The National Basketball Association's mid-season All-Star game is set for this Sunday in Denver, Colorado. Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs will be the first player from Argentina to appear in the game.
It has been an impressive run for Manu Ginobili. Last year at the Athens Olympics he led Argentina's national team to an upset win over the United States in the men's basketball semifinal. Argentina then beat Italy in the final to win the gold medal, which was the first-ever medal for Argentina in Olympic basketball.
Ginobili plays professionally for the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs and the shooting guard has helped guide them to the best record in the league so far this season. He was rewarded by being named a reserve to this year's All-Star team. He told VOA Sports it's a great honor.
"I'm so proud. I can't believe it," he said. "I'm trying to make it sink in, but it's really hard. Especially with my background, where I come from, already playing in the NBA is huge for me. So the fact of being chosen as one of the top 24 players in the league and being able to be in that show is enormous."
The 27-year-old Ginobili has a huge following in his home country and fans in Argentina are equally excited.
"If you would have asked that [if he could have made the All-Star team] three years ago it would have been impossible, and I'm talking seriously impossible," he said. "So that's why they are very happy with it, a little emotional too, because they saw me playing when I was 17, 18, making my first steps in professional basketball. So it's a big step for our country, for basketball in our country, so it's going to help a lot."
Manu Ginobili said he has improved his overall game from last season, playing more solid. The 1.98-meter-tall guard is incredibly athletic and versatile. He is capable of hitting long jump shots, attacking the basket and making a nuisance of himself on the defensive end of the court. He is enough of a threat when he has the ball that it takes some of the pressure off fellow-Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan.
While he knows it will be great to play with Duncan in Sunday's All-Star game, they have high hopes for an NBA championship this season.
"This [being named an All-Star] is a gift," he said. "I mean this is a bonus. At the beginning of the season I wasn't even thinking of the All-Star game, but I was really thinking about getting another ring. So that's what we're all thinking here [on the Spurs team], to make it to the end and go home with a big smile."
Last year Manu Ginobili had a big smile when he signed a new six-year contract with the San Antonio Spurs for $52 million. He would like nothing better than to have the team's fans feel he earned the big money deal by helping the Spurs win the NBA title.