HANG TIME, Texas — For 11 seasons, bumps, bruises and floor burns have been as much a part of Manu Ginobili’s identity as the No. 20 jersey. “El Contusion” is, after all, more than just a nickname.
But all he ever did through pulled muscles, strained tendons and broken bones was pick himself back up off the floor and get back to the business of keeping the Spurs in the mix as Western Conference and championship contenders.
However, in a season when he could never quite get completely healthy and his scoring average (11.6 ppg) and shooting percentage (42.5) were both the lowest in a decade, Ginobili admits that he seriously considered retirement.
After Ginobili turned the ball over 12 times in Games 6 and 7 of The Finals loss to the Heat, there were even more than a few in San Antonio who wondered if it wasn’t time to call it quits. But after calmer reflection and conversations with general manager R.C. Buford to let him know he was still wanted, the 36-year-old Ginobili signed a two-year contract that will likely take him to the end of a Hall of Fame career after two last tries with his Big Three buddies Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
The retirement talk and dealing with real criticism for the first time in his Spurs career are a few of the frank admissions made by Ginobili in a recent interview with La Nacion, a newspaper in his native Argentina that was translated by J. Gomez. The full interview via the fine folks at Pounding the Rock. Here are some of the highlights:
How seriously did he think of retirement?
By the end of the season–and I mean the regular season and not the playoffs — I thought about it a lot. I was so tired of it. I hadn’t suffered a muscle strain in my whole life and I went through three in four months. I felt negative, fed up. And I thought about retiring. I hadn’t come close to making up my mind but I thought it was something I had to discuss with my wife, “what if…?” She told me that it was my decision and she was fine either way. But when I recovered physically I started to feel better about it all. When the season ended I grieved for 48, 72 hours and I didn’t feel retired. I knew something was missing, that I still wanted to play.
How did he envision his life after retirement?
I thought I could definitely take a year off, to relax, for sure. Call it basketball detox. Spend a lot of time here, in Argentina. And then, with the game over, figure out where to go from there. But at that point I just felt like saying “that’s it, enough of having to get in shape constantly, enough of the pressure, of thinking about whether my leg can take it. I want to be at peace, with my wife and my kids. Travel and get to know different places, which is something I never got to do.” That’s what I was thinking about then. But then that changes and you realize you’ll have time for that. The fire is still there when I play and I want to enjoy that.
Was he mentally or physical spent?
The physical part. Having to keep rehabilitating and getting in shape after injuries. Having to play with the parking break on because I’m coming back from a muscle strain. That wore me out and it was hard. I have a great time when I’m healthy and playing, I feel lucky playing with the team and coaching staff I play for. But the physical problems drained me.
A lot of times this year I’ve been told I looked weak, vulnerable, fragile. I have no reason to hide. I’m no less of a man for feeling that way or for having played poorly. Yes, so what’s the problem? I will be criticized? Fine. I swear I gave everything I had and I tried to win, like I always have. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. I won’t blush or feel embarrassed for saying it. I felt vulnerable and I expressed it. I didn’t have a reason not to. It’s true. It was the first time I’ve felt that way.
What was it like to hear real criticism of his play for the first time in his career?
Strange. You usually read things in the newspaper or hear them through other people. But during the playoffs, for example, I’m isolated, bulletproof. I don’t read anything, don’t watch highlights, nothing. At first those criticisms didn’t reach me, I only had to deal with my own. I knew how I was playing and what I can give the team. But when I started to get questions in a specific tone, that’s when I realized: “Something must be happening. I’m being criticized. Otherwise, they wouldn’t ask me that.”
I started to realize that they were saying I wasn’t playing at my level and it was weird. Especially in the playoffs. It had happened in other times of the season, when I was injured and they were saying that it wasn’t the same, that the best of Ginobili was in the past. This time it was during the playoffs. It was weird and it hurt. Because I have a well developed ego and, like I said, I was always proud to say I never under-performed in the playoffs. I had that credibility in my career. So when that happened this season, it hurt.
What is motivating him to return?
I don’t feel like I’m coming back looking for revenge. I’m coming back because I enjoy myself when I’m healthy. When I’m injured — that’s when I want to end it and do something else. When I’m healthy and I’m playing 30 minutes a game with no injury concerns I do it for the pleasure of playing with Duncan, Parker and Popovich. I have fun, I feel as passionate about it as ever. It’s not that I want to go after Lebron or get my shooting percentage back to 40%–or whatever it was. It has nothing to do with revenge.