Few players have shined brighter than Manu Ginobili since the Euroleague started in 2000. Ginobili was the MVP of the finals as Kinder Bologna won the first-ever Euroleague title in 2001 in an unforgettable five-game playoff series against Tau Ceramica. Ginobili and Kinder fought for yet another Euroleague title the following year, but despite 27 points from Ginobili in the final, Panathinaikos ended up lifting the title in Bologna. Since he joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2002, Ginobili has continued to live up to the expectations in the NBA, helping his team to win NBA titles in 2003 and 2005, as well as changing the world basketball map forever when he led Argentina to win the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as MVP of that tournament, too. In France with the Spurs for the first edition of NBA Europe Live, Ginobili sat down with Euroleague.net to reflect on his experience with Euroleague Basketball. "The Euroleague helped me a lot to improve as a player, I really have no doubt about that," Ginobili said. "It made me mature as a player. I learned to play for my teammates and not only for myself, so I think that without that step, I wouldn't be the player I am today."
Hi Manu. First, a big welcome back on the part of the Euroleague. What memories come to mind as you return to Europe?
"Thank you. Coming to Europe always brings good memories. Some of the best times in my career came here. Even though we are not in Italy, which is where I won the Euroleague title, it is always nice to remember European basketball and to come back here to play." The first-ever Euroleague final between Kinder Bologna and Tau Ceramica in 2001 provided some of the best games seen in European basketball. What comes to mind when you think about those days?
"Those are special memories. It was the first big tournament I won and it was in front of our fans in Bologna. It was pretty intense. I have very beautiful memories from the finals against Vitoria." Since being named MVP of the Euroleague Finals in 2001, you have gone on to win an Olympic gold medal and two NBA titles. How did your Euroleague experience help you reach those successes?
"The Euroleague helped me a lot to improve as a player, I really have no doubt about that. Playing for a team like Kinder Bologna back in those days was a huge step forwards in my career. It made me mature as a player. I learned to play for my teammates and not only for myself, so I think that without that step, I wouldn't be the player I am today." Your victory the 2004 Olympics combined with World Championship titles by Yugoslavia in 2002 and Spain last month have changed the landscape of international competition. Where do you think this global evolution of basketball is headed?
"Well, the evolution was big, there is no doubt about it, and both kinds of basketball are getting closer. All teams outside the United States play in a different way than NBA teams and this is where we can get a little bit of advantage if we have to face them." Looking ahead to NBA Europe Live, the Spurs face Maccabi in Paris, the only two-time champs in the NBA and the Euroleague over the last five years. What kind of competition do you expect in that game?
"This is not a friendly game, but a preseason game, and I think there's a difference. Both teams will play to win, but this is just the start of a very long season. Both teams are still getting to know each other and play together, getting our rhythm. This is another game we should win, like any other, but you won't see the San Antonio Spurs now that you will in April, just as Maccabi will not be the same now as it will be in May." Maccabi has some of the most devoted fans anywhere, and they have filled Bercy Arena before. If you were talking to a Spurs teammate who never saw real European fans, what would you tell him to expect?
"I've never played against Maccabi, but I saw their fans in the 2002 Final Four in Bologna and it was absolutely incredible. No matter where the team goes, there are always fans dressed in yellow in the stands, sometimes even 7,000 or 8,000 people. However, a lot of European clubs have strong fan bases and this is totally different for any NBA player who never played in Europe. So I am glad they can experience this." As one of the biggest names in global basketball, with star status on three continents - Europe, North America and South America - what do you think of this initiative that brings NBA teams face-to-face with Europe's best teams in NBA Europe Live?
"I think it's a great idea. You give fans from all over the continent a chance to get closer to the NBA and to see their own teams match up against their favorite players. It is a win-win situation for the NBA and for the Euroleague, too."