The best basketball player to ever wear a Trail Blazers jersey may not have been Bill Walton or Clyde Drexler. It might not have been Maurice Lucas or Brandon Roy, either.
Some would argue that at the peak of his career, this guy trumped all of the Blazer greats.
Problem is, the peak of his career didn’t come in Portland.
It was announced Monday that Lithuanian-born Arvydas Sabonis was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the 46-year-old joining classmates Dennis Rodman, Chris Mullin, Artis Gilmore and Tex Winter among others. Sabonis played seven seasons with the Blazers, starting in 1995 and retiring in 2003 — averaging 12 points a game over that stretch.
However, it was overseas where the 7-foot-3 center truly demonstrated his prowess, winning European Player of the Year twice and Euroleague MVP once. Sadly, the NBA would only see a Sabonis significantly hampered by knee and ankle injuries.
But even then, he was worth watching.
“His IQ on the floor was as good as any big man I’ve seen. He could pass the ball, score the ball — I look at him as a Bill Walton, just a guy who knew how to play,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “I didn’t see him when he was younger, but I heard when he was a young guy he could take off from the free-throw line.”
Walton once described Sabonis as a “7-3 Larry Bird” when he was in his prime. Drexler once suggested that Portland would have captured multiple championships had they had Sabonis when he was at his best. Even so, he helped the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals in 2000, and averaged 23.6 points a game in the 1996 NBA playoffs.
And his talents are recognized, even by some of the league’s younger stars.
“I remember him. Very skilled, very good passer,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “He was a really good player.”
Sabonis was voted in by the Hall of Fame’s international committee. Former Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks, a finalist for induction, was not elected in.
Miller sits out
Blazers point guard Andre Miller did not practice Monday as he was getting his eye examined after it was poked in Sunday’s win over the Mavericks. He is, however, expected to play Tuesday night against the Warriors. And what a key game this has become.
If Portland wins, it will have secured a playoff spot.
A motivating factor?
“It’s there. But will still have games remaining,” McMillan said. “We’re not getting off of ‘one win and you’re in.’ It’s take care of business tomorrow night.”
Aldridge didn’t seem overly thrilled about the prospect either.
“It’s tough because I have a bigger picture,” he said. “It will feel good winning, but we want to win more.”
A win would also improve McMillan’s record to 244-244 all time with the Blazers.
Portland has split its two game with the Warriors this year, which came within a week of each other last December. And while the Blazers have improved since, McMillan doesn’t foresee his team taking Golden State lightly.
“I don’t know why we would look at them that way,” McMlllan said. “They’ve given us trouble in the past.”