WASHINGTON – Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, a star guard for the San Antonio Spurs and an NBA All-Star for the second time this year, touted the importance of having two Latin Americans and a Spaniard in basketball’s showcase mid-season contest.
“It’s another big achievement to have three (Spanish-speaking) players (in Sunday’s game at Los Angeles’ Staples Center), which will give a greater push to the sport of basketball in all our countries,” Ginobili said.
Ginobili, who also was an All-Star in 2005, said it was something to feel “proud of” that he, Dominican center Al Horford and Spanish power forward Pau Gasol will all be involved.
The Argentine, who will be joined by Gasol on the Western Conference squad, complimented the play of both the 30-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star and the 24-year-old Horford, who he said is fulfilling his enormous potential as a key member of the Atlanta Hawks.
Gasol will compete in his fourth All-Star Game on Sunday while Horford, who will suit up for the Eastern Conference squad, will be making his second appearance.
“Basketball in Latin America has grown enormously. I hope that trend continues,” the 33-year-old Ginobili said. “There’s not much difference compared to my first All-Star Game, except for my age, but I feel honored and happy (to be named for the team) and of course I’m excited and have more experience.”
A key player on Argentina’s national team, Ginobili acknowledged that he didn’t think he would get another chance to be involved in an All-Star Game, which this year will feature the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the Miami Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and many other greats of the sport.
“The other time it was exciting. I thought it wouldn’t happen again and now at my age and after six years, the opportunity has come up again. I’m happy,” he said. “This time I’m more familiar with everything, with my opponents ... before it was new, different.”
Ginobili said he doesn’t feel especially tired on court despite his age but he acknowledged that the bumps and bruises hurt more than ever and after several games in short succession the sensation is worse.
“Basketball is not just about your legs. You have to use your head, your experience, be responsible, respect your opponents,” Ginobili said. “The season isn’t won by (the squad) that beats three or four teams, but the one that defeats everybody,” he said.
He also said he was looking forward to participating in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
The tournament, scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 11, will feature teams from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Puerto Rico and is a qualifying tournament for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The United States, which has already qualified for London by virtue of its victory at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, has officially withdrawn from the event.
“I’m really looking forward to it and playing at home after 10 years will be great. We’re all very excited and it’s going to be a great championship,” Ginobili said.
But as a member of a team that boasts the best record in the NBA heading into the All-Star break, the Argentine has more pressing matters on his mind at the moment.
“Now I want to enjoy this great All-Star celebration and later keep concentrating” on the Spurs’ quest for their fifth NBA title.