Arvydas Romas Sabonis
December 19, 1964 in Kaunas, Lithuania
Portland Trailblazers, 24th Overall, 1986 NBA Draft
7-3 ; Weight
Sabas, Big Red, Sabo, 'Arthritis'
G - 470
FG% - .500
3PFG% - .328
FT% - .786
Points - 5,629
PPG - 12.0
Rebounds - 2,702
RPG - 7.3
Assists - 964
APG - 2.1
Blocks - 494
BPG - 1.1
Steals - 370
SPG - 0.8
6 x European Player of the Year, 2 x Mr Europa Player of the Year, 1 x European Championship MVP, 2 x Spanish League Finals MVP, 2 x Spanish League MVP, NBA All-Rookie First Team, 1 x Euroleague Final Four MVP, 1 x Euroleague Regular Season MVP, 1 x All Euroleague First Team, 35 Greatest Euroleague Players, 1988 Summer Olympic Gold Medalist w/Soviet Union, 1982 World Championship Gold Medalist w/Soviet Union, 1985 European Championship Gold Medalist w/Soviet Union, 2010 FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee, 2011 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee
Sabonis made his professional debut in 1981 with BC Žalgiris in his hometown, Kaunas. He won three consecutive Soviet League titles and reached the 1986 Euroleague finals with the team.
Sabonis was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 77th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft. However, the selection was voided because Sabonis was under 21 at the time of the draft. The following spring, he suffered a devastating Achilles' tendon injury. Nevertheless, he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 24th pick of the 1986 NBA Draft.
Sabonis was not allowed to play in the NBA by Soviet authorities until 1989. However, he did go to Portland to rehabilitate his injury with Blazers trainers. He also practised with the team.
In the 1988 Summer Olympics, Sabonis led the Soviet Union to a gold medal with a win against a United States team that featured future NBA All-Stars David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and Danny Manning in the semi-finals. The team later beat Yugoslavia in the finals.
The 1985–1988 stretch of a heavy playing schedule and lack of rest took a significant toll on Sabonis' future health and durability. Various leg injuries weren't given much time to heal due to the Cold War climate that surrounded international competition as well as BC Žalgiris – CSKA Moscow games. One key moment for his future health took place in 1988 when Sabonis had a surgical knee procedure performed in Portland but was rushed back on the floor with the USSR Olympic team before a full recovery. The decision to include a limping Sabonis on the USSR roster for the 1988 Olympic games was later heavily criticized. Eventually Sabonis would develop chronic knee, ankle and groin issues that substantially limited his mobility and explosiveness by the mid-90s.
In 1992, after playing with CB Valladolid for three seasons, Sabonis joined Real Madrid and won two Spanish League titles and a Euroleague title in 1995. During the 1994–95 regular season with Real Madrid, he averaged 22.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocked shots, and 2.4 assists per game.
In 1995, Sabonis signed with the Blazers. He had a successful rookie campaign, averaging 14.5 points on 55% shooting and 8.1 rebounds while playing less than 24 minutes per game. Sabonis was selected to the All-Rookie First Team and was runner-up in both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year votings. His postseason averages were up to 23.6 points and 10.2 rebounds.
Sabonis averaged 16.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 1997–98, all career-highs.
He won the European Player of the Year twice while playing with the Blazers. He also became a fan favorite.
The question that surrounds Sabonis' NBA career revolves around how good he could have been had he played in the NBA during his prime. Sabonis was nearly 31 when he joined the Blazers, by which time he had already won multiple gold medals, suffered through numerous injuries and had lost much of his mobility and athleticism. In Bill Simmons' "Book of Basketball", Arvydas Sabonis the international player is idealized while Arvydas Sabonis the Blazer is described as "lumbering up and down the court in what looked to be concrete Nikes" and ranking "just behind Artis Gilmore on the Moving Like a Mummy Scale." In ESPN's David Thorpe's view, Sabonis would be the best passing big in NBA history and possibly top 4 center overall, had he played his entire career there. In Clyde Drexler's view, if Sabonis had been able to spend his prime in Portland next to the plethora of other Trail Blazers' All Stars (Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck Williams and "Cliff" Robinson), Trail Blazers would "have had four, five or six titles. Guaranteed. He was that good. He could pass, shoot three pointers, had a great post game, and dominated the paint."
After the 2000–2001 NBA season, Sabonis refused to sign an extension with Trail Blazers and retired from the NBA. In his own words, he "was tired mentally and physically." Instead, he returned to Europe where he signed a one year deal at nominal salary with Žalgiris, expecting to join the team for most important games down the stretch. However, he ended up missing that season in its entirety resting and recovering from injuries. Sabonis rejoined Trail Blazers for one final season in 2002–2003.
Sabonis came back to Žalgiris to play his final season in 2003 – 2004. He led the team to the Top 16 stage of the Euroleague that year and was named the Regular Season MVP and the Top 16 MVP. He also became the team's president. Sabonis would officially retire in 2005.