“It’s something you find out and you can’t believe it’s actually you the one being named,” Ginóbili told ESPN during the televised announcement. “I never even considered this a goal. I’m thrilled, excited and very honoured.”
Even so, it’s fitting that the unselfish Ginóbili, who started just 349 of his 1,057 career NBA games, should be rewarded as this year’s headliner. A lefty guard who perplexed defenders with his ballhandling ability, passing skills and unconventional moves, Ginóbili was selected as the 57th pick in the 1999 draft but played professionally in Italy until 2002.
Known for his “Euro-step” move, where he sharply changed direction after picking up his dribble on drives to the hoop, Ginóbili’s decision to embrace the sixth man role was crucial to San Antonio’s sustained success under Coach Gregg Popovich. With Ginóbili leading the second unit and exploiting overmatched opponents, the Spurs were able to maximize his playmaking opportunities and ensure a healthy balance between their starters and their bench.
The staggered approach, which saw Ginóbili stay on the court to close games, became a popular model for how to manage lineups, but it cost him individual braces and came at the expense of his statistics. Ginóbili, 44, earned just two all-star selections, both in seasons when he was a full-time starter, and retired in 2018 with modest career averages of 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
Yet Ginóbili’s flair and passion for the game made him a natural complement to the serious Duncan and a fan favorite in San Antonio, and he was honored by the Spurs with a jersey retirement in 2019. A basketball icon in Argentina, Ginóbili led his national team to gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and silver at the 2002 world championships.
Hardaway, 55, was a five-time all-star during a 13-year career spent largely with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat. The scoring-minded point guard from Chicago posted career averages of 17.7 points and 8.2 assists per game, and was famous for his signature “UTEP two-step” crossover, which was named after his alma mater, the University of Texas El Paso. Hardaway teamed with Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond on the up-tempo “Run TMC” Warriors of the early 1990s and led the Heat to the 1997 Eastern Conference finals.
Following his 2003 retirement, Hardaway made a series of homophobic comments in a 2007 radio interview. Hardaway later apologized, and said in subsequent interviews that he believed his comments had negatively impacted his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Cash, 42, was one of the greatest women’s players of all time, claiming two NCAA titles at Connecticut, three WNBA championships during a 15-year career and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA. The 6-foot-1 forward was a four-time WNBA all-star selection, the 2002 NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player and a member of the WNBA’s 25th anniversary team. Following her 2016 retirement, Cash joined the New Orleans Pelicans’ front office as vice president of basketball operations in 2019.
The 39-year-old Whalen was a five-time all-star and four-time champion during a 15-year WNBA career with the Connecticut Sun and the Minnesota Lynx. The Minnesota native and University of Minnesota star has coached women’s basketball at her alma mater since 2018.