SAN ANTONIO – Manu Ginobili wore his heart on his sleeve during his international and NBA career so it was fitting his jersey retirement ceremony was just as emotional and heartfelt.
The San Antonio Spurs officially retired Ginobili’s No. 20 jersey Thursday night. Ginobili became the ninth player in franchise history to receive the honor.
The Argentina native played 16 NBA seasons in San Antonio and won four NBA championships with head coach Gregg Popovich and the famed “Big Three,” which consisted of Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
He won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina, his other basketball family, in 2004. Family was a central theme of the ceremony.
Parker, Duncan and Popovich all gave speeches, lauding Ginobili’s accomplishments, his tenacity, fearlessness and importance as a teammate and brother.
They also told stories, at times humorous, of a player who was not like anything San Antonio had ever seen before. Duncan recalled the day when he heard they drafted Ginobili.
"We pick people I've never heard of. I hear ... Emmaniel Ginili," Duncan said, recreating the puzzled look of draft day.
Popovich said there would be no championships in San Antonio without Ginobili, and his willingness to come off the bench was the epitome of a team player.
"To me, he's the definition of Spurs basketball because he had no ego," Parker said.
"He was like a mustang out in the field somewhere," Popovich said. "That's how he lived his life on the court he was fearless and wild and did things that won games."
Fabricio Oberto, Ginobili’s longtime Argentinian teammate and good friend, also spoke during the ceremony. Oberto and Ginobili were a part of the country's "Golden Generation."
Popovich called the team one of the best he had ever seen. Oberto said they were a family more than anything.
When it was time for Ginobili to speak, he became emotional and thanked his parents and wife, who made sacrifices for him to achieve his goals and dreams, which at the time did not appear to be possible.
“What am I doing here,” Ginobili said. “I had no expectations of being here when I was growing up.”
📹This intro before Manu Ginobili walked onto the floor for his jersey retirement ceremony...straight up chills...another great job by the Spurs and the fans. #GraciasManu #NBA #KSATsports #KSATnews #Spurs pic.twitter.com/V6TWPzIrnB— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) March 29, 2019
He then thanked his former teammates, coaches, Spurs staff members and the city that quickly adopted him as one of their own.
“First time I’m on the court, you guys are cheering and chanting my name and I felt like you guys had my back,” Ginobili said, thanking the crowd.
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of No. 20 in the AT&T Center rafters.
Ginobili may not be the greatest Spur of all-time, but arguably the most beloved due to his connection to the Latin community and style of play that was summed up best by Parker.
“Nobody can control Manu,” Parker said. “Manu is going to be Manu."