Few people can boast of winning an NBA championship. Even fewer own an Olympic gold medal. Fewer yet have won both. Count Argentina's Manu Ginobili in that select group.
In 2004, his squad made the once-unthinkable a reality: a U.S. men's team comprised of professionals did not win Olympic gold. Argentina defeated Team USA in the semifinals before taking down Italy, winning its first Olympic medal in basketball. With much of that team expected to be in Beijing, Ginobili hopes for a similar result.
He spoke with NBCOlympics.com about which championship means the most to him, where he thinks Argentina stands four years later, and his favorite part of the Olympics.
You and a handful of other NBA guys didn't play for Argentina last summer, so how do you think the team did without you guys?
They did amazing. They played so solid and regularly for all the nine games. That's really hard to do. So I was very impressed and, of course, happy.
Winning an Olympic gold medal was bigger for Ginobili than winning an NBA title.
When you and the others rejoin the team, how will it stack up to the 2004 Argentinean team?
Same team basically. Older, more experienced; so whatever that gives you and takes away. We may not have fresh legs, but we know more components of the game and are more experienced.
You and Fabricio Oberto are two of the few people who own NBA and Olympic championships; how do you compare those two titles?
In my situation, coming where we come from, an Olympic gold medal is way harder to get. Because I am lucky enough to play for the Spurs, I've had the opportunity to make it there (win an NBA title) three times. So, Olympics has got a special feeling, something I never thought of winning. And we achieved it, so it was huge for us. And it's going to be even bigger down the stretch when I retire.
What makes Argentina so good? Experience? Chemistry?
Chemistry for sure. We are hard workers and we just want the best for our teammates. On every team, that's huge. We got all the roles well-covered and we're all looking for just one simple goal. In every single team, that's huge.
Will this Argentina team be on the same level as the U.S. and Spain?
Yeah, no doubt. I think we are one of the four best teams in the world. Not many players or (people) that know the game or have been following us are going to argue with me on that. Anybody of those four can finish fourth, fifth, sixth because there are other good teams. But I think so far we demonstrated, we show the world that we are top four.
Who are your top four?
I would say U.S., Spain, us, and Lithuania or Greece.
With international tournaments the way they are, can a team can get hot at the right time and win?
Yeah, of course. Anybody can come and shock everybody. Don't confuse me, anybody can win. It's such a short tournament where you could have a good game in the quarterfinals ... and go for the gold. That can happen. But if you look closely at the teams, I think we are certainly one of the top four best teams.
Do you think China has an advantage with the Games being held in China?
Yeah, they gonna have an advantage. They can be a surprise too. But I think that they lack the experience and depth. Of course, they have two great talents in Yi (Jianlian) and Yao (Ming) but I think they lack a little depth on the rest of the team.
Outside of basketball, what are the Olympics like?
It was an unbelievable experience (in 2004). Probably the fact of winning it really exposed all the good things about the Olympics. But I really enjoyed the experience of eating with the best athletes in the world, sharing the same village, just going on the bus with the best runner or the best swimmer. It was a great thing for me. And that's why I want to do it again so badly.
Did you follow any sports other than basketball at the Olympics?
We followed them a little bit on TV, online. In Greece it was so difficult to transport. And we were playing every other day so you wanted to use your energy wisely. I didn't attend too many other sports but I was following closely because it was really fun.
Are you a fan of any of the other Olympic sports?
Of course, I cheer for my futbol team a lot because it's the main sport in Argentina. But once you are there, the camaraderie between all the Argentinean athletes is huge. So even if you never saw swimmers performing or any other sport like sailing, you cheer for them and you want the best for them. You can communicate, you can talk about their experience, how they did this. It's beautiful.
-- Compiled by Jon Ackerman, NBCOlympics.com
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