The packs of tissues stuffed in the seat cup holders proved purposeful for the sellout crowd at the AT&T Center, as the San Antonio Spurs sent future Hall of Fame guard Manu Ginobili off with a tearjerker of a jersey retirement ceremony.
"I'm telling you, I'm one of the lucky ones," Ginobili said during a speech delivered partially in English and partially in Spanish. "I've been dealt amazing cards. I just had to play them OK. That was all I had to do."
In an arena packed full of fans from all over the world, the Spurs lifted Ginobili's No. 20 jersey into the rafters, right next to the No. 21 jersey of Tim Duncan.
Duncan, former Spurs point guard Tony Parker, Fabricio Oberto and coach Gregg Popovich all delivered speeches at Thursday's ceremony, which took place 25 minutes after San Antonio's 116-110 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and likely vied for a place among sports' longest jersey-retirement ceremonies.
Many of Ginobili's other former teammates were on hand for the highly anticipated night, for which fans lined up outside the gates at the AT&T Center more than four hours before tipoff.
DeMar DeRozan wore light blue Nikes with a gold swoosh during the game in honor of Ginobili and the Argentine flag, and Ginobili's best friend on the team, Patty Mills, knocked down a 3-pointer with 13.5 seconds remaining to put away the game.
"It's a special day, a heartfelt day for a lot of people in the San Antonio community and far, far beyond," Mills said. "He's left a legacy that goes beyond what happens on the court. It's been his passion, his energy, his competitiveness for the game that has really affected teammates, coaches and fans across the world. I'm very honored to be in a situation of being his teammate and being a close friend of his for many years."
Former Spurs Boris Diaw, Bruce Bowen, Beno Udrih and Nazr Mohammed were also on hand to support Ginobili, as were Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks, New Orleans Pelicans interim general manager Danny Ferry, Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley and Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego.
Other attendees included Federico Susbielles, president of the Argentine Basketball Federation, and Argentine journalist Adrián Paenza.
All witnessed several highlights from Ginobili's illustrious career, which were played on the scoreboard during breaks in the game.
Ginobili took in all the sights early on from a seat next to Marks, and the night started with the Argentine national anthem. Ginobili was later seated between Duncan and Parker.
Once halftime hit, seven of Ginobili's former teammates from the Argentina National Team's "Golden Generation" took part in a roundtable discussion that included interpreters and subtitles on the scoreboard. Those former Ginobili teammates included Gabriel Fernandez, Alejandro Montecchia, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni, Luis Scola, Pepe Sanchez and Oberto.
In a professional basketball career spanning 23 seasons, Ginobili captivated fans, teammates and opponents with a smooth, free-flowing style of play. Diaw believes several players in the NBA now are still trying to mimic some of Ginobili's moves, including his famed EuroStep.
"He was the first one, I think, playing this way and bringing a different type of basketball when everybody was kind of playing the same way," Diaw said. "Manu brought something new, something different, and a lot of young guys looked at him and tried to copy it and saw that it was working. I think the guys that we see now, of course, are those young guys from years ago."
Ginobili announced his retirement on Twitter on Aug. 27, capping a career in which he won four NBA titles, an Olympic gold medal for Argentina and a EuroLeague MVP award. Ginobili turned 41 on July 28 and came to the decision to retire after careful consideration, despite playing last season believing that it would likely be his last.
Popovich tried one last time over the summer to convince Ginobili to return, but that proved futile.
That left San Antonio to open training camp on Sept. 24 without a single member of the franchise's vaunted Big Three of Ginobili, Parker and Duncan for the first time since the 1997-98 season.