Manu Ginobili: Rise and Fall with the Argentinian National Squad

Argentina is a founding member of FIBA and has South America's longest basketball tradition.
Argentina is a founding member of FIBA and has South America's longest basketball tradition.
Achyut Dubey

Ironically, Manu Ginobili has bid farewell to professional basketball exactly 14 years after leading a talented Argentinian side over Team USA in the semifinal round of the knockout stage of Athens Olympics in 2004.

Led by a stellar performance from San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili, Argentina defeated the United States 89-81 in the Olympic semifinal round. Ginobili finished with a game-high 29 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field.

This scenario underlines one of many scintillating matchups Manu hosted while playing with his national team. The illustrious legacy of one of the most reputed basketball nations holds Manu Ginobili at the forefront of the 'Golden Generation' of Argentinian basketball.

Let us try and delve deeper into what actually led to the inception of the 'Golden Generation' and the subsequent highs-n-lows that changed basketball forever. Not only were they capable of beating the Americans at a game the U.S. owned since the 1950's, but they cemented their legacy as the best collection of basketball talent south of the Equator.

2001 Tournament of Americas

Argentina went 10-0 and thoroughly dominated all foes in the process.
Argentina went 10-0 and thoroughly dominated all foes in the process.

Argentina played host to the 2001 COPABA Tournament of the Americas, later known as the FIBA Americas Championship and the FIBA AmeriCup (also as the Championship of the Americas for Men). The games were meant to be played from 16 August to 26 August, as a chance to earn berths for the 2002 FIBA World Championship, in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.

In a highly anticipated matchup on the 17th of August at Estadio Ruca Che, Neuquén, Argentina beat USA 108-69 in a one-sided rout. They dominated Brazil, Venezuela & Uruguay in the process and swept all four group games comprehensively. Playing hosts for the tournament, Argentina went 10-0 in contrast to a young USA squad made of junior college players who ended with a 0-10 record.

Argentina won the tournament, this one being the country's first AmeriCup championship. This was the first step on a path that would solidify their place in basketball elite.

2002 FIBA World Championships

A 25-year-old Manu Ginobili played at Small Guard.
A 25-year-old Manu Ginobili played at the Small Guard position.

The 2002 FIBA World Championship was the 14th FIBA World Championship and was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.

The starting lineup of the USA squad in this tournament consisted of NBA superstars such as Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, Antonio Davis, Ben Wallace & Andre Miller. But instead, Team USA’s 58-game international winning streak was snapped in the octofinals where a 25-year old soon-to-be San Antonio Spur named Manu Ginobili led his Argentine squad to an 87-80 upset in the group stage of the tournament.

Though Argentina lost to Yugoslavia 84-77 in the Finals(Dirk Nowitzki was awarded the MVP trophy), they had announced their arrival on the world basketball stage. "They put on a clinic," Team USA Coach George Karl said after the game. It was clear that Team USA had been embarrassed.


2004 Athens Olympics

Argentina beat Italy 84-69 in the Olympics Finals to win the Gold Medal.
Argentina beat Italy 84-69 in the Olympics Finals to win the Gold Medal.

It was the first - and so far, the last - time the USA men's basketball team had not won gold in the Olympics since the legendary 1992 "Dream Team" introduced NBA stars to international competition. The American roster boasted names such as Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade & Tim Duncan, but ended up proving to be a hastily assembled assortment of NBA stars.

Manu Ginobili scored 29 points on 9/13 shooting and 7/8 on free throws to lead his nation to another victory over the country that used to dominate the sport. Argentina beat USA 89-81 in the semifinals and were better passers, shooters and defenders than the Americans all throughout the game.

The 2004 USA Olympic team will forever be marked as the one that brought home bronze instead of gold, but it also holds the recognition of being the youngest American side in Olympic history(the average age of the team was just 23.5).

"In 1992, the U.S. had the best players ever," Ginobili said following Argentina's semifinal win. "Here, they are great players too, but they are young and they 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."


2012 London Olympics

Battle for the bronze between Russia and Argentina.
The battle for the bronze between Russia and Argentina.

Manu conjured an 18-point effort in Argentina’s semifinal loss to the United States, which was followed by the bronze medal game with Russia, arguably considered as one of the most dramatic Olympic basketball games ever. With 18 seconds left, Argentina's Andres Nocioni missed a corner 3-pointer, quickly followed by Ginobili forcing a turnover at midcourt. Argentina thought there should have been a foul called, but the referees ruled otherwise.

Russia beat Argentina by a score of 81-77 after one of the wildest endings fans could want. The San Antonio Spur scored 21 points in the final game, shooting 4-for-8 from three-point land and scoring a go-ahead layup with 43 seconds to bring his team back from an 11-point hole.

Without his heroics, Argentina wouldn't even have made it out of the quarters. Argentina didn’t medal and the Golden Generation may have ended, but Ginobili did all in his power to save his nation's pride.

Edited by Amulya Shekhar
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