The 20 moments that define Manu Ginobili's unforgettable career

Manu is forever a Spurs legend (0:52)

Check out career highlights from Manu Ginobili, who won four NBA championships with San Antonio and made two All-Star appearances. (0:52)

Editor's note: This has been updated in advance of the Spurs retiring Ginobili's No. 20 on Thursday.

Steve Kerr saw the magic of Manu Ginobili early on.

"I played with Manu his rookie year, and you could see the joy and the competitive desire and the passion every single day," the former San Antonio Spurs guard and current Golden State Warriors coach said. "[Former Spur] Sean Elliott had the best line about Manu when he drives in the lane. He said he looks like a squirrel running through traffic trying to dodge cars. He's going like this, and you can't stay in front of him. Then he explodes to the hoop."

As the Spurs legend is about to have his number retired, let's relive, in chronological order, 20 of the most memorable moments Ginobili has given the basketball world.

1. Draft day: June 30, 1999

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford first scouted Ginobili in 1997 in Australia at the 22-and-under world championships. Buford had never previously heard of the young guard from Argentina.

"He was like a wild colt out there," Buford told ESPN's Zach Lowe, "just doing crazy s---. Some of it made sense, and some of it didn't."

In June 1999, Ginobili checked all the mock drafts and "none of them had me going anywhere," he recalled in 2013 during an "Ask Me Anything" Q&A on Reddit. So Ginobili -- who was with Argentina's national team, preparing for a game in such a remote spot of the Brazilian Amazon that it was only accessible by airplane or boat -- "forgot all about it" on draft night and went to sleep.

Having won its first NBA title just a few days prior, San Antonio picked Ginobili at No. 57 in a class that produced nine NBA All-Stars and three winners of the league's Sixth Man Award (Ginobili, Jason Terry and Lamar Odom).

"Someone woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me," Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News in 2013. "I said, 'They're the defending NBA champions. Are you sure?' I had no idea they were even looking at me. I was excited, for sure. Then again, at 57th, I knew the chances of playing were not that good."

2. Duel vs. Kobe: Nov. 6, 2003

Ginobili spent three seasons in Europe before a solid NBA rookie campaign in 2002-03 (when the Spurs again won the title), but he showed he was truly a star in the making in Year 2 with the Spurs.

With reigning MVP Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker out due to injuries, Ginobili carried the Spurs against the Lakers, scoring what was then a career-high 33 points to go with 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Unfortunately for him, Kobe Bryant was simply better (game-high 37 points) as the Lakers edged a Spurs team that had ended L.A.'s season -- not to mention a shot at four straight championships -- six months earlier.

Bryant outshined Ginobili with 10 points in the fourth quarter, but this contest turned out to be the latter's coming-out party.

3. Olympic game winner vs. Serbia: Aug. 15, 2004

Not all of Ginobili's biggest moments transpired in a Spurs uniform. In this one, he lofted an off-balance shot just a fraction of a second before the final buzzer to give Argentina an 83-82 victory over Serbia and Montenegro on the opening day of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

Previously, Ginobili knocked down a driving bucket with 16 seconds left and converted the and-1 to tie the score at 81. Dejan Tomasevic then drew a foul on Fabricio Oberto with 3.8 seconds remaining and made one of two foul shots to put Serbia and Montenegro up by a point.

Argentina quickly advanced the ball up the court on the ensuing possession, with point guard Alejandro Montecchia finding Ginobili with a pass just inside the free throw line. Ginobili levitated and leaned into one of his most memorable shots, rolling to the ground just as the basketball banked off the glass and into the hoop.

"It was almost impossible," Ginobili said at the time. "Once it left my hand, I knew it was good. This is a very special thing."

4. Argentina's upset of Team USA: Aug. 27, 2004

Less than two weeks after Ginobili's buzzer-beater against Serbia and Montenegro, he led Argentina with 29 points to defeat the United States 89-81 in the Olympic semifinals, marking the first time since 1988 the Olympic men's basketball gold medal would not go to the U.S. One day later, Ginobili would lead Argentina to the gold.

The Americans had hastily put together a team featuring Ginobili's Spurs teammate Duncan as well as Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Stephon Marbury. Many marquee players, including Ray Allen, Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett, didn't participate in the 2004 Games.

"In 1992, the USA had the best players ever," Ginobili said after the semifinal win. "Here, they are great players, too. But they are young and never played internationally. So, with different rules, it's a whole different thing. The rest of the world is getting better, and the States isn't bringing their best players."

5. Career-high 48 points vs. Suns: Jan. 21, 2005

Ginobili shot past Quentin Richardson for a left-handed dunk on the first play, setting the tone for what might have been the Argentine's finest performance in a Spurs uniform.

At the height of the Spurs' rivalry with Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns in 2005, Ginobili poured in a career-high 48 points to lead a comeback in which his squad rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to capture a 128-123 overtime victory.

"I've never had a game like this," Ginobili said.

Really, he shouldn't have: Ginobili played with two bruised quads and even left the game at one point, limping off the court after his left ankle was stepped on.

With San Antonio trailing 88-71 to start the fourth quarter, coach Gregg Popovich utilized a small-ball lineup around Duncan featuring Ginobili, Brent Barry, Devin Brown and Beno Udrih. Ginobili went 16-for-22 from the floor during the game and drained all but one of 12 free throw attempts -- a showing that was needed with Parker missing all but one of his nine shots and Bruce Bowen going 0-for-7.

The 48-point performance marked one of several notable nights for Ginobili during the 2004-05 season, in which he was named an All-Star.

6. NBA Finals: June 2005

In 2005, San Antonio captured its third title in seven seasons and its first without David Robinson. Although Ginobili struggled in Games 3 and 4 in the series, he scored 23 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, in the series-clinching Game 7.

"I remember watching those Finals in 2005 against the Pistons," NBA veteran Pau Gasol said. "Manu carried that team a lot. I remember watching Game 7. Manu made the difference in that game, and that's what he does. He brings that competitiveness, that aggressiveness to every game."

Duncan ended up winning Finals MVP, but former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer and Buford believed Ginobili should have been co-MVP, if not taken the award outright. Ginobili averaged 18.7 points and four assists in that series, and San Antonio relied on him often in crunch time.

"Manu is unbelievable," Duncan said after Game 7. "I don't think we've scratched the surface with him. He just plays with reckless abandon. He doesn't care the time or the situation. He's going to continue to grow, and we're going to continue to grow around him."

7. Slam over Yao: Nov. 6, 2007

With 4:31 left to play, Ginobili intercepted a Yao Ming pass, drove the lane and threw down a two-handed jam over the Rockets' 7-foot-6 center.

Yao would have the final say in the game, scoring 28 points to go with 13 rebounds as Houston beat San Antonio 89-81, but Ginobili scored a team-high 23 points for the Spurs.

8. Duel vs. LeBron: Feb. 13, 2008

LeBron James scored 39 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, but even the King would have to pay homage to the Argentine after this one.

Ginobili scorched Cleveland by hitting a career-high eight 3-pointers en route to scoring a season-high 46 points in a 112-105 win. San Antonio started the fourth quarter trailing by four, but Ginobili erased that deficit by going 4-for-4 from long range while scoring 18 points in the final frame.

"It was unbelievable," James said. "There's nothing you can do when a guy gets hot like that. He shot step-back 3s. He shot pull-up 3s. It was a great performance by Manu."

Said then-Cavaliers coach Mike Brown: "Manu Ginobili's a bad boy."

9. Winner against Wolves: Feb. 21, 2008

With darting penetration and one dribble behind his back, Ginobili rose over Randy Foye at the top of the key with 6.2 seconds remaining to place the exclamation point on a 100-99 road victory.

Ginobili reeled off 44 points, including 19 in the second quarter during a sequence in which he hit six straight 3-pointers over the final 6:33 of the period.

In typical Ginobili fashion, he described the winning 17-foot jumper as "lucky."

"I always try to get to the rim, but Foye took over my left pretty good, and my counter move is always step-back right," Ginobili said. "I got lucky there, took a good shot and it went in. I just felt like I wanted to take every shot because they were going in. I made five in a row, I think, and most of them weren't just wide open. I wanted the ball in my hands because I was feeling confident."

10. Winner vs. Suns in 2008 playoffs Game 1: April 19, 2008

Duncan scored 40 points and added 15 rebounds in San Antonio's 117-115 double-overtime win over the Suns in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, but Ginobili's driving bank shot with 1.8 seconds remaining sealed the deal in an instant-classic game.

"It feels like a Finals game," Duncan said afterward. "It's the first game of the first series."

Ginobili scored 24 points on an ugly 10-for-24 shooting night, but the game winner embodied Ginobili: Even if he struggles over the course of a contest, he has a tendency to shine when the stakes are highest.

The Spurs relied on two 3-pointers -- one from Michael Finley and another from Duncan -- to force the overtime periods. With the score tied at 115, Ginobili zipped past Raja Bell to put in the winner.

11. Winning Sixth Man Award: April 21, 2008

Ginobili made his first All-Star appearance in 2005, presenting a dilemma for the Spurs. By the halfway point of the 2006-07 season, the staff agreed the Spurs were a better team with Ginobili coming off the bench, considering it was nearly impossible to spread touches between him, Duncan and Parker.

Popovich presented the idea to Ginobili in January 2007, ready to take the route of deference since the shooting guard had earned as much.

"I don't think I've ever admitted this, even to my staff," Popovich told ESPN's Zach Lowe. "But if Manu decided he was not good with it, he was gonna start. Whatever he said, we would do it. He deserved that."

Despite a burning desire to play with the starters, Ginobili chose the best interest of the team. His acceptance of a lesser role was significant in establishing San Antonio's current culture.

"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. Look at that guy, then talk to me."

Added Duncan: "You can't say s---. It set a precedent."

Ginobili was rewarded for his sacrifice in 2008. When the league honored Ginobili with the Sixth Man Award, Popovich joked about where Ginobili might keep it.

"He probably wants to take it and shove it up my ass," Popovich joked.

12. The bat game: Oct. 31, 2009


When Ginobili stopped a bat

In 2009, Manu Ginobili incredibly knocked down a loose bat in the middle of a game.

It was Halloween, and even Popovich acknowledged, "You would call someone a liar if they told you that story."

With 45.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter of an eventual 113-94 win over Sacramento, a Mexican free-tailed bat flew around the AT&T Center, sending players scurrying. As the bat swooped toward a cowering Kevin Martin, who had just attempted a 3-pointer, Ginobili dipped low to his left, then rose quickly to swat the bat out of midair with his left hand.

Nonchalantly, Ginobili picked up the bat, cupped it in his left hand and walked over to an arena attendant as head trainer Will Sevening ran out to the court to squeeze hand sanitizer into the guard's mitts.

Too bad for Ginobili that wasn't the end of the ordeal. Officials at the arena lost track of the bat, so Ginobili was forced as a precaution to undergo a round of 16 rabies shots.

As expected, Ginobili took a humorous approach in describing the episode.

"It's just a mouse with wings," he said at the time. "When you can't dunk anymore, you have to find a way to make it into the news. So that's what I did. I grabbed a bat. I didn't think it was a big deal. I'm going to be retiring soon. If anybody has a pest problem ..."

13. Winner in Game 1 of West semifinals: May 6, 2013

Sitting in the locker room, fighting through a stomach virus, Duncan watched San Antonio rally from 16 down over the final four minutes of regulation. He returned courtside in overtime to have a front-row seat for Ginobili's game-winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the second OT.

Golden Stated led 127-126 with 3.4 seconds remaining. On an inbounds play, Kawhi Leonard laced a rocket across the court to Ginobili, who had lost his man after setting a screen for Parker. Ginobili knocked down the shot for a 129-127 win with Kent Bazemore hopelessly launching himself at Ginobili to contest the shot.

At the time, teams down 16 points or more over the final four minutes owned a record of 0-392, according to Elias Sports Bureau. What's more, Ginobili had missed his previous seven shots before nailing the winner.

"I was wide open, so I didn't have any other option," Ginobili told TNT's David Aldridge immediately after the game. "If I could have thought about it and did something else, I could've. It was only the second shot I made all day. Good timing, though."

Ginobili actually finished 5 of 20, leaving Popovich with wide-ranging emotions. Just before Ginobili hit the game winner, he forced a contested 27-footer with 44 seconds remaining with San Antonio leading by three.

"I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook breakfast for him tomorrow," Popovich said.

14. Dunk over Bosh in 2014 Finals: June 15, 2014

Pundits wondered whether the 36-year-old Ginobili was washed up coming off an emotionally draining loss in the 2013 NBA Finals.

But with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter of Game 5 of the 2014 Finals, Ginobili delivered one of his most triumphant postseason moments with a driving dunk on Chris Bosh in San Antonio's championship-clinching win. Team doctors revealed a month later that Ginobili had been playing with a stress fracture in his leg.

"The last time I tried [to dunk], I got blocked by Caron Butler against OKC badly, and I was made fun of by my teammates in a rough way," Ginobili said. "They actually made me promise I wasn't going to try that again, and I said, 'Yes, I won't try that again.' But in the heat of the battle with the adrenaline pumping and the situation, really, I don't know what happened."

The dunk came after Duncan pulled down a defensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Bosh and passed it out to Ginobili just as he was crossing halfcourt. Ginobili zipped past Udonis Haslem and rammed into Ray Allen with his right shoulder before rising for the dunk.

"I went hard and once I was in the air, I felt like I had a shot, and tried," Ginobili said. "I think it helped the team, too, to get pumped up."

Ginobili followed up on the ensuing possession with a step-back 3-pointer over LeBron James, capping a vintage first half for Ginobili, who produced 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench as San Antonio went on a 41-18 run over the final 17:04 of the first half.

"That NBA Finals moment is special, man, especially when he got that dunk at his age at the time; showing that he could still do it, and bouncing back from games previous and years previous where they thought he didn't have it anymore," Danny Green said.

15. Taking (or losing) one for the team: Feb. 3, 2016

Teammates can giggle and joke about the ordeal now, but at the time this wasn't a laughing matter.

With 2:26 left to play during a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, Ginobili suffered a testicular injury under the basket when Ryan Anderson's right knee caught the veteran squarely in the groin just as he turned toward him. The former Pelicans forward was whistled for an offensive foul on the play.

Ginobili immediately collapsed to the floor, and fell back down again on multiple occasions as team trainers and Duncan tried to assist him to the locker room.

The injury required surgery and the extraction of Ginobili's right testicle.

"He had to give up part of his body for this organization," Green said.

The self-deprecating Ginobili, meanwhile, took the experience in stride. In his first interview after the injury, with WOAI in San Antonio, Ginobili was asked whether he'd ever heard the expression, "I'd give my left ..." before he interjected.

"I gave my right one," Ginobili said, laughing. "I gave it all. I gave it all. I gave my right one for the Spurs. I can say it. I can really say it. It's true."

16. Right-handed dunk in West semis Game 5: May 9, 2017

This wasn't even Ginobili's best play in San Antonio's 110-107 overtime win over the Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. That moment would come later.

But on this play, Ginobili gathered the ball at the top of the key with 2:02 left in the first half before darting toward the basket, where the left-hander lifted off awkwardly from his right foot to throw down a mean right-handed jam over Anderson off an assist from Jonathon Simmons. That dunk represented just Ginobili's third dunk since the start of the season, and the first in the year 2017.

"The right-handed dunk on someone counts for three dunks for him," LaMarcus Aldridge joked.

Green added: "I don't know if you saw that wrong-foot, right-handed dunk, but that's one for the record books right there. From that moment on, I knew he was locked in. I knew he was going to give us some good energy."

17. Block on Harden to seal Game 5: May 9, 2017

Throwing down the awkward, right-handed dunk off the right foot provided a nice first-half highlight for Ginobili, but he later one-upped that with a game-defining play: Ginobili crept up from behind and swatted away James Harden's final attempt at tying Game 5 to preserve a Spurs victory.

"I know where his shot releases from, and he went by me," Ginobili said of the final play of the game. "So I tried to bother him as much as I could, and I saw I found myself very close to the ball. So I went for it. But very risky; it was a risky play. But it was also risky to let him shoot. So I took my chances."

Ginobili blocked Harden's attempt from 25 feet out with just 0.3 seconds remaining in overtime. To that point, he hadn't swatted away a 3-point attempt in more than a year (Kyrie Irving on Jan. 14, 2006), and hadn't stuffed a postseason shot from long range in more than five years (Alec Burks on May 5, 2012). The play also marked the first time Ginobili had ever blocked Harden's shot.

18. Ovation in Game 4 of West finals: May 22, 2017

Ginobili hates revisiting this moment, describing it as "super awkward" because he felt he "was being retired," even though he hadn't made such an announcement.

But as the seconds ticked away in San Antonio's 129-115 elimination loss to the Warriors, the remaining fans at the AT&T Center stood, waved Spurs towels and chanted "Manu, Manu, Manu" as Ginobili walked off the court to a standing ovation with 2:25 remaining.

"I didn't want to acknowledge it. I didn't want to ignore it," Ginobili said recently. "I wanted to thank them. But if I thanked them and started doing like this [waves as if he's waving to the crowd], then it felt like I was saying ... I didn't know how to react. Of course, I appreciated it. The whole thing, hopefully, it doesn't happen again. For sure, it was very awkward."

Just before the game, Popovich informed Ginobili he would make his first postseason start since 2013. If it was going to be Ginobili's final game, Popovich wanted to make sure to honor him.

"We started him tonight out of respect," Popovich said. "That was the whole reason for starting him. Before the game, you think it may or may not be his last game that he ever plays in, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to honor him in front of our home fans for his selflessness over the years."

Even after the lopsided loss, Spurs fans continued their "Manu" chants as Ginobili walked off the court and headed into the tunnel toward the locker room.

19. The 3-pointer pass: Jan. 2, 2018

Even Ginobili's accidents work out, leaving teammates and a red-faced Popovich hunched over in laughter. That's what transpired during a 100-91 win over the New York Knicks, with Ginobili's attempted lob to Aldridge finding its way into the cylinder and fooling everybody in the arena.

"I did not [see the ball go into the basket], in all honesty," Popovich said. "Then everybody started grabbing me and saying the ball went in. I said, 'Yeah, the ball went in!' I acted like I knew what was going on."

The moment provided some comic relief for Popovich, but Ginobili wasn't thrilled at the time because the referees initially didn't count the basket. In fact, some players on the court didn't even know Ginobili's attempted pass made it through the hoop.

Michael Beasley thought he'd rebounded a Ginobili miss.


As the sequence unfolded, Beasley dribbled the ball down the floor, not knowing the 3-pointer should have counted, as Ginobili and several Spurs worked frantically to gain the attention of the refs.

"I went crazy because once you make a shot like that, you wanted it to count," Ginobili said.

The refs eventually stopped play and incorrectly ruled Ginobili's lob as a two-point basket. Another review at the end of the third quarter led to the correct ruling.

20. Magic Johnson Award finalist: April 2018

Despite all the hardware Ginobili already owns in the form of championships, gold medals, a Sixth Man Award and two All-Star Game appearances, perhaps he's most deserving of the Magic Johnson Award from the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Ginobili was named a finalist for the 2018 award in April, though DeMar DeRozan was named the winner.

The PBWA describes the recipient of the annual award as "the player who best combines excellence on the basketball court with cooperation and dignity in dealing with the media and the public." Ginobili embodies all of that, yet the award has eluded him.

After a game, win or lose, Ginobili stands patiently in front of the cameras for interviews in both English and Spanish. During one media availability in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs, Ginobili conducted interviews in Italian, English and Spanish.

Ginobili is by far the team's most accessible player to the media, and was asked whether the responsibility of dealing with reporters would sway his decision about coming back to play another season.

"That's a great question," Ginobili said, smiling. "Answering questions is not my most enticing part of coming back for another season. But after so many years, you get used to it. You kind of learn to have fun with it."

But, Manu, you love the media, don't you?

"Of course, I do," Ginobili said. "You know that."