — 23 years after he made his pro debut in his homeland. At the time of his retirement, Ginobili still had a year left on his contract with the Spurs, worth $2.5 million.
So why did Ginobili retire when he did, leaving a couple of million dollars on the table? He wrote a letter the day after his announcement explaining the reasons. The Spurs icon wrote that he was waiting for something to “wake” him into wanting to continue playing. Not only did that “waking” not happen, but the opposite occurred.
When he began training for the next season, he watched younger players going out onto the court to “train and break their backs to be well for the preseason.” Ginobili, on the other hand, was still hurt from the previous season and knew that the physicality of the sport was too much of him. “Little by little,” he wrote he “was convinced of the decision.”