A freshly shorn Manu Ginobili ambled over to greet an old familiar face with a big smile and cheerfully feigned surprise, asking Mike Monroe of the Express-News, "You haven't retired yet?"
Monroe, not missing a beat, replied, "I was gonna ask you the same thing."
The Argentine legend was in a far better mood than when we last saw him, in the visitor's locker room at the Staples Center looking weary, defeated and ready to call it a career.
All it took for a change of heart and perhaps a charge of battery was some time away in his home country relaxing with friends and family and some welcome news that the Spurs had signed a new big man to replace his good friend and former teammate Tiago Splitter.
"There were points where I really thought about it, if I was really ready to go (for) it again," admitted Ginobili. "I wanted to take a month or two months before deciding... after a while I watched the NBA Finals, talked to [Tim Duncan] and Pop, saw that we signed the big fella, and I started to feel those things and I wasn't ready to be an ex-player, so I decided to go in because I wanted to take this challenge, it was exciting enough."
Ginobili's teammates, especially his fellow "Big Three" companions Duncan and Tony Parker made it clear to him that they wanted him to return. "I wanted him here, I wanted him back, and not having him around would've been a huge disappointment," Duncan confirmed, as did Gregg Popovich. There was even subtle pressure from "the big fella," a.k.a. LaMarcus Aldridge, who let it be known he wanted the Spurs to have their full arsenal surrounding him if he were to commit to San Antonio. With peer pressure like that, how could Ginobili refuse?
"The fact of being wanted and needed too, also helped, and when they talked to me about it, it made me feel good, that it wasn't like a charity thing, ‘Oh let's bring the old man back, he's been here so long and he's a part of the rings or the banners,'" Ginobiili explained. "But no, the fact that they told me that they needed me and wanted me back, and me feeling what I felt watching the Finals and started to miss the game, it made it easier than before."
Now comes the challenge for Ginobili to not only gear himself to compete for another grueling season at age 38 but to quickly get on the same page with a handful of teammates. There's Aldridge, who will start of course, but also David West, Ray McCallum, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathon Simmons and perhaps others. As a reserve, Ginobili will be the guy playing with --and leading-- these newcomers.
"When you add players like LaMarcus and David, especially but Ray too and the other guys... it makes it exciting," Ginobili said. "And sometimes you need a little change, a little shake, and that's not a ‘little.' When you see LaMarcus Aldridge is a part of the team it's not a little shake anymore, so it's very exciting and we have high expectations."
I always get a kick out of Ginobili early in camp. His English is rusty so it takes him awhile to find the word he's looking for, or he just makes up a colloquialism on the fly. Then, by January, he's the most fluent guy on the team again.
It's the little things.
As for his goals for the season, "the main ones are team oriented," Ginobili said. "I want to do good, make a long playoff run and try to get another championship. Individually, I want to help the team to get to that point, I want to stay healthy and on a more psychological level, I want to enjoy the ride. I think I did it much better the last two years, but I want to enjoy the day-to-day, not only the getting to the finish line, but along the way too, and I think it's important. We've got eight long months and I'm pretty sure when it's over I'm going to miss it, whenever it happens, so I want to enjoy the everyday."
We should enjoy the everyday right along with him. In more ways than can be counted, we're never going to get another one like Manu Ginobili.