The Profile Of A Hall of Famer: Arvydas Sabonis

On August 12th, the Naismith Hall of Fame will induct the class of 2011.  Members of this year’s class include Chris Mullin, Dennis Rodman, Artis Gilmore, Tara VanDerveer, Teresa Edwards, Arvydas Sabonis, Herb Magee, Tom “Satch” Sanders, Tex Winter, and Reece “Goose” Tatum. Leading up to the induction ceremony, we will be profiling members of this year’s class.  Previous profiles include Tex Winter and Reece “Goose Tatum, Arvydas Sabonis is below.  

After making his professional debut as a member of BC Zalgiris in 1981, Arvydas Sabonis eventually entered the NBA in 1995 as a member of the Portland Trailblazers.  He was 31 years old. Despite a series of injuries including a torn ACL and chronic knee problems since first turning pro in Lithuania, he was an effective member of some quality Blazer teams.  During his “rookie” campaign he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in less than 24 minutes a night on his way to being runner up to Damon Stoudemire for Rookie of the Year honors as well as finishing second in the 6th Man of the Year voting behind Toni Kukoc.    

He averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs that first year, and two seasons later he averaged regular season career highs of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.  

Teammate Clyde Drexler said that if Sabonis would have come over immediately after he was drafted in 1986 (USSR wouldn’t let him at the time) that their Trailblazers’ teams, “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. And he would have been younger. He was very effective in the NBA as an older player who had suffered an ankle injury.” 

A comment most likely inspired by Drexler’s opportunity to watch highlight videos like this one, circa 1986:

HatTip: TyusPro

Just so we’re clear on the video above, the tall guy in the slick mullet and mustache is Sabonis.  That’s a young David Robinson’s dunk attempt he blocks at the 0:35 mark, and he goes on to dunk specifically on the Admiral three more times at the 1:00 and 1:03 marks, as well as the thunderous tip dunk from about eight feet out at the 1:31 spot.  He is also stepping out and burying three international line three-pointers in the 1:56 highlight reel as well, and at the 0:50 mark he even busts out the Russian version of walk like an Egyptian in response to a discussion with an official.  He could do it all.

Bill Walton once called Arvydas “the 7’3″ Larry Bird” because of his court vision, shooting range, and overall versatility as a result of demonstrations like that.  He was named the Euroleague’s player of the year eight times and was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame last year.  If his best years had been played wearing Jerry West’s likeness on his shorts he may have gone down as one of the greatest centers in NBA history, only he never had that chance.  He was drafted by the Hawks in 1985 but his contract was voided because he wasn’t yet 21 years old.  Wish they had rules like that when Darius Miles was drafted.  He ended up being drafted again in 1986 by Portland, but the Soviet Union prevented him from entering the NBA until years later.

In all he played in 470 regular season NBA games with 51 postseason appearances.  He averaged over 12 points and 7 rebounds for all 521 of those games, and despite playing through some serious pain he still managed to help open the NBA’s doors to European basketball forever.  Guys like Dirk, AK47, and everybody else basically owe Sabonis about a million dollars each in my view, and that’s probably why he was the International Committee’s 2011 Selection for the Naismith Hall of Fame this year.  Much deserved too.  Congrats big man, you’re a HOF’er. 

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.