He would have been one of the greatest NBA players of all time if he could have arrived earlier. Portland used a first round pick, number 24, to draft him in 1986. His first NBA season was 1995-96.
Sabonis sounds like a video game basketballer but he actually was a 7-3 player who could shoot from outside, score inside, make difficult passes, block shots and rebound the ball. There was nothing he couldn’t do on the basketball court. He is a unique player in the history of the sport.
Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Arvydas Sabonis played basketball in the USSR with Zalgiris Kaunas and TEKA Moscu. From 1989-90 to 1994-95 he played in Spain, with Forum Valladolid and Real Madrid.
In 1995 Sabonis was part of the Real Madrid team that won the European Men’s Club Championship. His averages in Spain were 20.3 points per game and 12.2 rebounds per game. Sabonis was very consistent and a regular 20-10 player in Spain, his first and last seasons in Spain brought in averages of around 23 points and 13 rebounds.
At the Olympic Games, Sabonis won gold in 1988 and bronze in 1992 and 1996.
Portland was thankful to have Sabonis playing although they would have wished it happened a decade earlier. He was a superstar for Portland in his first year. He played in most of the games, starting 21. For his play off the bench he nearly won the NBA 6th Man award, and he also went close to winning Rookie of the Year.
Portland would start Clifford Robinson, Harvey Grant, Rod Strickland, Aaron McKie and often defensive center Chris Dudley but it wouldn’t be long until the coach sent Sabonis into the game. Sabonis’ numbers in his rookie year were amazing as he shot 54.5% from the field, 75.7% on free throws and 37.5% from three-point range. His scoring average of 14.5 was third on the team, and he also added a steal and a block per game as well as 2 assists and 8 rebounds.
Due to knee injuries he had in his European basketball days, and his age, Portland didn’t give Sabonis too much playing time in the NBA. His career NBA numbers would have been around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game if he had played 36 minutes, instead of the 24 minutes per game he did actually average.
Sabonis starred for Portland for six seasons, then had a year off and came back for one more. An amazing stat for Sabonis is that he hit 136 three-pointers in the NBA, most of them came in his first three seasons. Another astonishing fact about the 7-3 basketballer was his 964 career assists.
During the 1980s, the Atlanta Hawks were looking for basketball talent all over the world. They actually drafted Sabonis before Portland did. In the 1985 draft, Atlanta used a fourth round pick to get Sabonis but the NBA stopped the move as Sabonis was not old enough to be selected. Atlanta fans can only imagine what the team would have been like if it had Wilkins, Willis and Sabonis all in the prime of their careers.
Sabonis was a very entertaining player during his NBA career. No other 7-3 centers were doing behind the back bounce passes, hitting three-pointers and bringing in stats that ranked him high in the NBA on a per minute basis.