Sunday, February 3, 2013

WHAT IF...? feat. Arvydas Sabonis

Arvydas Sabonis at 21
Arvydas Sabonis at 36
WHAT IF...? Arvydas Sabonis came into the NBA as 21-Year-Old Rookie -instead- 31-Year-Old Rookie?

Once considered the best big man in the basketball world, Arvydas Sabonis at age 30 finally decided to test himself against the best competition in the world — the NBA. "This is it for me," said Sabonis. "There's nothing left for me to prove in Europe or in the basketball world. Only the NBA remains."

The 7' 3" & 280-pound giant: Arvydas Sabonis could have been a 21 or 22-yrs-old star rookie — the Lithuanian giant was drafted as the 77th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks but the pick was later nullified –Sabonis was too young; ineligible for the draft.

Unfortunately, he suffered a devastating injury — rupturing his right Achilles tendon the following year. But nevertheless, he was re-drafted as the 24th pick of the 1986 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers but political issues didn't allow Sabonis to play in the United States at the time –fortunately, he did come to Portland in order to rehabilitate his injury w/ Blazers facility and trainers.

Once healthy –he attempted his comeback, returning to the Soviet Union to play three more seasons w/ Soviet teams — leading the Soviets to a triumphant showing in the 1988 Olympics by winning gold medal. Sabonis led the U.S.S.R. as they knocked-off a U.S.A. Team stocked w/ the likes of David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, Dan Majerle, Danny Manning, Plastic Man and two players w/ the not so popular names Charles Smith.

As fate would have it, the 6× Euroscar Player of the Year entered the NBA at age 31 and positively impacted the playoff-bound Portland Trailblazers for many seasons & post-seasons to come. But having left many basketball experts & fans wondering what if the elder-NBA-statesman could have been One of the Greatest Centers in NBA History!
Arvydas Sabonis | #11 | C | 7' 3" | 292 lbs

Hall Of Fame Credentials

- FIBA World Champion (1982)
- 6× Euroscar Player of the Year (1984–1985, 1988, 1995, 1997, 1999)
- 2× Mr. Europa Player of the Year (1985, 1997)
- 3× USSR Champion (1985, 1986, 1987)
- 4× Lithuanian Sportsman of the Year (1984, 1985, 1986, 1996)
- EuroBasket Champion (1985)
- European Championship MVP (1985)
- Spanish Basketball King's Cup (1993)
- 2× ACB Champion (1993, 1994)
- 2× Spanish League Finals MVP (1993, 1994)
- Spanish League MVP (1994–1995)
- Euroleague Champion (1995)
- Euroleague Final Four MVP (1995)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (1996)
- Euroleague Regular Season MVP (2004)
- Euroleague Top 16 MVP (2004)
- All-Euroleague First Team (2004)
- LKL Champion (2004)
- FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
- 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors
- FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee
Clyde Drexler | #23 | SG | 6' 7" | 222 lbs

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 & 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."

Sports Illustrated, "[Sabonis] developed more than a passing relationship with a bottle of vodka, a condition that former SI writer Curry Kirkpatrick memorably labeled as "Stolichnaya elbow." — I heard the same priceless Sabonis/vodka story from both Marciulionis and Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson, who was an assistant coach on the Lithuanian team that won a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

After the Lithuanians defeated the Unified team for the bronze -- a victory fraught with meaning since the Unifieds represented, to the Lithuanians, the very Soviet empire against which they had fought for their independence -- the closing ceremonies were still hours away. "That's far too much time for a Lithuanian," Nelson told me, smiling. Sabonis drank so prodigiously in his postgame celebration that he was unable to roust himself for the appearance on the medal stand and was later found spreading his own version of Glasnost in the dorm of the Russian women's Olympic team.

Sabonis' drinking is part of his legend, as is his skill, his dark past, his wasted years and his imperviousness to pain. In a column he wrote for The Oregonian, Jason Quick elicited this immortal quote from Blazers team physician Don Roberts, who was shocked when he got Sabonis' medical records: "The X-ray alone would get you a handicap parking permit," Roberts said." —

CLICK HERE to see Arvydas Sabonis in a dramatic documentary called, "The Other Dream Team (2012)"

[Stay tuned for the next issue of WHAT IF...? feat. Pablo Prigioni of the New York Knicks]

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