View Full Version : Euroleague Sabonis Interview

12-17-2003, 11:49 PM

This Thursday, on the eve of his 39th birthday, the player who has stood tallest over three decades of European basketball, Zalgiris center Arvydas Sabonis, makes a long-awaited return to Moscow to play against CSKA in a game that has the capital of Russia buzzing. Wherever he goes, "Sabas" has that effect on people. In Lithuania, where basketball is practically a religion, Sabonis is a major deity. His status is such that one national TV station has asked Sabonis to deliver his own New Year address to the nation. Perhaps to the surprise of some, Sabonis is ending 2003 as the MVP ratings leader of the Euroleague for the team he grew up with and now owns, Zalgiris Kaunas. In this Euroleague.net interview, the man whom many consider Europe's greatest player ever explains what brought him home to Europe and Lithuania. "In general, the years are passing by so quickly and my career is already close to the end," Sabonis told Euroleague.net. "I had promised Zalgiris I would play one season with them again, so it was time to keep my word...I have missed it for so long, and now I feel like I used to a long time ago: it's really superb."

You seemed to surprise a lot of people with your rejection of a multi-million-dollar NBA contract to return to Zalgiris. Was it still a difficult decision?

"Not so much. I had just become fed up with the life I was living there lately. I mean, me in Portland, my family in Torremolinos. Also, I had been missing from European basketball for quite a long time, so I was curious to test myself against the Euroleague, the best of continental basketball, as a benchmark. In general, the years are passing by so quickly and my career is already close to the end. I had promised Zalgiris I would play one season with them again, so it was time to keep my word. And I did not want to do it some time later in a formal way, just sitting on the bench and watching others play or by engaging myself in some crazy show on the court. So, I had to return now, when I still can give myself to the game one hundred percent. As for what concerns those millions, one cannot have all the money in the world. It would never be enough if one starts thinking just in terms of money."

But you are rather far away from your family even now...

"There is no other way. We'll have to be patient for another year. I have it in my book, so I have to keep my word. Had I opted for remaining in the NBA, I would have had to postpone everything by one or two years. Who knows what might happen in the meantime."

Sabas, classic hook
And now that you are back - now that you are not only a player, but also the major shareholder, the owner - how is everything going?

"I do not have one single answer. There aren't any problems on the court, any disappointment. Everything's great. I play with all my heart and for my soul. Playing on Zalgiris for me is a 'trip'. I really enjoy it tremendously. I have missed it for so long, and now I feel like I used to a long time ago: it's really superb. I live the game with participation, I can get nervous or even have outbursts of anger - just like I used to be in the good old times. So, that's fine, I am happy about that part... As for my off-court activities, I am much less happy. Maybe it's my personal problem, but actually I cannot tackle well two jobs at the same time. The sporting life is very time- and effort-consuming: practices, games, transfers, all that stuff... Actually, I don't have enough time left to dedicate to Zalgiris as the owner, and I feel chagrined by that, as I expected everything would be different. As a matter of fact, I expected to have an easier life in this new capacity, fewer problems to be solved and easier the ways to solve them..."

Your every move in Europe is watched by all of Lithuania and many fans in other countries. That wasn't quite the same in Portland. How does the fan reaction you receive here make you feel?

"I am accustomed to all the hullabaloo created by media and fans, so I do not pay it too much attention. So, the present one has no special effect on me, except in instances when the pressure gets beyond the limits of decency. On the other hand, my decision to anticipate a return to Zalgiris was prompted by my desire to not disappoint the fans, who expected something of me or continued to think that I still was terrific. I am not so terrific, but I still do not want to collapse, but rather keep myself on my modest level for a while. So, the fans' acceptance is also a motivating factor for me."

Zalgiris is in what people call the toughest Euroleague group. How do you rate the level of competition so far?

"A tough group, no doubt. Even though, frankly, I do not know the teams very well. Obviously, the team names are the same they used to be before my departure for the NBA, but I do not know most of their present players. The teams we have played so far were really good, and I am happy that we have been doing rather well in this company. Firstly, we are not outsiders in this very strong group, and we are fighting along just like others. Secondly, the games we lost were decided during the last couple of minutes and just by a few points. What's more, I would say that we lost those games more than that our opponents won them. Therefore I think that we have good chances to emerge even in this group."

You are the current MVP leader. Did you expect to have such an impact right away?

"Oh, absolutely not. I did not know that they ran such rankings in the Euroleague."

Sabonis in action
As someone who has played a major role in both the past and present of European basketball, what is your view of the game's future here?

"One thing that is really striking is the very intense player migration I have found over here, in Europe. The best Europeans are going to play in the NBA, also there are quite less limitations for migration amongst the European countries. All this is undoubtedly contributing to basketball's progress here. To my mind, the NBA experience is extremely important, since the players who have an opportunity to practice and play over there become mature much quicker than in Europe. This is very important for the national teams. I hear sometimes an opinion that, with the well-organized Euroleague and a possible landing of the NBA here in the future, the national teams might lose their importance. I do not think so. To my mind, the national teams will be important even in a 'unified' Europe as a vehicle of national identity and pride. The national team is very ephemeral in its existence; just once a year and just for a very brief period. And as long as this period does not overlap with the top-notch club competition, I do not see any danger for the national teams' competitions. In general, I expect European basketball to preserve its traditional values and priorities, and to further close the gap with the NBA."

You also have a unique perspective from having spent years in the NBA. What impressed you most about that experience?

"The organization, I would say. Everything is extremely well tuned over there, both at the club and overall level. This is the aspect that we lag behind here in Europe with respect to them. In the NBA, a player is under a protective cover. Nothing bothers him. He has only to think how to prepare himself for the game, how to win it. All the rest is the business of other people. They handle it for you so that you do not even notice it."

Basketball-wise, which game do you prefer, the NBA or Europe, and why?

"I like some things in Europe, some other things in the NBA. Their game is more intense, more athletic, based more on physical confrontation. That is not what I love in basketball. Also, practices are very intense over there; they are even tougher than the game itself. It is different here, in Europe; less intensity, less aggressiveness. On the other hand, we practice twice a day here... Another aspect is that NBA teams are much deeper than European teams, so one does not have to play 48 minutes a game. Also, an NBA team may lose five games in a row and that's no tragedy, whereas in Europe one loss may even ruin your entire season. There are fewer games but every single one is important here. Hence there are bigger requirements, bigger responsibility and nervous tension. I like the mental tension: that's what the big sports are for: but I do not like excessive physical loads. Those are no good for anyone, me especially... As for the characteristics of the game itself, it depends on a given team you play with, but generally hoops is getting increasingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic."

If you were a young player again, would it be difficult to decide between Europe and the NBA as things stand today, financial differences excluded?

"I would opt for playing in the NBA. And the main reason why is what I have just exposed: in Europe you must win almost every game you play, irrespective of the competition type - domestic league, Euroleague or national teams competition. Hence, a player is under permanent pressure from the club, and this is wearing. I know it well from my own experience. The NBA is much more tolerant and protective. Nobody will force you to play even if you have just a minor injury. They will just wait patiently until you recover completely. Such a sparing approach enables the player to preserve his health and prolongs his time at the top-notch level, even though at first glance it might seem that in the NBA it should be just opposite, with so many games played and so much traveling. This circumstance has always been important for me."

Sabas: Like old times
As a Euroleague team owner, what are your hopes for this competition in the next few years?

"I have always been an advocate of the idea, so I have saluted the birth of the Euroleague from its very first day of life. It was a revolutionary move that shifted the responsibility for the decisions concerning the teams from some rather bureaucratic bodies to the clubs themselves. Today the Euroleague undoubtedly incorporates the best of European club basketball, and they seem to be very open to and keen about innovations over there in Barcelona. Still, in my capacity as team owner, I would welcome a few more positive changes. It would be great if the Euroleague would be able provide sounder guaranties for team funding in general and would help more the teams from smaller countries in particular. Small countries, and Lithuania is one, have limited economical potential and limited TV audience as compared with the big ones, so the economic criteria adopted by the Euroleague should account for a given country's overall potential. The small countries have quality basketball and that's why their teams are in the Euroleague. Therefore, they should be given a helping hand also for the benefit of European basketball as a whole. I do not intend by this that it is easy for any club from the big countries: still, they have somewhat different goals than we have and they are supported by much more powerful economical and political backing. I would also be happy if all the teams would be respected to equal extent. I know from my personal experience that, in everyday life that a small usually respects a big, but the opposite is not always true. But I would like it to be different in the Euroleague: a Krka or Zalgiris opinion should be given the same consideration as Barcelona's or Maccabi's."

There is only one Sabonis at the moment, but during halftime of the Unicaja-Zalgiris game recently in Malaga, the crowd was following with great interest a match between two local youth teams in which one of your sons was taking part. Will we have to face a problem in a few years from now that it will be no more sufficient to say just Sabonis. Will we have to use first names as well?

"All three of my sons - Zygimantas (12), Tautvydas (11), and Domantas (7) - are involved in basketball. I have not seen them practicing or playing for the last year or more - and that's a long time at their age - so I am not very familiar with the progress they might have made in the meantime. At the time when I was following them more closely, I was impressed most positively by Tautvydas. He was showing good skills from the very beginning, and he's got a good understanding of game. He is working for the team, first of all, and that's what I like in him. The eldest, Zygimantas, is good too, but he is more selfish and likes to show off. Domantas is too young to speak about him as a player. Whether or not they become good players will depend just on their will. At this moment, they have quite good knowledge of the game, and other prerequisites. All of them have big feet, so they should be growing up tall. The rest is complemented by a serious attitude and work. So far they have been showing enough will to go ahead, but time will tell."

Suppose you are having fun playing with Zalgiris throughout this season, at the end of it you feel fit physically, the team is doing well, and so on... Is there any chance that you will continue with Zalgiris for another season?

"Everything is possible: I do not exclude such an option. But first let me live through this season, and then we will see. Also, I am not fully autonomous in my decisions: my kids have to approve them, too."

12-18-2003, 02:15 AM
That was a darned good interview; thanks for posting it V. I will definitely be looking out for Sabo's three sons in coming years, and I found his comparison of the Euroleague and the NBA to be really interesting...

12-18-2003, 03:31 AM
great read....

12-27-2003, 01:07 PM
I would rather save a roster spot for Sabas than bring in a project like Vranes or Lampe... It is VERY likely that those two EUs are complete stiffs.

Note Sabonis is playing at EU MVP level getting like 30 minutes per


12-27-2003, 01:20 PM
He may have a little something left in the tank, but keep in mind Rigadon't is 11th in scoring over there, and 8th in fg%.

12-27-2003, 01:24 PM
Also keep in mind that Vranes struggled to get minutes for Real Madrid

12-27-2003, 01:42 PM
Originally posted by: V
I would rather save a roster spot for Sabas than bring in a project like Vranes or Lampe... It is VERY likely that those two EUs are complete stiffs.

Note Sabonis is playing at EU MVP level getting like 30 minutes per


The question is not whether you would rather have Vranes or Sabas (obviously, the answer to that question would be Sabas). But who would you rather have on your roster, Vranes or Steffanson? Remember, Steffanson's contract is non-guaranteed. We can cut him tomorrow and not owe him one red cent. If Sabonis decides to play here, we can just cut Jon loose and use his roster spot. I doubt anyone would pick him up. We could probably re-sign him next year, penalty free.

12-27-2003, 02:11 PM
Originally posted by: V
Also keep in mind that Vranes struggled to get minutes for Real Madrid

Euro teams give out thier minutes based more on senority than talent. Alot of the young, raw prospects have trouble getting minutes, especially if it is known that they will be off to the NBA in a year or so.

01-07-2004, 02:35 PM
By Erik Lyslo
Blazers.com Writer

Heís not (my-vydas), heís not (your-vydas), heís Arvydas. You might have heard this line a few times in the last six years, but unfortunately itís one line we may never hear again in Portland.

SportsCenter came up with the line, but Portland fans are the oneís who came to love Arvydas Sabonis over these last six seasons. Itís one of those times as a fellow Portlander where you just shake your head and say to yourself, at least I saw him play. Thatís the feeling I get when I know Arvydas Sabonis wonít be returning as a Blazer this season.

You talk about a guy who made his presence known. Obviously that wouldnít be hard to do if we were all 7í-3" and 300 pounds, but this guy was more than just another seven-footer in the NBA. He was a magician in the post who played the game with a style Iíve never seen from a big man. He was a point guard in a center's body. And just to be fair to Arvydas, he was better than most point guards are at distributing the ball.

He really didnít care about scoring. He took pleasure in setting other people up and making that perfect eye-opening pass that wooed the crowd as well as the defense. More times than a few, heíd hit a guy in the face with an amazing pass that seemingly had no chance at getting through the defense.

He palmed the ball like it was an orange and he passed the ball like a quarterback. He was the master of the behind the back bounce pass to a cutting guard and he even used the between the legs bounce pass a time or two. All this and he was 7í-3"? You just canít teach what this guy did on the floor. Thatís what made him so special.

You think about how much better he made the point guards he played with in Portland. Watching him and Rod Strickland play the two-man game was incredible. Strickland always said he was the best big man he ever played with and that included David Robinson, Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett. He single-handedly helped Kenny Anderson have his best season as a basketball player in 1997, and when Damon Stoudamire was focused, he and Sabonis played extremely well together.

Brian Grant loved him like a brother, and despite his displeasure with a few Lithuanian elbows to the face, Rasheed Wallace was a much better player with the big man in there. We all watched Sabas and Zach Randolph blossom into a great one-two punch against Dallas in the playoffs, and Sabonis was easily the most consistent player in the seven-game series with the Mavericks. All this, and the man could barely run up and down the court.

The foot and leg problems were well documented here in Portland, but nobody around here ever saw the man in his prime. We saw him for what he was, and that was the big guy who looked like he couldnít make it up the court, but the same guy who made the defense look foolish with a pass that whizzed by their ear. It just goes to show you how smarts and court savvy will always age better than a guy with no brains and all athletic ability. The athletic ability will eventually go, but the brains are always there. Weíre talking about a guy who was on a half leg, but could dominate a half-court game as well as anybody.

I always loved watching Sabonis when P.J. Carlesimo was head coach. Carlesimo and assistants Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter ran everything through Sabonis in the high-post to utilize his passing ability. J.R. Rider and Clifford Robinson had field days in the low post with Sabonis passing them the ball. In a time where passing into the post is a lost art, Sabonis mastered it. When Carlesimo left, so did the high-post offense. Consequently his assist numbers went down, but his rebounding numbers and his passing ability always stayed the same.

As a former stat wizard with the Blazers, I used to calculate his numbers based on if he were to play 40 minutes a game. They were always somewhere around 19 points and 14 rebounds a game along with five or six assists. The problem is he never played more than 30 minutes a game because of his legs. But the truth was there. Iím sure any coach would have taken 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists a game from their center.

Then of course, when you talk of Sabonis, you always play the what-if game. Remember, the Blazers drafted this guy in 1986. Four or five years later, he was not only in his prime, he was probably the most dominant big man in the world. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had retired from Los Angeles, and the Blazers team that drafted him was in the finals with the Detroit Pistons. Nothing against Kevin Duckworth, but can you imagine Sabonis teamed with Clyde, Terry, Buck and Jerome? The stories are infamous.

What a lot of people didnít know was when Sabonis did come to Portland for treatment on his legs or feet, he always found his way on the basketball court with the Rip City crew from the finals. Iíve been told by numerous people it was a thing of beauty. The outlet passes to Drexler and Kersey, the pick and rolls with Porter and Danny Young and even Danny Ainge eventually. They said he could have stepped on the court that day and they would have won three championships. He was that good.

The man had a sense of humor too. He knew five different languages, but he pretended like he didnít know the English language all that well. The joke was usually on us. Heíd give you that look like he had no idea what you were saying, and then heíd smile and answer your question in that deep Lithuanian voice. One reporter asked him after his first year what he thought about the city of Portland. It had rained about 10 straight days and the sun was nowhere in sight. Sabonis smiled, looked at the reporter and said, ďI leave tomorrow.Ē You wouldnít have guessed the Lakers had just knocked us out of the playoffs. The media room was all laughter.

These are just some of the things I remember about Arvydas Sabonis. Where do you start when you talk about all the great plays he made? I can tell you this; last season wasnít a season most fans will want to remember, but ask for a bright spot and Arvydas Sabonis comes up every time. We watched him because he was flashy. We cheered for him because he did things that amazed us for a guy his size. He toyed with players that were much more athletically gifted than he was. We even saw him get in a couple of shoving matches with Shaquille OíNeal. Whether it was a classic Sabonis hook-shot off the backboard or a behind the back pass through a defender's legs, there will never be another Arvydas Sabonis. Iíll bet anything on that. If you have any Arvydas memories, I encourage you to email them to me. elyslo@yahoo.com Have a great week.

01-07-2004, 03:00 PM
"He's about winning. You can tell that without him saying much. He's not in awe of anybody. He knows he can play with anybody. He knows what he can do." -Rod Strickland, Washington Wizards

"If big people don't come out and guard him, he'll kill people with the three-point line." -Bucky Buckwater, Portland VP

"He's the strongest player I have ever played against." -Shaquille O'Neal, LA Lakers

"That guy, without his injuries, would have been better than David Robinson. Believe me, he was that good. Know him long time. In 1985, he was a beast. He ran the floor like Ralph Sampson, could shoot the three, dunk. He would have been an NBA all-star 10 years in a row. It's true, I tell you." -Dino Radja, former Boston Celtic

"If he gets inside, he is so skilled-- he's got that hook shot and he's big." -Chris Dudley, New York Knicks

"...scoring down low, passing, and rebounding. He's a great ballplayer." -Kenny Anderson, Boston Celtics

"The toughest one is Sabonis. That dude must be 7-5 or 7-6, and he's leaning on you, so when you go to jump, you've got 300 pounds on your back." -Jayson Williams, on the most challenging center.

"Sabonis gives (the Blazers) a presence that most teams just don't have. When you got a guy as big as he is who can do the things that he does, it creates problems." -George Karl, Seattle coach

"He was my idol and he still is. He was the greatest basketball player in the world, and I just tried to copy all of his moves. I couldn't though, because he had too many." - Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavs

"Sabonis makes it tough with the stuff he is able to do." Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves on matching up against Sabonis

"People who saw him play at a young age put (Sabonis) in the top five centers of all-time, when you watch him now and think about it, you can see it, he's got the 3-point shot, the sky hook, and he can beat people off the dribble. I wish I could have played with him when he was younger and even now. He has such a great feel for the game, and a lot of the guys could benefit more from his abilities if they had a little better feel. He can read plays before they happen. He's like Bird, Magic, and Jordan in that sense. They see it a couple of plays ahead." -Mike Dunleavy, former player/coach

"He's now 30 years old, but I remember him when I played against him when he was 21 or 22, he was the best center I ever saw in my life. I can say easy he was a better player than Shaq, Ewing, Hakeem. . . . I'm telling you, he was the best center I ever saw in my life. "He was passing the ball, dribbling, shooting three-pointers, jumping. He did everything. Now he's lost his speed because of injury, but still he's a smart player. He knows basketball." -Vlade Divac, Sacramento Kings.

"If you pass it to Arvydas, he will pass it back to you." - Sarunas Marciulionis, speaking on Sabonis' unselfishness.

"I don't know why a player like that didn't come into the league a long time ago... " - former Timberwolves coach Bill Blair after the game.

"Sabonis' surprises everybody in the league, I know they thought he could play, but I don't think they knew how well he can..." - Cliff Robinson, Phoenix Suns.

"Arvydas Sabonis... ? Fun." - Gary Payton and Damon Stoudamire during a Nike Fun Police Ad.

"He's an oversized Globetrotter from overseas... " - Rumeal Robinson, former teammate.

"When he has the ball, cut to the basket and whatever you do, keep your hands up, or he'll make you look bad."- Harvey Grant on Sabonis' passing.

"I thought he was as good a prospect as I had ever seen. He was stronger than Bill Walton. I couldn't get over what potential he had. Such a great raw talent." - Coach Bobby Knight

"I've watched him (Sabonis) for years, he's great. All you have to do is just move. He reads the defense so well." - Scottie Pippen on Sabonis' passing.

"I know a lot of people are going to look at that pick as something less than it is. Please do not. I remember back in Golden State or Milwaukee, there was a guy who came along named Sabonis. I wish I would have drafted him. I'm not saying (Wang) is a Sabonis, but I kicked myself for a long time." - Don Nelson, after drafting Wang ZhiZhi.

"I wasn't looking, and he threw me a pass... I don't get too many of those from (Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe) Mutombo"

- Steve Smith, after getting hit by a Sabonis pass during one of his first practices with the Trailblazers.

"He has great awareness of what's going on the floor," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "The more experience he gets playing people in this league, the better he's going to be."

Said Utah's John Stockton: "He's a skilled big guy with wonderful hands. He's a talent, and he's an unknown talent because most guys haven't seen him yet."

"I don't know how many minutes he'll be able to play," Portland point guard Rod Strickland said, "but the time he's out there he's going to do some real good things for us. He has a great feel for the game, and I think he'll show more things each time he's out there."

"Give him credit," said Utah's Karl Malone, who took his turn guarding Portland's newest star. "He came out and stayed poised and did the things he had to do. He can play in this league, there's no question about that."

01-07-2004, 03:20 PM
By the way... in case you're wondering... I say we forget about Wallace, Dale Davis, Big-Z, Ratliff, N'Diaye, etc.


We can only hope....

Max Power
01-07-2004, 05:03 PM
I had promised Zalgiris I would play one season with them again, so it was time to keep my word.

The regular season for Zalgiris ends on Feb 19. Then he's free to do whatever he will (such as play for the Mavs).

01-07-2004, 05:28 PM
If the Mavericks acquired Sabonis, my "sports pants" would go crazy.

BTW, this is a fascinating thread.

01-07-2004, 05:36 PM
Thanks for the compliment on this thread KG. I try to start good threads... but you never know. I'm trying to limit these Sabonis articles to the more interesting commentary. Anyway, here's another one. Enjoy!!

Full Text: COPYRIGHT Time Inc. 1988

WHEN IT COMES TO THE NBA playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers have rolled over more often than a Suzuki Samurai. In the last 10 seasons, they've been given the bum's rush in the first round of the playoffs seven times. If the Blazers were a sitcom, they would finish somewhere behind My Two Dads.

Ah, but that was before they saw what a little glasnost can do for your front line.

You think glasnost ends with scientists and exchange students? Nyet on your life. Portland is thinking globally. The Blazers are entertaining their own high-level summit and his name is Arvydas Sabonis.

Sabonis, 23 and about the size of Communism Peak, might soon be visiting a city near you. The Soviet superczar is an honest 7 ft. 3 1/4 in. (the Blazers measured him in April), 279-pound Big Red Machine. And, what with U.S.-Soviet relations at their chummiest these days, it's looking more and more like Portland will have him in time for next season. The Trail Blazers used their last pick of the first round of the 1986 draft to choose Sabonis, and since then they've asked con gressmen, diplomats and even Ted Turner's broadcasting company to persuade the Soviet government to let the big man become the first Soviet citizen to play in the NBA.

In mid-April the Soviets agreed to let Sabonis go to Portland to get treatment for his injured right Achilles tendon. Last August, Sabonis ruptured it for the second time in three months while running up a flight of stairs to answer what must have been a very important phone call. But eight months of rehab in his native Lithuania wasn't doing much good -- he wasn't able to run or jump -- so the Soviets, thinking of the Summer Olympics in Seoul, let him pack for Portland, where he is the most famous Communist in residence since John Reed. Sabonis brought along his microsurgeon, Dr. Kestutis Vitkus, who serves as translator, constant companion and Nerf hoops opponent. Together, says Sabonis, they've ''enjoyed many luxuries,'' courtesy of the Trail Blazers, who are paying all their expenses. The luxuries include a plush Jeep Eagle Premier, a high-rise apartment with king-sized beds, a VCR and remote-control TV. ''He is constantly 'bock, bock, bock' with that little box,'' laments the doctor. ''And I must translate each small bit.'' His favorite movie so far is Top Gun. And, of course, there are bananas. ''I brought them a bunch of bananas one morning, and they went crazy,'' says Blazers publicist Tim Renn. ''They never get bananas in Lithuania, I guess. So now I bring them a bunch every day. My grocer must think I've got a gorilla in my apartment.''

Well, nearly. In little more than a month in Portland, Sabonis has broken every Blazer lower-body strength record and approached every upper-body record. And he has never lifted weights. He also looks like a stud. Most 7-footers seem to have an excess of the dork chromosome, with their too- long arms and Lurch eyebrows and pea-heads. Not Marvelous Arvydas. You see him walking across an empty parking lot, you figure him for 6 ft. 4 in., 190. Meet him close-up and it's as if somebody put him through the 150% blow-up mode on the office Xerox.

Not only that, but he has got happy feet. ''I am astonished by how well he can dance,'' says Vitkus. ''He can dance like Michael Jackson.'' And he can cut a lane as well as a rug. One NBA general manager says Sabonis has ''four times the athletic talent'' of Utah's 7 ft. 4 in. obelisk, Mark Eaton.

There's more. His shooting touch is as smooth as Stolichnaya. He has a sweeping Maurice Lucas- like hook and a soft jumper. Because of the wider international lane, European big men generally stay out of it and thus do more outside shooting than their American counterparts. But Sabonis's range seems limitless. When the U.S.S.R. beat Yugoslavia in the 1986 World Cup in Madrid, Sabonis bombed in one of his team's three three-pointers in the final moments. One day in Portland, after watching a TV commercial for the NBA that featured a number of last-second miracle baskets, Sabonis spent 15 minutes hollering in English, ''Three, two, one . . . '' and heaving up hooks from long distance. He made an astonishing number of them. Of course, whether he can bust jumpers wearing a Michael Cooper overcoat is another question.

He wants the chance very badly. The first time he saw an NBA game on TV, he had just awakened from a nap. ''When my friend woke me up,'' he says, ''it seemed that something was wrong with the TV, technically. Everything looked like it was being broadcast at high speed. Then I realized it wasn't sped up. It was hard for me to believe how fast the game was being played.''

Sabonis has the right kind of temper for the NBA: short. It's not unusual for him to get mortally hacked off three or four times a day about some little thing or another. It shows up on the court. In a light workout last week against Portland player personnel director Bucky Buckwalter's son, Bryan, Sabonis got mad enough to dispense with detente and give it the big Socialist Slam. ''He's got to learn the NBA power game,'' says Portland assistant Jack Schalow, who is spending the most time trying to teach it to him. ''But he's very strong.''

If Sabonis can learn the basic NBA rules -- no hemorrhage, no foul -- he could become that most precious basketball commodity, a remember-when, back-to-the-hoop, post-up center. Which is exactly why some people in basketball are accusing the Blazers of treason. ''I see Sabonis as being a fulfillment of Lenin's prophecy,'' John Thompson, the U.S. Olympic basketball coach, told the Portland Oregonian. ''The capitalists are selling ((the Communists)) the rope that they can hang us with. I personally feel we're being used. . . . We are in direct competition with them. To prepare Sabonis to play against us just isn't right.''

This brought a pointed chuckle from NBA commissioner David Stern, who said, ''Coach Thompson is a great coach, but I'm glad he's not our secretary of state.''

The Blazers don't appreciate the xenophobia either. ''I worked medical infantry in Vietnam,'' says Dr. Robert Cook, the team physician and the man in charge of Sabonis's care. ''I treated wounded Viet Cong. I would never withhold treatment from anybody for any reason.''

Of course, everyone might be wasting wind if the Soviet government doesn't let Sabonis come to stay. However, there are positive signs. First, the Soviets could have sent Sabonis anywhere in the U.S. -- or the world, for that matter -- to get treatment. Why Portland, unless they wanted Sabonis to get comfortable there? Second, in May Sabonis asked for and received a six-month extension on his visa. Third, FIBA, the sport's international governing body, is expected to vote next April to allow NBA players to compete in the 1992 Olympics, which would mean that the Soviets could have Sabonis back whenever they needed him for international competition. ''I have pretty good vibes it could happen,'' says Blazer president Harry Glickman.

Money should not be an object, although neither the Trail Blazers nor the Soviets have disclosed how, or how much, Sabonis would be paid. To encourage Moscow, Larry Weinberg, who sold the team on May 31, was hitting up the Soviets regularly, using Turner's Goodwill Games producer Bob Wussler to put in good words with -- so it was rumored -- Mikhail Gorbachev himself. Why would the owners of the Atlanta Hawks want to help another NBA team? Because the Hawks own the draft rights to two Soviets themselves. And Sabonis wouldn't hurt TBS's cable ratings either. Welcome to the borscht belt, y'all.

Sabonis couldn't give a flying ruble about the politics. ''I'm a sportsman,'' he says. All he wants to do in Portland is get his tendon fixed up, play the game and have a little capitalist fun. In fact, the Soviet press chastised him recently for too much ''frivolity'' after he and the good doctor took a two-day trip to Chicago for a Lithuanian festival, where Sabonis was a big hit.

Sabonis has spawned more Russian fiction than Leo Tolstoy. Louisiana State coach Dale Brown, who tried to get Sabonis to his school two years ago, says he heard the KGB actually cut the big guy's tendon to keep him from defecting to Baton Rouge. Then there were published reports in Soviet papers that 1) Sabonis had become so depressed about his injured tendon that he had become an alcoholic; 2) he had become an alcoholic and cut his heel open on an empty liquor bottle; and 3) he had killed himself. It turns out that Sabas, as he is known, gets a chuckle out of going along with any rumor a reporter might throw at him. So if one were to say to him, ''We hear you've been writing haiku late at night while wearing women's clothing,'' he would go along with it and laugh it up later. He just likes his fun. He has already had two dates in Portland, gotten his Oregon driver's license, been deep-sea fishing, gone shopping for fancy suits, taken side trips to Olympia, Wash., and Los Angeles, and learned to play the tape deck in his car at ear-shattering decibel levels. He turns it down a little to listen to his English-lesson tapes, and he has already got an English tutor. That's good, because the first few days the Blazers coaches worked with him on drills, negotiating the language gap was like crossing a muddy field in snowshoes. On the first day Schalow was trying to get Sabonis to take a pass with his back to the basket, make a little juke left, then go hard to the basket the other way for a layin. But Sabonis kept pulling up for 12-foot jumpers. ''Go to the hole, son!'' Schalow kept saying, but Sabonis didn't understand and Viktus couldn't translate. When Sabonis finally got the message, he took one step and jammed it in with enough force to be felt in Tacoma. Since then the Blazers have given the Soviets a 50-word list of common NBA nomenclature. ''Either he's got to learn English or we've got to learn Lithuanian,'' says Schalow.

No help at all is Sabonis's Lithuanian trainer, Alexandras Kosauskas, who doesn't speak English either and who was sent in last week, perhaps in part as a frivolity-stopper and in part to learn what the Blazers' doctors were doing right. For in one month under Cook, Sabonis had made significant progress.

Cook has had some hard-luck feet before -- those of Bill Walton (who sued Cook for malpractice, and later dropped the case) and Sam Bowie (who has suffered two stress fractures in four seasons as a Blazer) -- and now come the size-16's of the foreigner. Sabonis has thus far improved his ankle flexibility by 15 degrees, but he has still got 25 degrees to go before he can even begin to think about playing competitively. John Thompson may not have to see Sabonis wearing Soviet red in the Olympics. Democracy may be safe after all.

''I think it'll be three to six months before he's ready,'' says Cook. The Olympics begin Sept. 17. The Blazers open camp in early October. In a perfect Blazer world, Bowie gets healthy, Sabonis gets healthy, Sabonis gets the go-ahead from Moscow and Portland starts a front line of 7 ft. 1 in. Bowie, 7-foot Kevin Duckworth and Sabonis. Now that would be an Iron Curtain. Patriots like John Thompson would get to see if Sabonis can hold his own against the best big men in the American game. Like Patrick Ewing of Jamaica and Akeem Olajuwon of Nigeria.

Max Power
01-07-2004, 05:37 PM
kg - As I said in a pm

I have a feeling that Sabonis is a done deal. I think we have appr $4M left of our MLE which would be a great signing for Sabonis for a 3 month contract. He shows up mid-March for a month long training camp. The NBA season ends mid-June so he wouldn't be playing for more than 3 months. With the long intervals between games in the playoffs he will have time to rest his knees.

01-07-2004, 05:57 PM
I wouldn't mind Sabonis, but I can't see him coming back to the US at this point.

01-07-2004, 06:56 PM
"He was my idol and he still is. He was the greatest basketball player in the world, and I just tried to copy all of his moves. I couldn't though, because he had too many." - Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavs

Apparently Sabonis was amazing in his prime (as we've heard time and time again); does anyone possibly know of any videos on the web of him playing way back when??

01-08-2004, 09:26 PM
There are a few videos (although in bad quality) here (http://corbu.aq.upm.es/~ifernand/sabonis/video.html).

Max Power
01-28-2004, 04:19 PM
The Dallas Mavericks want Scott Williams. Scott Williams wants to play for the Dallas Mavericks.

The next few days should determine whether the Mavericks and Williams get what they want.

With the Phoenix Suns putting all their focus on young players, Suns management is prepared to waive the veteran power forward so Williams, 35, can join a contender in the West. According to league sources, Williams wants to be waived as long as he ends up with the Mavericks.

The snag is that Williams has no guarantee Dallas would be the only team that claims him, and salary-cap complications prevent Phoenix from trading him to the Mavericks. Forty-eight hours after being waived, Williams' rights would be awarded to the claiming team with the worst record.

League sources told ESPN.com that Williams' agent, Arn Tellem, is "working to ensure that other teams don't claim him" before Williams is released, which could happen as soon as Wednesday. Williams has said that if he can't choose the team that claims him, he'd prefer to finish the season on the Suns' bench. Phoenix has already offered Williams a spot as an assistant coach, and Williams has made it clear that he hopes to make Phoenix his permanent base when he's done playing.

Dallas, though, believes that Williams, who turns 36 in March, has something to offer in the short term. The 6-foot-10, 260-pounder was part of three championship teams in Chicago and appeals to the Mavericks as a banger off the bench -- and as a locker-room presence. As much as Dallas has missed the fiery leadership of Nick Van Exel, it has missed the behind-closed-doors prodding of Avery Johnson just as much.

Before sending Van Exel and Johnson to Golden State as part of the Antawn Jamison trade, Dallas had hoped to groom Johnson as Don Nelson's down-the-road replacement as head coach. Although Johnson rarely played for the Mavericks, he ran several players-only practices and routinely pulled star players such as Dirk Nowitzki aside to counsel them.

It's doubtful Williams' role would be that broad, especially since he'd be joining the Mavericks halfway through the season, but Nelson could always use an extra sage on his bench as well as the added size. Shawn Bradley is starting to work his way back into Nelson's rotation, but Nowitzki has been forced to log more minutes at center than Dallas had hoped because of Bradley's and Danny Fortson's injuries and ineffectiveness.

Dallas has held one roster spot open all season for Arvydas Sabonis. After two failed attempts to convince Sabonis, who's playing in Europe, to return to the NBA one last time, the Mavericks see Williams as an attractive -- and unexpected -- alternative. Had the Suns not struggled early, leading to the firing of coach Frank Johnson and then the trade of franchise point guard Stephon Marbury, they wouldn't have considered waiving Williams. He can still be productive. He has played in only 16 games so far this season but averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game.

It's inevitable that the Mavericks also will continue to be linked in trade speculation with Portland's Rasheed Wallace, after the teams' recent discussions and with the Feb. 19 trading deadline still three weeks away.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

I still think Sabonis is coming here in late Feb.

Max Power
02-08-2004, 11:00 AM
Originally posted by: V
I would rather save a roster spot for Sabas than bring in a project like Vranes or Lampe... It is VERY likely that those two EUs are complete stiffs.

Note Sabonis is playing at EU MVP level getting like 30 minutes per


Sabonis leading the league in points, rebounds, and blocks per game. Also shooting 63% from the field.