If I was any kind of a man, I would have got up from that broadcast table and walked across the court and punched Rasheed Wallace in the nose. But I let Sabonis and the game of basketball and the human race down that day.
— Bill Walton was announcing the game where Rasheed Wallace threw a towel in Arvydas Sabonis’ face, and recalls the incident with his typical understated nature.
11 days left until the 2010-11 NBA season tips off.
Brought to you by Arvydas Sabonis, the greatest European player ever, probably.
What if I told you that Arvydas Sabonis was the greatest European player, ever? Would you believe me or would you delete this blog from your bookmarks? It was very easy to toss that out there 5 years ago without getting laughed at. All we had to compare him with was Vlade, Drazen and the youngins. Dirk had not yet been named an MVP, Drazen had passed before he peaked, Vlade was average, at best and Pau was stuck in his own personal hell. At the time, Sabonis was it by default because in reality there was no real competition. Today, I’m not to sure we can give Sabonis that title. After all, what did he accomplish in the NBA? He never averaged better than 16 points and 10 rebounds. He was the leader of some great Trailblazers teams during the late 90’s and early 00’s, yet they always seemed to find a way to lose to the Lakers (video evidence).
Over the last half a decade Dirk and Pau have leap frogged the Arvydas Sabonis that we all knew and loved. Dirk went on to claim an MVP and sits atop the all-time European scoring leaders in NBA history. Pau has won back to back NBA championships amidst three straight finals appearances and he managed to squeeze in a couple of pieces of gold and hardware during that run.
But that’s the problem, Dirk and Pau are better than the Arvydas we all saw in the NBA. Much better. But the real Arvydas never played in the NBA. The 7’3” big man from Kaunas, Lithuania until he was 31-years old, had suffered a devastating Achilles’ tendon injury, his knees were shot and his body had ballooned a good 30 to 40 pounds. Even at his advanced age and stature, as a rookie in 1995 he was selected to the All-Rookie first team and was the runner-up in both Rookie of the Year and 6th Man of the Year voting.
But those achievement don’t compare to the honors he hoarded in Europe: 6x European Player of the year, 2x Mr. Europa Player of the Year, 1985 European Championship MVP, 2x Spanish Finals MVP, 2x Spanish League MVP, 1995 Euroleague Final Four MVP and Gold Medals in the Olympics, World Championships, and European Championships playing for the USSR. Arvydas was also voted as one of the Top 35 European Players of all-time and in 2010 was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame. Arvydas had the inside scoring ability of Pau Gasol to go along with the shooter’s touch that Dirk has. His passing? Oh my, his passing would put Vlade to shame. All of this rolled up into a high-flying slim 7’3” body. It’s easy to see why the European version of Sabonis was unstoppable. just ask the 1986 USA Olympic team.
Knowing all of this, brings up the obvious question of “what if”. What if Sabonis had played in the NBA in 1986 (the year he was actually drafted). How good would that Blazers team be? We are talking about a team that went to the Finals in 1989 and in 1991. What if…