Arvydas Romas Sabonis (born December 19, 1964) is a Lithuanian retired professional basketball player and businessman. 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. He retired from professional basketball in 2005.
Sabonis is considered one of the best big man passers as well as one of the best overall centers in the history of the game. Bill Walton once called Sabonis a 7'3" Larry Bird due to his unique court vision, shooting range, rugged in-game mentality, and versatility.
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. At that time, he was the
tallest player to ever enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of
Fame; one year later, he would be surpassed by 7'4" Ralph Sampson. On October 24, 2011, Sabonis was voted to be the next president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation. He resigned from the position on October 2, 2013, but came back on October 10, 2013.
Sabonis made his professional debut in 1981 with one of the oldest basketball teams in Lithuania, BC Žalgiris, in his hometown of Kaunas. He won three consecutive Soviet League titles and reached the 1986 Euroleague finals with the team.
Sabonis was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 77th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft.
However, the selection was voided because Sabonis was under 21 at the
time of the draft. The following spring, he suffered a devastating Achilles' tendon injury. Nevertheless, he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 24th pick of the 1986 NBA Draft.
Sabonis was not allowed to play in the NBA by Soviet authorities until 1989. However, he did go to Portland to rehabilitate his injury with Blazers trainers. He also practiced with the team.
In the 1988 Summer Olympics, Sabonis led the Soviet Union to a gold medal with a win against a United States team that featured future NBA All-Stars David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and Danny Manning in the semi-finals. The team later beat Yugoslavia in the finals.
The 1985–1988 stretch of a heavy playing schedule and lack of rest
took a significant toll on Sabonis' future health and durability.
Various leg injuries weren't given much time to heal due to the Cold War
climate that surrounded international competition as well as BC Žalgiris – CSKA Moscow
games. In a 2011 interview, Sabonis expressed an opinion that overuse
by the coaches of the Soviet national program was a major contributing
factor to his first Achilles' tendon injury back in 1986.
Another key moment for his future health took place in 1988 when
Sabonis had a surgical Achilles procedure performed in Portland but was
rushed back on the floor with the USSR Olympic team before a full
recovery. The decision to include a limping Sabonis on the USSR roster
for the 1988 Olympic games was protested at the time by Portland medical
staff and was later heavily criticized.
Eventually Sabonis would develop chronic knee, ankle and groin issues
that substantially limited his mobility and explosiveness by the
In 1992, after playing with CB Valladolid for three seasons, Sabonis joined Real Madrid and won two Spanish League titles and a Euroleague
title in 1995. During the 1994–95 regular season with Real Madrid, he
averaged 22.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocked shots, and 2.4 assists
After the 1994–95 European season, Sabonis and Portland contacted one
another about a move to the NBA. Before signing Sabonis, Portland's
then-general manager Bob Whitsitt
asked the Blazers team physician to look at Sabonis' X-rays.
Illustrating the impact of Sabonis' numerous injuries, Whitsitt recalled
in a 2011 interview that when the doctor reported the results, "He said
that Arvydas could qualify for a handicapped parking spot based on the
Nevertheless, the Blazers signed Sabonis. He had a successful rookie
campaign, averaging 14.5 points on 55% shooting and 8.1 rebounds while
playing less than 24 minutes per game. Sabonis was selected to the All-Rookie First Team and was runner-up in both Rookie of the Year a In the first playoff series of his NBA career, Portland lost to Utah in five games.
Sabonis averaged 16.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 1997–98, all career-highs.
During Sabonis' first leg in Portland the Blazers always made the
playoffs (part of a 21-year streak); between 1998 and 1999 the Oregon
franchise changed large parts of its roster in order to compete for the
title (after six consecutive first round losses), with center Sabonis
the only player remaining in the starting five. Kenny Anderson and Isiah
Rider were traded for Damon Stoudemire and Steve Smith. In both those
years the Blazers reached the Western Conference Finals; in 1999 they
were swept by the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs,
while the next year the team (starting Sabonis, Smith, Stoudemire,
Wallace and recently added Scottie Pippen) lost to the Los Angeles
Lakers (at the beginning of the Shaq-Kobe three-peat) in 7 games.
He won the Euroscar Award twice while playing with the Blazers. He also became a fan favorite.
The question that surrounds Sabonis' NBA career revolves around how
good he could have been had he played in the NBA during his prime.
Sabonis was nearly 31 when he joined the Blazers, by which time he had
already won multiple gold medals, suffered through numerous injuries and
had lost much of his mobility and athleticism. In Bill Simmons' "Book
of Basketball", Arvydas Sabonis the international player is idealized
while Arvydas Sabonis the Blazer is described as "lumbering up and down
the court in what looked to be concrete Nikes" and ranking "just behind
Artis Gilmore on the Moving Like a Mummy Scale."
In ESPN's David Thorpe's view, Sabonis would be the best passing big in
NBA history and possibly top 4 center overall, had he played his entire
career there.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 and "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."
After the 2000–2001 NBA season, Sabonis refused to sign an extension
with Trail Blazers and retired from the NBA. In his own words, he "was
tired mentally and physically." Instead, he returned to Europe where he
signed a one-year deal at nominal salary with Žalgiris,
expecting to join the team for most important games down the stretch.
However, he ended up missing that season in its entirety resting and
recovering from injuries. Sabonis rejoined Trail Blazers for one final
season in 2002–2003.
Sabonis came back to Žalgiris to play his final season in 2003–2004. He led the team to the Top 16 stage of the Euroleague that year and was named the Regular Season MVP and the Top 16 MVP. He also became the team's president.Sabonis would officially retire in 2005.
Sabonis was awarded a silver medal at the 2013 EuroBasket tournament as the LKF president.