That fracture changed his life in unexpected ways. It forced a standoff with San Antonio and led to a huge disappointment: missing the World Cup. Today, Manu made the trip to Buenos Aires to spend one more day with the national team during the Three Nations tournament, but he didn't practice. "I'm not a part of it anymore," he says, with a noticeable hint of sadness and nostalgia. Shortly after being with the team for the afternoon snack, Manu stays behind to have a chat with La Nación while his teammates Facundo Campazzo and Luis Scola leave for shoot-around.
It's not just the player's routine that changes. The approval he had asked from the school so that his two older boys, Dante And Nicola, could start attending a month later than the start of the semester is no longer necessary. So he will spend a couple more weeks in Argentina and then go back to the U.S. and to his daily life, looking to face the last stretch of his recovery with the franchise.
Roberto Vartanian, the team's equipment manager, walks by and they share a hug that embodies a lifetime of memories. "For me to do this interview, it has to feature a photo of me and Turquito. Come here," he tells him and then he playfully sits on his lap.
The bond is still strong. That's why "not being a part of it" is so hard. He quickly starts recapping the soap opera that was his injury situation. "From the moment I felt pain, I stopped doing impact workouts and in two days it went away. That makes it a bit strange, because I feel good and I'm still out of the tournament. It's anything involving impact - jumping, pushing off, stopping - that brings back the pain. Right here and now, I don't feel anything."
"The emotional aspect is more complicated. Being here, watching the guys and having them tell me what they've been doing, how things went in Brazil is hard. And now they are going to Europe, which is when the best part starts. But I've processed things a bit now. The first three days were rough but now I'm more at peace with it," he added.
La Nación: In your column you said your last resort was to contact FIBA and ask for a mediator. Did that hurt your relationship with the franchise?
Manu Ginobili: If it had gotten to that point, it might have because I would have been basically disobeying orders. But I was willing to do it if I felt well and in a condition to play. But when the moment came to start playing and doing impact workouts, the pain was still there. I know myself, this is the third time this has happened to me. I know that when the pain starts, it doesn't stop; taking a day off wasn't going to solve it. The bone has to heal and it hadn't or something else was wrong. During the first training session in which I felt pain, I knew there was no way I could play.
I'm not going to say there would have been not point to it but why call for a mediator when I knew I had a losing hand? If I was going to put up a fight, I had to feel well and know that it was worth it. If I made it to the tournament hurt, the whole thing would have been in vain because I wasn't going to be able to play like I wanted to. Just to be with the team and be able to say "I'm here" -- that's not what I wanted. If I'm going to play a World Cup I need to be healthy, help the team and feel well. When I felt pain I knew there was no way I could play.
Was it a similar situation to Beijing 2008?
That time it didn't get to this point. We reached an agreement earlier. I was six years younger and it's not the same to recover from injury at 31 than it is at 37. So in 2008 (the Spurs) relented and told me "go play and we'll see how it goes." They indulged me. I was happy, I played and in the last game my ankle said "enough." It didn't set a good precedent.
After your situation and seeing what happened to Paul George, could there be a change in the relationship between the NBA and international players?
I don't think so. That happens in the NBA as well, people get injured. Something like that can happen while training at home. With the crowd and everything you push yourself a little bit harder and that play from Paul George was unnecessary. But I doubt it can lead to the FIBA/NBA agreement to change. It's not something that happens frequently at all. How often does a player miss a whole season?
And yet some franchises have raised some complaints about it already.
As it always happens. It was shocking and he will be out for ten or 12 months. It's too atypical a case to consider it a real concern going forward. Obviously, I don't think any franchise that has invested hundreds of millions on a team is going to be happy about its players participating in another tournament. But we'll have to wait and see what happens.
Between your absence, Carlos Delfino's and Juan Gutierrez's, the national team has lost a lot of talent. What's your take on that?
The good thing is we are not going through a radical change, in the sense that there are not ten new players. Having Pablo (Prigioni), Chapu (Andres Nocioni), Leo (Gutierrez), Luifa (Luis Scola) and even Walter (Herrmann), who has been with the team before, makes it so that there is a good group for the younger players to join and bond with the veterans.
You are 37 years old. Are you thinking about what's left in store for you?
There's not much left, sadly. We'll see how much. I don't like to speculate as to when it's going to end. I know I'll play the upcoming season. If I feel like I did this past season, I'll keep going for sure. If I feel like I did the season before, I don't know. More than age, what matters the most is my health and the mental aspect. Basketball-wise, I'm in a perfect situation. I'm with a team that takes great care of me, in which I have my role and I'm not asked to do too much. I'm a leader to my teammates. And I feel respected enough to not have to prove myself every day. So if I feel like I did last season, I'll keep playing.
Are you comfortable saying you'll never play with the national team again?
If I had played this tournament, it would have definitely been my last. As things stand today, I'd say it's almost certain, like a 98% chance that I'll never play again. It will always be hard for me to retire from this team. I know how slim the chances are, so today I'd say that yes, this was my last chance and it's past. But I also felt like I was playing for the last time with the national team during the London Olympics. I knew there could be other chances but I played thinking it was the last time. In my mind, I was retiring in 2012. That's why the decision to play this time was hard for me. Playing at 37 and after a season that extended to June... So because of that, it didn't hurt as badly to feel like this was it.