Manu Ginobili, Argentina's 'Golden Generation' take Olympic bow

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Manu Ginobili's emotions were jumbled as he tried to put his Olympic journey into words.

Long after his last game inside the rings ended, the balding forward who once again had done all he could in defeat returned to the floor and was handed the game ball. Ginobili tucked it under his left arm and looked like he would never let it go.

The golden trip for Ginobili and Argentina is over.

"It's been an amazing run," he said, with his eyes watery and his voice strained.

Argentina's latest run at a medal came to an end Wednesday night, as the U.S. rolled to a 105-78 win and set up a semifinal matchup with Spain while ending an era for Argentina.

There would be no more magic, no improbable victory or stunning upset. Argentina's adored "Golden Generation," which after a surprising second-place finish at the 2002 world championships, stunned the Americans two years later at the Athens Games. The players captured an Olympic title and the hearts of their countrymen, but their run reached the end.

Ginobili, 39 won't play in the Olympics again, and after the final horn sounded, U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony wrapped his arms around a player who beat him in his first Olympics but also a man he has grown to respect.

"I know what he means not just to basketball in Argentina but to the country as a whole," said Anthony, a four-time Olympian. "He's put in a lot of work, and he has represented them in a great fashion. He's put that country on his back over the years, and I just told him, 'Thank you,' especially for me playing against him over the past four Olympics. I just wanted to say, 'Thank you.'"

Ginobili was moved by Anthony's gesture and that of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who offered similar sentiments.

"They congratulated me, and I'm very proud of their words," said Ginobili, who scored 14 points Wednesday. "They were very kind, very respectful, and when legends of the game showed their respect, it has an extra value. They didn't have to do it. They could have just shaken my hand and do other things and start to think about Spain. They spared some very kind words, and I truly appreciate it."

For Argentina's passionate fans, Ginobili's farewell hurts.

They chanted "Ole ... ole ... ole ... Man-ooh ... Man-ooh" toward him, and Ginobili smiled and waved to acknowledge their cheers. All of Argentina's players are popular, but not like Ginobili.

He's numero uno.

"A Hall of Fame player. A Hall of Fame competitor. And as fierce a competitor that as a coach I've had to face in my entire time in international basketball," Krzyzewski said. "Really, there's been nobody completely like him. He plays all positions. And with the heart and commitment that he's had for his country, no one could have represented his country at a higher level or better than Manu Ginobili. ... Ultimate respect from all of us."

The Argentines jumped to a 19-9 lead on the Americans, who then went on a 27-2 run to take control.

Of course, the outcome was disappointing to Argentina, but it didn't quiet their fans, who engaged in a back-and-forth with Brazil's backers throughout that game. In the final minutes, the blue-and-white clad fans poured into one end of Carioca Arena, where they shouted and danced side-by-side.

When Ginobili, who plans to play one more season for the San Antonio Spurs, was replaced by coach Sergio Hernandez with 1:52 left, Argentina fans screamed one last time for a player whose impact will be felt for years. Over two decades, Ginobili gave them everything.

"I'm proudest of that: the longevity, the way we played the game, all the things we accomplished, the friendships and the camaraderie we created," Ginobili said. "This year is the 20th year since my first game with the national team, so I'm very proud, and at the same time, I'm sad and happy because having an opportunity to play this game at 39, it's not something that happens often.

"I'm incredibly lucky to have stayed healthy and stayed with some of the same guys for so long. I'm very proud of it."