Manu Ginobili was swept away by the emotions of a sold-out home crowd serenading him with chants of “Manu, Manu” and rising as one for a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the Western Conference Finals.
Spurs fans were saying goodbye, but did not want to let go of the star who helped San Antonio win four of its five NBA Championships with his dynamic play.
“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yea, I don’t have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. … When it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit.”
The emotional outpouring led Ginobili to make a startling revelation to friend and teammate, Australian Patty Mills, as they sat on the bench.
Ginobili had no idea what all the fuss was about.
“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” he said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It’s getting harder and harder, but I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.”
San Antonio’s highly passionate fan base does not want Ginobili to retire. The fans simply wanted to show their appreciation because they are unsure if their beloved star will return next season. The Spurs also aren’t sure.
“If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.”
Ginobili’s uncertain future is one of many questions the Spurs are awaiting answers on this offseason.
San Antonio’s season came to an end when they were swept by Golden State in the conference finals. The Warriors became the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0 after defeating the Spurs 122-108 on Monday in Game 4.
Still, San Antonio’s first season in 20 years without franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was a success. The Spurs captured their second straight Southwest Division title and earned their 20th straight playoff appearance.
“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective,” Popovich said. “For the first year without Timmy’s leadership and a lot of new players, these guys got it together to win 61 games and just got better and better as the playoffs proceeded and we were basically on a pretty good roll starting Game 1 at Golden State. Some bad fortune which happens to all of us at some point in our lives and we don’t get to be the last team standing. But when I think about what they accomplished, they deserve a lot of credit.”
The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 85 points in the series after Kawhi Leonard sustained a sprained ankle in Game 1 with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 78-55.
Leonard will be fine after some rest and rehabilitation. Forward David Lee is also expected to return after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Game 3 against the Warriors. Tony Parker is expected to be out at least eight months after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the West semifinals.
Healing LaMarcus Aldridge’s psyche could be trickier. The 6-foot-11 forward struggled in the postseason, especially against Golden State. Aldridge was twice held to eight points in the conference finals, including a 7-for-17 effort in Game 4.
Popovich isn’t worried.
“Not having Tony and Kawhi, it takes away our two best creators,” Popovich said. “They create a lot for our team. If one of the other scorers is left on his own like L.A. and he gets doubled and the playoffs get more physical, then you have to find scoring elsewhere and we had a problem doing that.”
The Spurs do not have any existing cap space to add players, but do have eight potential free agents that could impact that.
Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon all have player options while Mills and Jonathon Simmons are unrestricted free agents.
Ginobili is a free agent, but is expected to return to the Spurs if he does not retire.
The question is, does he want to.
The 39-year-old rebounded from four straight scoreless games against Memphis in the opening round to provide San Antonio with a needed boost. He finished with 15 points in a frenzied 32 minutes in Game 4 against Golden State.
“I do feel like I can still play, but that’s not way is going to make me retire or not,” Ginobili said. “It’s about how I feel.”
Unsure of what that decision is, Popovich made sure Ginobili understood what he has meant to the Spurs and their fans. Ginobili started and was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining to huge applause.
“I’m really happy we did what we did last night for him,” Popovich said. “I think he really was moved by it. He deserved it and it worked out wonderfully.”