SAN ANTONIO (NBA/Olympics) – For more than 10 years now, the San Antonio Spurs have been one of the most consistent franchises in the NBA.
Aside from last year’s shock elimination in the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Texas-based team has been a symbol of competitiveness, having won four titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) in the last 13 years.
The Spurs are a serious contender for the NBA title again this season thanks to the leadership of their “Big Three”, made up by former USA player and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Tim Duncan, French national team stalwart Tony Parker and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Manu Ginobili of Argentina.
Now in his 10th NBA season, Ginobili is still one of the league's most spectacular players but also one of the smartest.
The 34-year-old shooting guard, who will represent Argentina at this summer’s Olympics in London, is hopeful to add to his trophy and silverware collection in the next few months.
Having won 14 titles since he started his career in 1995 at the Andino Sport Club in Argentina, Ginobili is one of only two players - along with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Bradley - to have won a Euroleague title, an NBA title and an Olympic gold medal.
Before London beckons, Ginobili is looking to help the Spurs to their fifth NBA title.
Driven by legendary head coach Gregg Popovich - who on Wednesday was named the NBA's Coach of the Year - the Spurs have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NBA.
The additions of French national team captain Boris Diaw and Australian point guard Patty Mills late in the season to complement the bench prove once again that the Spurs are always disposed to giving opportunities to international talents.
FIBA.com caught up with Ginobili to talk about the NBA season and the Argentinean national team.
FIBA: You’ve been playing for San Antonio for 10 years. Do you think this year’s team is the best one since you’ve been here?
Ginobili: I don’t know if I can say that this year’s team is the best I’ve ever played with since being in San Antonio, but I think that this season’s roster is one of the most complete of the last few years. We never had that much rotation. Our bench is tremendous, probably one of the best in the NBA. It’s very important to have other offensive “threats” on the court apart from the superstar players. If someone is having a bad night, someone else can replace him. That’s one of our strengths. Having a deep bench is also very important this year because of the shortened season.
FIBA: You missed a large part of the season after being injured twice this season. How are you feeling now?
Ginobili: I’m very happy to be back on the court. I had two injuries this season, a broken hand and a rib injury, but I’m fully recovered now. But to be honest, it was way more complicated for me to recover from the broken hand. The most important thing to me is that the team has been having a great season, with or without me. That’s what really matters.
FIBA: As you say, the Spurs did have another great season and are serious contenders for the NBA title.
Ginobili: Yes we really have had a great season. We've been integrating the new players Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson and Patrick Mills into the team. We need to stay fit and healthy in the playoffs. That’s most important. If the team is healthy and the chemistry is good, we can fight for the ring.
FIBA: This summer, you’ll be playing in your third Olympics. Are you already thinking about it?
Ginobili: It’s difficult to think about it now because I’m focused on the NBA playoffs and hopefully there are a lot of games left before going to the Olympics. But I would lie if I said that I never think about it. It happens sometimes. Playing at the Olympics is something very special for me, and I’ll be as motivated as if it were my first one.
FIBA: You’ve won a lot of titles and trophies over the course of your career. How important was the gold medal you won in 2004 in Athens?
Ginobili: I’ve won a lot since my debut in 1995 and the gold medal is for sure one of the most important. Playing the Athens Olympics was one of the best moments I had in my career. Winning a gold medal for your country is something incredible. When you’re from Argentina, it’s even more important because the country is not used to winning Olympic medals. When you’re from the USA and you win a gold medal in basketball, that’s important too, but I think that the feeling is different when you come from a country where basketball’s history is young. In Athens, we beat all the world’s finest teams. It was like a dream for my teammates and me.
FIBA: Do you think Argentina has a chance to win a medal in London?
Ginobili: Yes I think so. Our team is talented and we have a group of players who know perfectly how to play together. It will be difficult to reach the gold because teams like the USA and Spain look superior to the others, but I’m sure that we can fight for a medal.
FIBA: You will turn 35 in July. Are the 2012 Olympics going to be your last international competition?
Ginobili: I don’t know yet. I’m quite sure it will be my last Olympics because of my age, but I still haven’t decided if I’ll play again with the national team after this summer. I’ll play this competition as if it were the last one, but we never know. If I’m healthy after the Olympics, there’s a possibility for me to keep playing for Argentina. I’ll decide at the end of the summer.