Manu Ginóbili and Tim Hardaway took the most momentous steps of their decorated basketball journeys at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass., whether that be by “Euro-step” or the “UTEP two-step.”
The pair of electric NBA guards with well-known signature moves were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, headlining a 2022 class that also included WNBA stars Swin Cash and Lindsay Whalen, NBA coaches George Karl and Del Harris, WNBA coach Marianne Stanley, NCAA coach Bob Huggins and NBA referee Hugh Evans.
Ginóbili, the Argentine star who won four titles with the San Antonio Spurs, was joined by former teammates Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Tony Parker as well as Coach Gregg Popovich. Duncan, who was inducted two years ago, joined Ginóbili onstage as a presenter as fans cheered and shouted “Ma-nuuu.”
After famously sacrificing his own role by agreeing to come off the bench as an overqualified sixth man, the 45-year-old Ginóbili was quick to defer credit for his induction to “every person and team” that influenced his career because he hadn’t been an MVP-caliber player with an overwhelming individual resumé.
A creative and unpredictable scorer known for his change-of-direction moves and passionate play, Ginóbili said that making the NBA felt like “an unreachable dream” during his childhood in soccer-mad Argentina, though he pointed out that basketball was unusually popular in his hometown of Bahía Blanca. He recalled a repetitive childhood — “dribble, shoot, dribble, shoot for six or seven hours a day” — under the guidance of his parents, who were both actively involved in his development.
After turning pro as a teenager and playing in Italy, Ginóbili credited “sheer luck” for bringing him to the Spurs, who selected him with the 57th pick of the 1999 draft without interviewing him or giving him advance notice. The two-time all-star spent the next 16 seasons in San Antonio, winning titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.
“We had our priorities straight,” he said. “We never let our egos get in the way. We knew when it was [Parker’s] time, when it was my time and when it was [Duncan’s] time, which was most of the time.”
Meanwhile, Ginóbili was the face of Argentina’s “Golden Generation,” which won Olympic gold at the 2004 Athens Games and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I’m not here because I was super special,” he said. “I’m here because I was part of two of the most important teams of the 2000s.”
Hardaway, 56, joined his fellow “Run TMC” partners Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, as well as former Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson, in the Hall. The 6-foot point guard joked that Nelson had “lied to every team” during the 1989 pre-draft process by telling them “that my knees were shot” in hopes that Hardaway would fall to the Warriors. Nelson went on to craft a fast-paced, high-scoring offense around Hardaway, who was known for his rapid-fire crossover and scoring acumen.
“Man, we were ahead of our time,” Hardaway told Richmond and Mullin, who joined him onstage. “I cherish those years.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Hardaway singled out Isiah Thomas as a childhood hero and thanked his mother, Gwendalyn, for taking time off work to show him the proper bus routes to school and for steering the family after her divorce. Hardaway also shared a moment with his son, Tim Jr., a shooting guard for the Dallas Mavericks.
“You have kept the basketball legacy alive and well,” Hardaway said. “I introduced you to the game we love, and we’re so proud of you. We have so much joy watching you play. You be out there hooping your butt off.”
While Hardaway didn’t directly address the controversy surrounding homophobic comments he made during a 2007 radio interview, he thanked Hall Chairman Jerry Colangelo and NBA Commissioners Adam Silver and David Stern for being “men who never wavered in their belief in me even when it wasn’t always popular.”
The night opened with a tribute to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who had been inducted as both a player and a coach before his death in July. Jerry West and Alonzo Mourning introduced a video montage to Russell’s on-court heroics and off-court activism as the likes of Charles Barkley and Dikembe Mutombo looked on from the crowd.
“To be considered among the very best, you must be willing to lay it on the line against the very best,” West said. “I was lucky enough to learn this first hand by facing off against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. In his own way, he made all the lives he touched a little bit better.”
Mourning added: “His impact on society as a champion for social justice is the root of our profound admiration for him. We will deeply miss our mentor, our friend, his gigantic smile and infectious laugh.”