It was a long wait to get there, but after memorable speeches from the twelve other members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 , it was finally Spurs legend’s Manu Ginobili’s turn with the final speech of the event, and he entered to the loudest round of applause of the night. All host Ahmad Rashad had to do was say was his name, and the “Manu” chants started. You’d think they were in San Antonio.
Classy and funny like always, but also nervous, Ginobili started by poking fun at his presenter, Tim Duncan’s shyness, asking if he wanted to give the speech for him. Of course, he didn’t, so Manu started by crediting the Spurs, Argentina, and his club teams from his childhood for his presence at the Hall of Fame. He became a pro in Argentina at age 18 and was soon discovered in Italy while playing with his national team by none other than former Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who was present at the ceremony, and was thanked for helping turn Manu into an NBA player with the Italian league.
Manu then told the story of the night he was drafted, and how he couldn’t believe it because he’d never even spoken to the Spurs and wasn’t on any NBA teams’ radar, according to his agent. Suddenly, playing in the NBA was more than a pipedream, and sixteen years of playing on the same team, with same coach and the same two teammates most of the time was more than he ever imagined.
He went on to thank Gregg Popovich and told Duncan he was the best to ever play but also an amazing teammate who taught him to be a leader. He then mentioned how he and Tony Parker were perfect teammates who knew how to work off each other and when to let the other shine — at least for what little time it was their ball instead of Duncan’s. He went to mention how championship teams need more than stars and coaches, but also the right role players, with shoutouts to Bruce Bowen, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Michael Finley, and Fabricio Oberto, to name a few. He also thanked Spurs organization as a whole from the equipment managers up to Will Sevening and RC Buford.
As Manu began to conclude, he described his experience with Argentina national team as whole other parallel career, thanking teammates for their past adventures together and more to come. He also thanked the NBA and commissioners, fans all over the world, and he finished by emotionally addressing his parents in Spanish — while needed encouragement from crowd to keep going as he became overwhelmed — and finally addressed his wife Many and kids, Nicola, Luka and Dante.
Somewhat ironically, one of Manu’s biggest fans, Charles Barkley, was in the background of the camera shots of Many and the Ginobili children, looking extremely emotional and even teary-eyed. It seemed like the only thing that would have made the night better was if Chuck had run up to the stage and given us one last “GINOBLIIIIIIII!!!!” for old time’s sake.
It was a wonderful evening to cap off Manu’s historical basketball career, which includes having the greatest winning percentage of any player to appear in over 1000 games, and only one of two players (the other being Bob Bradley) to own a European championship, NBA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal. Odds are we’ll be right back here in a year, honoring the last of the Big Three in Tony Parker. See you then.