Manu Ginobili: "I still have five, six more years in my career"
How’s your injured ankle coming along?
Manu Ginobili: Good. I’m improving. I’m doing a little bit more every day. But I still haven’t practiced or scrimmaged with the team. I’m doing some drills, but we don’t have a fixed date for me to return.
Do you expect to play soon?
MG: Well, yeah. It’s been 10 weeks since the surgery, so I am hoping to get back soon. I can’t wait. But I also know it is very important to be smart about it and not rush it because I can get things worse.
You grew up in Argentina, a soccer-crazed country. Do you still follow soccer closely?
MG: No. Well, I follow it when the National Team plays, like in the Olympics or World Championships, but not on a daily basis. When I started traveling and moved to Italy and then here, I kind of lost a little bit of the passion for it. I’m focused on basketball now.
Being a renowned athlete in Argentina can be dangerous. I read you had given consideration to moving your family from there.
MG: No, no, no. I was misquoted about that. What I said is that there is no way I can take my family out of Argentina. They have lived 60 years in the same house basically. They don’t speak the (English) language. That will never happen.
Who’s a bigger icon in Argentina: you or Diego Maradona?
MG: Maradona, by far. Now he’s is the head coach of the soccer National Team. I don’t think there will ever be an athlete as popular as him. He’s that big.
While you grew up in Argentina, you have traveled the world, living in Italy and the United States. What did you like, or didn’t like, about those countries?
MG: They all have great things, and some not so great things. But I enjoyed living in all three parts of the world. I enjoyed living in Italy a lot. The people in the States are unbelievable. Sometimes you might disagree with the government or decisions, but the people who I have met here are very caring and unselfish. Some young kids are afraid of going overseas, but I believe if they have the opportunity they should do it. It’s something that makes you better not only game-wise, but as a person, learning about other cultures and understanding those cultures. It helps you have an open mind.
You and Bill Bradley have the distinction of being the only ones to have won a Euroleague championship (with Virtus Bologna in Italy), an NBA title (with the Spurs) and an Olympic gold medal? Which one was the most special for you?
MG: When I won the Euroleague championship, I thought it was the best thing that could happen to me. I was the happiest man ever. Then, it was the NBA championships and I thought the same thing. But now going back in time, I know how hard it is for a country, especially like ours, to win an Olympic gold medal. It’s something different. You have an opportunity to win a NBA championship almost every year. The Olympics is every four years and sometimes your teammates retire and you need great chemistry and you don’t have a lot of time, so it was different and special.
Did you follow the United States presidential election?
MG: Yes, of course.
What is your opinion about the selection of Barack Obama?
MG: I am like the 98 percent of the world population outside of the United States happy with the outcome. I haven’t met yet a person born outside the States that is not happy with the outcome. I like the results.
What’s your take on president-elect Obama?
MG: He looks like a really smart, clear and bright guy. I have never met him, but I admire him. The way he communicates, the way he inspires people is something not common in many world leaders. So it’s good to see it.
Considering how good of a player you have become, can you believe 56 players were taken ahead of you in the 1999 NBA draft?
MG: It’s not hard to believe. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting to chosen in that draft. I’m the kind of player who developed late. At 21 years old, nobody thought I was going to become the player I became. I wasn’t even following the draft. I was playing on the National Team, doing my thing in Brazil. I don’t even remember the draft that day. So, to tell you the truth, it was kind of a surprise to be drafted.
Speaking of the draft, if you could start an NBA team today, who would be your first pick?
MG: It’s got to be between Kobe, LeBron or Tim Duncan. For different reasons. I believe Kobe is the now best player in the world. LeBron because this is a business, too, He is probably one of the guys who sells the most (merchandise) and because of his charisma and his potential. And Tim because he is a franchise leader. He leads by example. He’s a good guy, helps everybody else. I learned a lot by playing with him six years. I think he is the ideal franchise player. One of those three… You can’t lose.
Your teammate and future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan seems so stoic on the court, so business-like. What is he like off the court?
MG: He’s a funny guy. He’s a good guy to have around. He’s not a guy who shows emotions a lot of time and doesn’t do as well with people he doesn’t know. But once he does get to know you and feels comfortable next to you, he’s a totally different guy. I enjoy being with him a lot.
Is Gregg Popovich the best coach in the NBA?
MG: That’s a tough one because I have been so lucky since I got here having him as my only coach. But when I talk to other players, and from my experiences overseas, I know it’s really hard to blend such a good guy, a caring guy, with such a strict, good coach. It’s hard for a coach to be a good friend outside the court and a top coach inside. He’s the best I’ve seen doing that.
You obviously believe the Spurs will win the NBA title this season, right?
MG: I believe so every year. This year we have the toughest beginning because of injuries and record, but I always believe that teams are built in February, March and April. So, as long as we stay close in the standings, I will still believe in our chances.
If the Spurs don’t, who will?
MG: I think it will be hard to beat one of the two finalists from last year. I believe, at this time, they are the best teams in each conference. But, you know, last year Atlanta almost beat Boston. But seeing what I see now, they are probably the best two teams.
What does Manu Ginobili do after he wraps up his NBA career?
MG: I still don’t know. I really don’t know. Most of the time, I think about going back to Argentina and enjoying my family and be around them and just do a career outside of basketball. Not playing… That will be tough. I love this game so much that I would like to be involved some way. Maybe with the National Team. Not as the head coach but to be with them. So I really don’t know. I still have five, six more years in my career, so I still have time to think about that.
Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times
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