Welcome to Manu's basketball familia

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Editor's note: This profile originally ran in August 2016, two years before Manu Ginobili announced his retirement.

Four years ago in London, the last aging members of Argentina's Golden Generation sat at their lockers and wept after losing a frantic bronze-medal game to Russia. The nation's two greatest players, Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili, gathered themselves and spoke to mark the moment.

"I would rather lose with you guys than win with any other group of players," Ginobili said through tears. Scola said the same thing.

"Everyone was crying even more," Andres Nocioni recalled. "I had never seen anything like that, so much crying in a locker room. We knew it was our last opportunity to do something big."

The players then did what they do every night they are together: head out for a long and raucous group dinner. "It's a rule: win or lose, there is a team dinner," said Pablo Prigioni, a point guard on the 2012 team. "To celebrate together, or cry together."

The 12 men cried together that night in London, assuming Scola, Ginobili and Nocioni had played in their final Olympics eight years after leading Argentina to its historic gold medal in Athens. They also celebrated. They toasted to each other, to the bus rides and absurd airport connections across South and Central America in those early years, and to what the Golden Generation had accomplished.

"The things that were said at that dinner -- the stories, the love, the tears going down," Ginobili said. "Those are the things that keep people together forever."

The old heads flashed back to another dinner, in the summer of 2002 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Indianapolis, hours after Yugoslavia had beaten them in the FIBA World Championship gold-medal game. The players wallowed that night. They were angry over crunch-time calls and the bad luck of Ginobili suffering a severe ankle injury in the semifinals.

"He was like a wild colt out there, just doing crazy s---. Some of it made sense, and some of it didn't." Spurs GM R.C. Buford, on his first impressions of Manu Ginobili

As the drinks and conversation flowed, the mood changed. No one at home had dreamed Argentina would ever finish second in a global basketball competition. They had slain the once-unbeatable Team USA in group play, and when they arrived back at the Embassy Suites after that upset, they found international delegations ringing the lobby on every floor to cheer them. They were young, and the 2004 Olympics were around the corner.

"That dinner started as the lowest point in our lives," Scola said. "By the end, it was a party."

R.C. Buford, the Spurs' general manager, watched from a few tables away. He couldn't sleep after the gold-medal game, and strolled to Ruth's Chris to eat alone. He sat transfixed by the camaraderie of the Argentine team. "I just stared at them," Buford said. "It was the best team environment I had ever seen." He finally went over and said hello to Ginobili, who would start his rookie season in San Antonio a few months later.

The Spurs drafted Ginobili almost by accident with the 57th pick in 1999. Buford first laid eyes on Ginobili during the 22-and-under world championships in Australia in 1997. He was there to scout other players. He had never heard of Ginobili. "He was like a wild colt out there," Buford said, "just doing crazy s---. Some of it made sense, and some of it didn't."

The Spurs had won the 1999 title, and they hoped to keep a pricey roster together; they didn't want to draft anyone with a chance of making their team the next season. They traded out of the first round, and took a flier on Ginobili only after failing to find a fair deal for their pick. They even nabbed another draft-and-stash guy, Gordan Giricek, 17 spots ahead of Ginobili. "We got lucky as hell," Buford said.

They were as surprised as anyone when Ginobili blew up. Gregg Popovich was an assistant for Team USA in 2002, and he was excited to finally get Ginobili in San Antonio. "I told Timmy [Duncan], 'This guy is coming, and nobody in the U.S. knows how good he is,'" Popovich remembered. "And Timmy gave me that whole raised eyebrow thing he does."

"I had heard that before from Pop about other guys," Duncan said. "I was like, 'Whatever. We'll see.'"

We've all seen now, and four years after that farewell dinner in London, we're somehow still watching -- in Rio, and San Antonio.

When he was 16, Emanuel Ginobili was something of a family disappointment. His older brothers burst from their hometown of Bahia Blanca, Argentina's one basketball hotbed in the 1970s and 1980s, and played professionally. Their father, Jorge, was a legendary coach.

Ginobili was a short, skinny kid who couldn't make local all-star teams. "There were maybe 15 kids just in our city better than him," said Pepe Sanchez, who grew up with Ginobili and played point guard for the 2004 Olympic champions. But even then, Ginobili showed the tenacity and creative genius that would make him a star after a massive growth spurt.

"He would go to the basket, get crushed, stand up to shoot free throws, and get crushed all over again," Sanchez said. "He was so tiny. He was fragile."

Ginobili has always played a half-beat off normal rhythms, and imagined passes no one before him considered. He is different. Perhaps soccer rewired his brain, or genetics blessed him with unique visual anticipation. Ginobili isn't sure. But as a coach's son in Bahia Blanca, he was surrounded by experts devoted to harnessing his gifts. Before he was 5, one local coach turned Ginobili into a personal science project.

He gave Ginobili special glasses with frames that flipped down, parallel to the floor, so Ginobili couldn't see where he was dribbling. He outfitted Ginobili with gloves that eliminated the sensation of touch on the palms, forcing Ginobili to manipulate the ball with his fingertips. "I was 4, dribbling around the kitchen wearing all this stuff," Ginobili chuckled. "I was an experiment."

When Ginobili's body caught up with his brain, he jumped from the local to national radar -- barely. He made Argentina's under-22 team in 1996 only because several players above him had scheduling conflicts.

"He was nothing special," Nocioni said. "But you could see he moved different than normal people. Like a snake."

By the late 1990s, he was good enough to play professionally in Italy, but even the coaches there didn't know what to make of him. Virtus Bologna signed him as a free agent before the 2000 season only after its primary target pulled a DeAndre Jordan, said Ettore Messina, a Spurs assistant who was the head coach in Bologna.

"He would do amazing things in practice, but you would wonder: Can he do it in games?" Messina said. "I thought he might make it in the NBA, but I could never envision anything like what has happened."

In pro leagues around the world, Ginobili and his Argentine teammates blossomed. Each summer, they gathered for some international tournament and felt the electric sensation of something special building. They fit on the court, a generation of stars who somehow all played different positions, and loved being with each other away from it.

Argentina's national federation ran a shoestring operation, but the players reveled in the shared misery of cheap travel. In the lead-up to the 2002 world championships, the team played an exhibition in Mexico City. The federation scheduled so many flight connections, the trip from Buenos Aires took 33 hours. They actually could have arrived at their hotel in about 32 hours 40 minutes, but a few players liked the idea of arriving in 33 hours on the dot. They asked the bus driver to circle Mexico City for 20 minutes, set their watches, and counted down to their official "arrival."

"The whole team was laughing," Sanchez said. "But Manu was laughing the most. I was like, 'What's wrong with this guy? He's a star! He's our best player! He should be asking for the royal treatment!' But that's how our team was."

(Even after achieving NBA stardom, Ginobili and Scola never cared much for posh travel. During a game in 2010, Tyson Chandler, then with the Mavs, approached Ginobili between free throws. He had seen Ginobili park his minivan before the game. "You drive a minivan?" Chandler asked. "I thought I was the only one!" Ginobili laughed. "I have twins," he told Chandler. "Scola drives one too!")

The players are adamant their love for each other translated onto the court. No one cared about status, or numbers; before the 2006 world championships, Nocioni, an NBA starter by then, told their head coach not to even bother drawing up plays for him.

"We have a hundred stories like that [33-hour trip]," Scola said. "They made us who we are as a team."

Ginobili had no such familiarity with anyone from San Antonio when he arrived in the fall of 2002.

The Spurs tested him right away. During one training camp practice, Ginobili and Steve Kerr, then 37, took turns defending each other in a pick-and-roll drill with Kevin Willis setting screens. Willis, perhaps taking pity on Kerr, whiffed on a pick, prompting Mike Budenholzer, then a Spurs assistant, to scream at him.

Kerr and Ginobili switched roles, with Ginobili on defense. Willis leveled Ginobili, sending him flying onto his back. "Now that's a screen," Willis yelled to Budenholzer, players and coaches recall. He then looked down at Ginobili: "Ain't that right, rookie?"

Everyone waited for Ginobili's reaction. Even in Spurs World, foreign players had to bust stereotypes about toughness and athleticism. "There just weren't a lot of international guys who had made an impact in the NBA," Buford said. "Especially among shooting guards. There was a lot of: Is Manu real?"

"Manu didn't even flinch," Kerr said. "He got up and took it. He knew he had to earn his keep. Everyone noticed that."

The prodding never stopped. Steve Smith and Bruce Bowen battled Ginobili for minutes, and Bowen brutalized him with dirty tricks when they matched up in practice. "Bruce beat the ever-loving s--- out of him all season," Duncan said, "and it's not like they were calling fouls. Manu just kept going. That's when I finally said, 'He's gonna be alright.'"

Ginobili won Bowen over, too. In one of Ginobili's first matchups with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant sidled over to Bowen and asked about Ginobili, Bowen recalled: "Tell me about the white boy." Bowen warned Bryant, "Oh, you're gonna see. He's not a white boy, and he's got some stuff."

Ginobili carried no sense of entitlement; he outworked everyone in practice, especially during scrimmages, when he played as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Toward the end of an early September 2007 pickup game involving Spurs and visiting free agents, Ginobili dove through three players to retrieve a loose ball and flung it to a teammate. That player scored, and Popovich, watching, stopped the scrimmage even though it wasn't over.

"I told Timmy [Duncan], 'This guy is coming, and nobody in the U.S. knows how good he is.' And Timmy gave me that whole raised eyebrow thing he does." Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

He gathered everyone and asked them: "What does that play mean to you?" Popovich told them Ginobili wanted to win more than anyone on the floor, and that if the Spurs wished to repeat after their 2007 title, they would all need to play that hard. Popovich walked away, and everyone thought the speech was over. Suddenly, he turned: "And Manu: It's f---ing September. Never do that again in September."

"I was honestly scared and afraid for how he would hold up over time," Popovich said. "I get chills thinking about it now."

Duncan laughed at the memory. "Things like that happened with Manu," he said. "It was like, 'Manu, dude, calm down. We are just trying to make it out of practice in one piece.'"

Every Spur wanted to win, but no one suffered losses harder than Ginobili -- especially when he felt at fault. After Sanchez's team, Panathinaikos, beat Ginobili's in the 2002 Euroleague final, Ginobili didn't leave his house for a week, Sanchez remembers. In Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals against Dallas, Ginobili carried San Antonio to a 3-point lead in the waning seconds before inexplicably fouling Dirk Nowitzki on a layup; Nowitzki tied the game, the Mavs won in overtime and Ginobili was inconsolable. He felt he had cost Michael Finley and Fabricio Oberto, the Golden Generation center who signed in San Antonio largely because of Ginobili, their best shot at an NBA title.

Duncan was so worried, he contacted Malik Rose, a former Spur and close friend of Ginobili's, and asked Rose to call and check on him. "I don't say this lightly, but we all told each other: We have to stick with Manu," said Sean Marks, the Nets GM and a Spurs reserve that season. "We had to talk him off the ledge. We had everyone calling, texting, trying to hang out with him."

He moped all summer. "I don't think I've ever seen a person so hard on himself," Buford said. "He is maybe the greatest competitor that we have ever witnessed here."

The grizzled skeptics respected how hot the fire burned in Ginobili even during his rookie season, and they grew to love him for it -- and for the way Ginobili tested the stodgy Popovich. Ginobili plainly did not fit San Antonio. He played with a high-wire flair that ran against the Spurs' slow-paced, low-post, defense-first system.

He shot 3s early in the shot clock, something Popovich didn't tolerate back then, even if players were open. He bounced passes through the legs of defenders, threaded 50-foot bombs in transition, and gambled for steals on defense. Popovich hated it. "I was so stubborn," he said. "I had to rein him in. 'Oh, you can't turn it over. You can't shoot those shots.' All that purist bulls---." He confided one night to Budenholzer: "I don't think I can coach him," Budenholzer remembered.

Every shot flowed from Duncan's post game. In practice, the coaches stuck Ginobili in the weakside corner and told him: "You shoot from here, when Timmy passes it to you."

"I was so frustrated that first year, waiting in the corner," Ginobili said. "I wanted the ball, to make decisions. I was 25, and I wanted to take the world by storm. I thought I knew everything."

He staged little rebellions every night. The veterans cackled at them. Whenever Ginobili would do something crazy, Willis, Kerr and Danny Ferry, the graybeard benchwarmers, would scream in unison: "He's a bad man!" During one pregame film session, Popovich showed a clip of Ginobili heaving a high-risk, fast-break pass out of bounds and told him never to try it again, players recall.

The very next game, he got the ball in a similar situation, wound up for a pass, pulled the ball back and paused to grin at Popovich. The bench went nuts.

Ginobili kept taking shots out of scheme and lunging around like a fencer for steals. He couldn't help himself. He didn't know it with Popovich yelling at him, but Ginobili was winning the war. "You realized there was more positive than negative," Popovich said. "He's a freaking winner. I came to the conclusion that it had to be more his way than my way."

Even his wild gambles on defense were more calculated than they looked. Ginobili read the game faster than anyone else. He usually knew what was coming, and swiped his arms through passing lanes in a violent blur. Brett Brown and other San Antonio coaches consider Ginobili the best ever at deflecting inbounds passes, even if he lurched out of position to tip them.

"He just gave himself permission to play how he wanted," Duncan laughed. "He beat us into submission. Pop would be pulling his hair out, but eventually we all saw Manu was steps ahead of everyone else."

Ginobili averaged a modest 9.4 points per game in 28 minutes off the bench during the Spurs' 2003 title run, but over the next two years, he removed any doubt about his place in the game's hierarchy.

After the buzzer ended Argentina's win over Lithuania in the 2008 Olympic bronze-medal game, Carlos Delfino, the Argentine swingman, grabbed the game ball. He had arranged a deal with the referees before the game that if Argentina won, he would abscond with a piece of history.

It was make-up for the 2004 Olympics, when Argentina beat Team USA -- again -- on its way to a gold medal, the crowning achievement in international basketball history. Ginobili snatched the game ball after Argentina's gold-medal win over Italy and stashed it in his hotel room before the team hit the Olympic Village in Athens to celebrate.

No one will come completely clean about what happened later that night. At some point during the party, two of Ginobili's teammates got into his hotel room, swiped the gold-medal ball, and snuck onto the Olympic archery field. They decided it would be fun to punt the ball as far as they could, leaving it in Athens for a passerby to discover.

"Everybody told me later, 'Noce, you did something bad with that ball!'" Nocioni said, laughing. "But I could honestly tell my lawyers, 'I don't remember. I was not in my right mind.'"

"The truth came out eventually," Scola said. "Whoever did it made sure Manu got that ball in Beijing."

Ginobili deserved that 2004 ball. He averaged 19 points per game on 58 percent shooting overall, and destroyed a hastily assembled Team USA in the semifinals with 29 points on a sizzling 9-of-13 from the floor. His levitating, leaning, buzzer-beating game winner against Serbia in group play, vengeance for that 2002 loss in Indianapolis, stands as perhaps the most iconic moment of his career:

"Every time we were in trouble, we just threw the ball to Manu at the top of the court," Oberto said. "That was our solution."

He didn't get quite the same leeway in San Antonio, but he had earned Popovich's trust by the 2004-05 season. He averaged 19 points and four assists per game in the Spurs' seven-game grind over Detroit in the 2005 Finals, often serving as San Antonio's crunch-time playmaker.

"He should have been the MVP of that series," Budenholzer said.

"At least co-MVP, with Timmy," Buford added.

He started almost every game he played in 2005, including all seven against Detroit, and flummoxed the league's canniest wing defenders with his syncopated game and bottomless bag of tricks. "People always ask me who was hardest to guard," Raja Bell said. "I say Kobe. That is what people want to hear. But the truth is, it might have been Manu. He'd rev it to fourth gear, get by you, take it back to second gear so you'd run into him, and then he'd make a crazy floater. I made a living studying offensive players. I couldn't figure him out."

"He plays between dribbles," said Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz GM who spent a half-decade in San Antonio. "The creativity is mind-boggling."

The NBA world took notice; Ginobili earned his first All-Star appearance. "I didn't quite think I belonged there," Ginobili said. "It was not my thing. But I loved that I got to know what it feels like."

That presented a thorny issue: All-Stars didn't come off the bench, but with the Spurs scrounging for second-unit offense early in those same 2005 playoffs, Popovich slid Ginobili back into a sixth man role over eight games against Denver and Seattle. The coaching staff liked how the rotation flowed.

By the middle of the 2006-07 season, it was unanimous among the coaches and front office: The Spurs would be better with Ginobili off the bench. There was no way to spread enough touches around to Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili when they shared the floor, and San Antonio's offense sputtered when they rested. The coaching staff felt Ginobili, bathed in the Golden Generation's selfless spirit, might accept the bench role more readily than Parker.

The only debate was whether the move would be fair to a player so accomplished. Popovich asked Ginobili privately in January. "I don't think I've ever admitted this, even to my staff, but if Manu decided he was not good with it, he was gonna start. Whatever he said, we would do it. He deserved that," Popovich said.

Ginobili nodded his agreement, and left the meeting. Word filtered to the other players. "I was blown away," Duncan said. "Are you kidding? He's Manu! He's a star! He can't not start."

Ginobili's sacrifice balanced the Spurs' rotation, and cemented a team-above-everything ethos that touched every player who has come to San Antonio since. "He played as big a part as Tim in building our culture," Buford said. "When Manu Ginobili comes off the bench, it's hard for anyone to bitch about why they aren't starting, or whatever role they are in. Look at that guy, then talk to me."

"You can't say s---," Duncan said. "It set a precedent."

Popovich has just one photo hanging in his office at the AT&T Center: a shot of John Havlicek, the most prolific scoring sixth man in league history.

Ginobili knew the decision would cost him. He ranks 193rd all-time in points, right behind Metta World Peace, Josh Smith and Stephen Jackson. He made the All-Star team just twice. He could have achieved more individual glory as a heavy-minutes starter.

Over dinner one night that season, Bowen remarked that the transition seemed to be working. Ginobili cut him off: "Of course you think that. You're still starting."

"It took everything away from me," Bowen said. "I had no answer. You play this game because you want to start. Even Manu. It gave me empathy."

But what felt like a sacrifice evolved into something that worked on selfish levels. It capped Ginobili's minutes, preserving his body. San Antonio coaches politely caution that Ginobili's full-throttle style may not have been sustainable under the minutes required for traditional Hall of Fame stats. (Ginobili is a Hall of Fame lock, to be clear.)

"Manu isn't built for heavy starter minutes," said Chip Engelland, a longtime Spurs assistant. "He plays at double speed. If the NBA had a 35-game season, like college, he'd be one of the 10 greatest players ever."

Ginobili had carte blanche to morph into Argentina Manu as the captain of bench units, unleashing the full breadth of his pick-and-roll brilliance upon a basketball world that had never seen anything like it.

"I knew I was going to play less," Ginobili said, "but those minutes I played? I was the main option. I enjoyed that attention. We were winning. We were having fun. I ended up loving the role."

Ginobili invented specific NBA passes, or at least twisted pre-existing ones so they became entirely his own. He baked the meanest no-look dishes since Magic Johnson, but for the spread pick-and-roll era. Ginobili slithers around a screen, rises to pass, stares at an open shooter on the weak side -- and at the exact moment the defender leans that way, plops a no-looker to his screener rolling free to the rim:

"He brought that pass to the league," Tiago Splitter said. "To read that many things at once? You can't teach that."

"We used to laugh and say, 'Oh, he Manu'd him' on those passes," Budenholzer said. "We made it a verb."

He could reverse it: stare at the big man, trick the defense into collapsing there, and slingshot the ball to a shooter on the wing:

"I'm on his team, and he fakes me out," Matt Bonner said.

That pick-and-roll revived the Spurs after it appeared the league had passed them by. Ginobili wasn't the only force propelling the offense from the post to the perimeter -- Parker, Popovich, Duncan and Mike D'Antoni all helped -- but he was among the most important, and unifying.

"My best memory of Manu," Duncan said, "will be watching him from the bench, in absolute awe of some of the plays he could see."

Ginobili and Parker mastered a football-style passing play on which Parker kicks the ball to Ginobili on the sideline, jogs down the gut as he would on almost any Spurs possession, and waits for a pass to whiz by a blinded defender:

"It gives me goose bumps just thinking about that pass," Brown said.

The Spurs eventually called it "weak fly," and those who play and coach in other places have found it impossible to replicate.

"Manu is the only one with the balls to throw it," Budenholzer said. "It might be my favorite action ever. We've worked on it [in Atlanta], but I think we got one all season."

Parker taught it to wings on the French national team. "It didn't work without Manu," he said.

After enough time together, Patty Mills found the pass-and-cut rhythm to impersonate Parker:

"It's just winks and blinks with Manu, mate," Mills said.

Mills and Ginobili became mainstays in the Spurs' "United Nations dinner group," along with Splitter and Boris Diaw. They ate out every night on the road -- Ginobili has a "no room service" rule -- and took turns picking restaurants. When Mills joined the Spurs in 2011, Ginobili peppered him with questions about indigenous Australians; Mills' mother is Aboriginal, and his father is from the Torres Strait Islands.

Ginobili is intensely curious. He is learning Portuguese because of Splitter. He loves astronomy. He tracks space phenomena that might be visible from wherever the Spurs are on a particular night; the United Nations group spent one snowy evening on the roof of a parking garage in Denver, watching shooting stars, Mills said.

When Oberto was prepping for heart surgery in 2009, he asked Ginobili to accompany him to a doctors appointment. "I knew he would do research and ask better questions than I would," Oberto said. Ginobili stayed at the hospital during Oberto's operation.

Adrian Paenza, an Argentine mathematics professor and author who doubles as a national hoops historian, has Ginobili review his manuscripts. He once presented Ginobili a riddle: How many people need to be in one room for there to be at least a 50 percent chance that two have the same birthday? The answer: 23. Ginobili was in disbelief. He began testing the solution before every Spurs game by scanning team rosters, which list birth dates of every player -- 30 in total. "I still do it every game," he said.

By accident, Ginobili at those dinners was transplanting the Golden Generation culture into San Antonio. The chemistry bled onto the floor. "No one in basketball had asked me much about my family," Mills said. "It made us trust each other on the court. It was huge."

The Spurs are not sure they could have recovered from the devastation of the 2013 Finals against Miami-- and Ginobili's unraveling in Game 6 before Ray Allen's famous shot -- had they not built such deep trust and love. Ginobili committed eight turnovers and was a team-worst minus-21 in the aborted clincher. He is still grappling with that night, especially since it came after his strongest postseason performance in Game 5.

"My head failed me for the first time," he said this spring. "I relaxed after Game 5. I felt self-satisfaction. It made me weak. It had never happened. My head was always the thing that drove me."

Mills sat two stalls from Ginobili after the game, and found him sobbing, head buried in his hands. The whole team and their families went to Il Gabbiano in Miami that night for dinner; Splitter, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili sat at the same table as Popovich approached every member of the dinner party with words of encouragement.

Nobody at Ginobili's table spoke. "They brought the food, and nobody even cared," Splitter said. "We just looked down. We couldn't even look at each other face-to-face. We just wanted to be close to each other."

After another close loss in Game 7, Duncan found Ginobili. "I had to grab him by the head, tell him, 'It's OK. We're going to be OK.'"

Three weeks later, Prigioni met Ginobili in Argentina and congratulated him for playing in the Finals again in his late 30s. Ginobili could not accept the good wishes. He didn't talk to most of his Argentine teammates about the 2013 Finals for months, until he sent several of them an email explaining what had happened and assuring them he would recover.

He did, of course. So did the Spurs. They rebounded a year later by smashing Miami in an all-time display of team basketball. Ginobili played with the same reckless joy. Hitting rock bottom the year before did not infect his game with fear or caution.

His old friends loved it, even the scary collisions and nutty turnovers. "I prefer Manu like that," Oberto said. "I can't imagine Manu not taking crazy risks." They watched in joyous disbelief when Ginobili, playing with a stress fracture in his leg, flashed back for a monster dunk over Chris Bosh in the final blowout.

Everyone has long since given up convincing him to play any other way. A few years ago, Sanchez recited a list of stars who stayed healthy by accepting more limited roles and toning down their derring-do. Ginobili scoffed.

San Antonio's coaches shook their heads last season when, in his first game back from a nasty groin injury that threatened his career, Ginobili tried to take a charge -- a category in which he has led the team a half-dozen times. "Sometimes I wish him to become one of those cerebral point guards so he can play until he's 55," Messina said. "But he will play until the end like Manu."

"I just play the game the only way I know," Ginobili said. "And I have no regrets."

That will stand regardless of what happens in these Olympics. Argentina is 2-0 in group play after entering as an aging underdog, but where they finish is almost beside the point now. The elders at that London dinner never thought they would be together in Rio. Ginobili recently scanned a photo of him and Scola from their first tournament as teammates in 1996, and thought back to all they had shared over 20 years -- the flights, the meals, the tears, the wine-infused parties.

"Those things matter more than the results," he said.