An Olympic gold medal, an Olympic bronze and a FIBA World Championship silver medal says Argentina Men's National Team is the second most decorated team in the last ten years of international play. But Argentina has meant so much more than that to international basketball and the San Antonio Spurs organization and it started in 2002, the summer the Argentinians handed Team USA its first international loss with professional players and just a few months before Ginobili would dawn the silver and black. Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford was in Indianapolis when Team USA hit rock bottom and Argentina began their rise to a short lived basketball supremacy, and told Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski that the Spurs needed Ginobili's fire and Argentina's chemistry.
"The American guys had limousines lined up at the team hotel to get out of Indy as soon as they could," Buford said by phone from San Antonio this week. "The way the Argentines played, the passion they had for their national program, the way that they cared about each other, was something that was clearly missing with the U.S. program.
When we brought him over [in '02], we wanted him to bring that to our program."
2002 was just the start of Argentina's run. They won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, knocking out a Tim Duncan led Team USA along the way. Almost every member from the 2004 team to win the bronze in Beijing. Wojnarowski also spoke to Ginobili, who stayed humble when asked about Argentina's role in the reimagination of Team USA's senior program.
"It would be a little arrogant if I say that we are a blueprint of the USA Basketball," Ginobili told Yahoo! Sports. "But I think we did a heck of a job for a decade and am incredibly proud of what we've accomplished. And a lot of teams started to maintain a group of players – a core – that played together."
Ginobili, along with a younger, fiery Stephen Jackson helped provide the spark the San Antonio Spurs needed to get past the Los Angeles Lakers and get the franchise's second NBA title (Tim Duncan in his prime didn't hurt either). Wojnarowski's article underscores Ginobili's eventual candidacy for the Basketball Hall of Fame. In international ball, he was the leading force on the only team without the words "United States of America" in them to win gold since NBA players were allowed in the Olympics. In the NBA he was also the second or third best player on three championship teams. Ginobili's willingness to come off the bench revolutionized the 6th man position, leading the way for guys like Jason Terry, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford to come off the bench even if they were starting caliber players on their teams.
It's easy to focus on the last couple of years of Tim Duncan's career and celebrate that, but Spurs fans should also remember to glance past Duncan to soak in the last few years of one of the most significant players of the post Jordan era.