2022 Hall of Fame inductee Manu Ginobili takes center stage alongside longtime teammate Tim Duncan, whom he credits for much of their shared success.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It was a bit of irony Saturday night for Manu Ginobili, the ultimate role player going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the showcase guy.
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When you think of, say, the Class of 2020 so crowded with superstar talent – Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in the same year – the image of Ginobili as the 13-member Class of 2022’s anchor inductee at Symphony Hall was unexpected.
Which makes sense in a weird way, given how the 6-foot-6 Argentinian guard doesn’t fit the typical Hall of Fame mold.
Ginobili is an outlier on multiple fronts. He made it into the sport’s shrine despite coming off the bench in 67% of his NBA appearances (708 of 1,057, to be exact). Reserves don’t generally get considered for the game’s highest individual honor.
But of course, Ginobili was no ordinary reserve.
His traditional statistics – 13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.8 apg – weren’t what most people think of, either, when they conjure the greats of the game. But those numbers were merely a sliver of Ginobili’s value to the San Antonio Spurs.
Revisit Manu Ginobili’s Hall of Fame career.
Then there’s the continuity Ginobili, now 45, strung together with that team. Sixteen seasons, all with the same franchise, the same city, the same fans, the same coach (Gregg Popovich), the same point guard (Tony Parker) and, for 14 of those 16 years, the same power forward (Duncan). The results? Four NBA championships and, for Ginobili, the crown as the winningest player in league history (.721 percentage), a bit better than Duncan or Parker.
In a league in which comings and goings of players, coaches and moving vans whirr like the fruit and bars in an overheated slot machine, that level of constancy might be unchallenged this side of Bill Russell’s Celtics. It’s a longshot we’ll ever see someone stick and succeed in one place for so long, with so many unchanging parts, anytime soon.
“I’m not here because I was special,” Ginobili said near the end of the tidy two-hour show. “I’m here because I was part of two of the most important teams … with the Spurs winning four NBA championships and with my Argentinian national team winning [Olympic] gold in 2004.”
That brings up one more quirk in the Ginobili’s Hall worthiness candidacy: Hardcore critics who might have pointed to his NBA stats and role as less than deserving generally conceded that when his play in FIBA and Olympic international competition was considered, it was hard to deny the hyperkinetic sixth man enshrinement.
And yet, Ginobili became the first foreign player voted into the Hall by the North American Committee, which means his NBA resume was enough to open the door.
Manu Ginobili looks back on his life and career during his Hall of Fame induction speech.
What the 2022 class might have lacked in marquee power, it made up for in depth and breadth of its players, coaches and contributors.
The NBA-related newcomers included All-Star point guard Tim Hardaway, tempestuous coach George Karl, recently deceased referee Hugh Evans, former Hawks scoring star Lou Hudson and, voted in as contributors, former coaches Del Harris and Larry Costello.
Other Class of 2022 members: NCAA men’s coach Bob Huggins, WNBA alumni Lindsay Whalen and Swin Cash, women’s college coaches Marianne Stanley and Theresa Shank-Grentz, Yugoslav star Radivoj Korac and three African-American pioneer selections with roots back to the early Harlem Globetrotters: Wyatt (Sonny) Boswell, Inman Jackson and Albert (Runt) Pullins.
All of the 2022 enshrinees, even the seven who entered the Hall posthumously, were supported by family, friends and representatives of their basketball journeys.
But the Ginobili contingent was the biggest and loudest, drawn from several continents and four decades, hooting at the first mention of his name. You would have thought Paul Pierce or some other Celtic was going in again, pulling fans from just up the road in Boston.
Not bad for the No. 57 overall pick of the 1999 draft.
“I thought, ‘What?!’ I could not believe it,” said Ginobili of his shock at being chosen by San Antonio at that point. He was overseas, with no idea it was about to happen. “I thought it was a mistake. I had zero expectations. Zero.”
Instead, Ginobili became the epitome of a player willing to do anything, and do it harder, to help his team win. This all happened long before Charles Barkley, on the Inside the NBA set, made “GINOBILI!” his call to arms during Spurs highlights.
“The Spurs were one big, strong supportive family for me,” he said. “So many wins, losses, so many friends, so many incredible experiences.”
Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich’s strong relationship drove much of their shared success.
Duncan served as Ginobili’s lone presenter, a nod to the role he played in his teammate’s career – and Hall invitation. During his speech, Ginobili addressed and thanked San Antonio’s greatest player, also singling out Popovich and Parker sitting in the first few rows.
But he didn’t stop there.
“To win a championship and to become a real team, you need a whole bunch of pieces in place,” Ginobili said. “And we had a lot of them.”
A list that began with fellow role players Bruce Bowen and Matt Bonner quickly stretched long, with too many even for Ginobili to name. His love and appreciation for their times together was clear.
“When I was playing games with you, we had a blast. Preparing for those games, going to those games, winning together … it was fantastic.”
And that was just the NBA side of Ginobili’s journey. In the offseason, for 18 years, he found nearly as much success and just as much enjoyment staying true to his roots.
“The crazy thing about my career,” he said, “is that, while all this was happening with the Spurs, at the same time I had another career. And it was as nurturing … as exciting and as fun as the one with the Spurs, and it was with my Argentinian national team.”
Manu Ginobili pays tribute to the Argentina national team, with whom he won Olympic gold.
There were plenty of distinctions on the stage Saturday. Karl ranks sixth all-time in NBA regular season victories. Hardaway became synonymous with his killer crossover dribble. Evans became the seventh NBA referee to make the Hall and the first Black man among the 17 refs overall.
Hudson and Costello had slipped through the Hall’s voting cracks for too long, and Harris at 85 seemed headed in that direction too until the honorees were announced at the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in New Orleans. The 2022 inductees from the other categories and backgrounds all were impressive in their own right.
But the humble “glue guy”, Ginobili, got to be the star of stars for a night and he handled it graciously and joyfully.
The event Saturday marked a return to regal Symphony Hall. The Class of 2021 was honored last September at Springfield’s downtown convention center while the concert hall was being renovated. The façade and steps of the traditional venue made for a more impressive red-carpet entrance for the hoops VIPs.
The night’s program began with a tribute to legendary Boston Celtics center Bill Russell, led by Hall of Famers Jerry West and Alonzo Mourning. Russell, revered for winning 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, died on July 31 at age 88.
Remembering Russ: Bill Russell honored at 2022 Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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