What follows is a translation of the second part of an interview Diego Morini of La Nacion newspaper had with Manu Ginobili. Manu confirmed he won't play for the national team anymore in the first part.
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The playoffs are coming and the team is rounding into form. What have you been doing to bring that change about?
There's no secret to it. We started to play better, our confidence grew, more players performed better and we started to execute with more responsibility and for longer stretches. I think over the last two weeks, after that unbelievable game we lost to the Knicks, we've improved and are starting to look like the team we want to be. It's a little late in the season but it happened, which is good. We are in the run for a top three record. We got things on track.
Can you achieve stability in the playoffs? Flip the switch then and there?
The playoffs are a completely different story, it's completely different. It doesn't matter what you did before. We'll surely won't have home court advantage and it's not far-fetched to think we could be bounced. We are all optimistic about our chances to go far but there's a possibility we could be eliminated early. People talked about how great we played last season, how wonderful out style was but we almost got eliminated in the first round. Everything can happen in the West. So we have to be calmed and focused or we could be sent home.
There are no prohibitive favorites and it looks like any team could go all the way. Does that increase your confidence?
It's very clear that anyone could win it all. Golden State was the best team in the regular season and they are sharp and at a peak confidence level. That said, they are entering an area in which they are not that experienced. We'll have to see what happens in the playoffs. They definitely were the best team but on a series with people on your side and everything, if you miss shots, nothing goes in, you opponent is inspired -- you are then 0-1 and everything changes. Those 65 games you won earlier don't do you any good. We've experienced being the number one seed and being eliminated. So the regular season is good for getting in rhythm and getting home court advantage but not much else.
How are you feeling after the sprain?
I had a couple of tough weeks, first with the virus, which I rushed back from, played eight minutes and fell apart. Then I suffered the sprain but it was only eight days, so here I am, trying to feel better. I'm healthy and I have the pains that are normal at this age and at this stage of the season. I can't complain.
"I can't complain." Is that because what you have done is within the range of what you set out to do this season?
Yes. I had good moments and others, not so much. Right now I have my head set in trying to enjoy the road and not just the destination. December was a struggle and so was the rodeo trip. It wasn't easy to recuperate from that. I'm trying to stick to this new philosophy of enjoying the day-to-day and not fixate on the result. I couldn't always do it because I lived at a different pace for so many years but now I'm feeling well again. Now the season is less demanding, the schedule is softer and there's not as much travel. I've found some balance.
When did that change you talk about came about?
After that season we lost (against Miami in 2013). I said to myself I either had to make that adjustment or leave and do something else with my life. I couldn't continue to suffer like that. It was very hard, first with the injuries and then not being able to be my best version when the team needed me. That took a huge mental toll. That's why I said I'd either change or do something else because that wasn't healthy.
Did it affect you outside the court?
I was having a hard time in general, because that pressure was always with me. It's not like I got home and was still suffering but it did affect me. This season I've been able to handle it better at some points and not so well at others but I'm generally more relaxed, not so dramatic. I think that also comes with age. There's more maturity and you start to think "I'm almost 38 years old and I'm playing for an elite team. It's a perfect situation." So I started to accept that I can't play like I did in 2008 but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the day-to-day. That's how I changed.
You seem more upset with officials at times than in the past. Is dealing with that harder to do for you now?
I don't notice any differences in that area. I was always hotheaded and temperamental. I try to enjoy myself but in the middle of a game if I turn the ball over three times in a row I get incredibly mad. I immediately lose my cool. But then I calm down when I go to the bench, after talking to a teammate and getting my pulse down. In the past I would be upset for a day or two. In general I'm more calm now.
Do you work on those control issues on your own?
Yes, I just get myself to buy in.
So you are not a big fan of psychologists.
I like psychoanalysis. It's been a while since I've done it, almost three years. When I'm in Bahia Blanca I do it a little but it's not the reason I can control my emotions in a game. It's not like I'm constantly scrutinizing myself or talking about it. What has lead me to make the decisions I'm making now is because I know that the end is near. And everyone who's retired from it tells me "enjoy it. Play one more year." I've been doing this for 19 years and if it doesn't happen after this season it will happen after next: it will be over and I will never get it back.
You once said that when you were a boy you would look at yourself in the mirror and scold yourself when you didn't do things right and congratulate yourself when you did. After 19 years, how do you deal with things?
When the game ends I go home feeling better if I had a good game and did what was expected of me. If I score two points and turn it over five times, I don't feel as well but I'm also not as critical of myself. I tell myself that I'm dumb, how could I had play so poorly, but that's it. Ten seconds later I see my kids, spend time with them, tuck them in and my mindset changes. I allow myself to make mistakes and move on from them, like everyone else. See, I didn't use to do that.
And how do you deal with your emotions when you are relied upon in clutch moments? Not everyone can.
It happens less often now than in the past. There was a five year stretch in which I knew those moments were coming and I was happy and proud about it. I even thought I was good at it, I felt important. It happens much less often now. I'm more of a playmaker trying to get the ball moving and everyone feeling happy.
You are using you brain more than your body.
Yeah, sure. But it's also true that I have less confidence than before. Three years ago, if I didn't get the ball I'd get angry or frustrated because I used to feel, mentally, that I was going to win the game. Now I basically say to myself that if I happen to be called upon, I'll try to do my best. I don't have that conviction I used to have anymore.
You say you are not as confident but in the finals you drove into the paint and dunked on Chris Bosh.
Yes, but that wasn't the last shot of a game. It's different. When I'm on the court I want to do things I probably shouldn't attempt. But having that last shot and going "I want the ball, I'll make it happen" -- that doesn't happen like it would in the past.
Something peculiar is happening at this stage of your career, as Messina and Popovich, your basketball "fathers" are both in the sidelines together. What does that mean to you?
It's so strange. It feels more normal now because it's been eight months. But it's truly something special and unique. I have great respect and appreciation for both. I think Ettore was the one who transformed me into a great player. I always say that I played well and was flashy, going behind the back, dunking and whatever. But the one who turned me into a very good team player was him. By force, but we still always had a great relationship. I always treated him with respect and he did the same to me. So it's really great being on the same team again. We talk a lot and we are in contact constantly. It's a bit harder to stay connected with Pop during the season because we are both immersed in what we do. But when it ends we typically have more personal conversations, especially when we go out to eat. That's when that mutual appreciation appears.
When you stop to reflect for a second on what you have accomplished in the past 19 years, does it all exceed your expectations or is everything within what you expected?
It definitely exceeds them. No one would have imagined anything like this. Not even playing in the NBA for so many years. I remember that when I was starting with this, when I turned pro, I hoped to play until I was 33 or 34. Maybe play in Europe. Those were my goals. And now I'm almost 38 years old and I see myself playing in San Antonio, an elite team that always contends -- It's obviously more than I ever dreamed of. But thing just happen slowly. You start to feel better, accomplish one goal and set another for yourself, add something to your game and one thing leads to another. It's obviously a lot more than I could have ever dreamed of.
Bahia Blanca is home. What does San Antonio mean to you?
It's the place that allowed me to fully develop as a player while at the same time making me and my family feel very comfortable. It's the place where my children were born. These past 13 years have been unforgettable, without question. And I'll be bound to the city for life. But my family and friends give Bahia Blanca a strong pull. We'll see what happens in the future.
The people of San Antonio consider you a hero who always steps up when needed, like in the playoffs. What does that mean to you?
I feel the respect and affection the people have for everything we've accomplished in the past 13 years. Yet I have to repeat that I'm not at a place where I can match those expectations. I want to do things well every game, would love to play well every time. That's harder to do in the playoffs because there's no tomorrow. It's different in an 82-game season. But it's not like it used to be, when I would go into a game thinking about destroying everyone, saying "give me the ball and I'll take care of everything." Now I'm just another cog that helps the team run but I'm no longer the main scorer or the go-to guy to solve our problems.