Arvydas Sabonis, one of the greatest centers to ever come out of the former Soviet Union, will forever be known as a “what if” center, although he is in the Hall of Fame.
After suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in 1987, the giant 7’3 Lithuanian center wasn’t as mobile or agile as before, and his stamina started to decrease as well. However, due to undeniable talent and will, Sabonis never quit, and went on to play in the NBA, for the Portland Trailblazers.
At the time of his arrival in the NBA, he could barely jump, but had the best hands a center could wish for, a steady outside shot and great court vision. To understand how great Sabonis could’ve been, we can go back a year before his injury. That would be 1986, the Fiba World Championship, to be exact.
Playing for the Soviet Union, Sabonis went up against the future San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson.
ExNBA found this particular moment in the game, that shows what Sabonis really could’ve been. Where else at the time you could see a 7’3 center doing a tip dunk like this?
In the final, the U.S. opened up a 78-60 lead with 7:36 left, before another frantic late rally of Soviet threes made it a game at the end. Team USA hung on for an 87-85 win to take the gold. Two years later in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, post-injury Sabonis scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the USSR defeated the US 82-76, for the gold medal.
Sabonis retired from professional basketball in 2005. On August 20, 2010, Sabonis was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in recognition of his great play in international competition.
On April 4, 2011, Sabonis was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,and he was inducted on August 12, 2011. On October 24, 2011, Sabonis was voted to be the next president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation.
Recognized as one of the best European players of his era, he won the Euroscar Award six times, and the Mr. Europa Award twice. He played in a variety of leagues, and spent seven seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States.
Sabonis played the center position and also won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea for the Soviet Union, and later earned bronze medals at the 1992 and 1996 games while playing for Lithuania.
In the NBA, Sabonis played 7 seasons for the Portland TrailBlazers, and appeared in total of 470 NBA games (314 started). He holds career averages of 12.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 1.1 bpg in 24.2 minutes per game. He averaged career-high 16 ppg and 10.0 rpg for Portland in 1997-98 season.
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