Manu Ginobili’s EuroLeague beginnings

One of the NBA’s most successful players also has a phenomenal tracker record in Europe…

When Manu Ginobili announced his retirement from basketball on 27 August, it brought an end to a truly illustrious career.

The Argentine, who continued playing beyond his 40 th birthday, spent more than a decade in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. He won the NBA Championship four times with the franchise, including a prominent role in the run to glory in 2005.

However, given his achievements in the United States, it’s easy to forget Ginobili got a lot done in Europe before even stepping foot in San Antonio.

We know him for his near-unique combination of NBA, Olympic and EuroLeague crowns, but how much do we really know about the latter?

Having been plucked from the Argentine system as a lanky 21-year-old a full two decades ago, Ginobili spent two years in Calabria before moving north and taking things to the next level with Kinder Bologna.

The stand-out season for him came in 2000/01 when Bologna won… well, it would probably be quicker to name the things they didn’t win.

“I remember the pre-season: it was impressive from the first training, doing things that we were not used to,” coach Ettore Messina would recall years later.

In the Italian league that season, Ginobili and his team were near-untouchable, losing just five of their 34 league games. However, in the first season of European basketball’s brand new continental competition – the EuroLeague – they were somehow even more dominant in the early rounds.

After topping their group, they went undefeated through the knockout rounds before finding some stiffer competition in the form of a reunion with group stage opponents TAU Ceramica.

By his own high standards, Ginobili was relatively quiet for the first two games of the five-game series. Well, that’s only strictly true if we’re judging him by the standards he would set later in his career.

After that, though? Well…

When you have a new competition, as was the case with the EuroLeague at the start of the century, it provides a blank slate for icons to announce themselves. Everyone remembers the first winners, and the men who made it possible – we’ve seen the same with Manchester United for Premier League football and Ronda Rousey as the inaugural women’s bantamweight champion in the UFC – and Ginobili is no exception, thanks to that otherworldly third game in 2001.

He contributed 27 points during that game in the Basque Country, and anyone looking to put that into context needs know only this: it took until 2009 for any other player to contribute more in a postseason game, and until 2018 for Nicolò Melli to surpass the tally in a Championship game.

Once Ginobili had completed the job and helped secure a 3-2 series win, no one else could be considered for the finals MVP.

Ginobili would equal that 27-point haul in the following season’s final, but this time ended on the losing side as Panathinaikos overturned an eight-point deficit after the second quarter.

That would not be his final triumph on European soil, though – two years later, at the Athens Olympics, he would dominate against a United States roster including the likes of Allen Iverson and Lamar Odom, before seeing off Italy in the gold medal match.