Chris Mullin believes Šarūnas Marčiulionis was the first great international player in the NBA
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Chris Mullin believes Šarūnas Marčiulionis was the first great international player in the NBA

Former NBA player and HOF Chris Mullin made a guest appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast where he talked about multiple things from his playing and now coaching career. Among several interesting things he discussed with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles was his take on Šarūnas Marčiulionis, his former teammate on the Golden State Warriors and one of the first international players to make a name for himself in the NBA.

After having a remarkable career in Europe, Šarūnas was drafted by the Warriors, an up-and-coming team in the NBA also known as The Run TMC. Unlike the majority of international players that needed some time to adjust, Šarūnas immediately made his presence felt on the Warriors that already had Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, and Mitch Richmond on their roster. With such a fierce back-court already on the team, their head coach Don Nelson decided Šarūnas should come off the bench as a 6th man, and it worked perfectly for that team and their chemistry.

Mullin said Šarūnas was immediately ready to play in the NBA, showcasing incredible skillset and physicality they weren’t expecting from a European player.

There were other players before him and after him, but I thought the first guy that came over and had a big-time role on a winning team and he was an NBA player. Guys would come and go back, staying for a little bit, not making it, but Šarūnas Marčiulionis came in on a really good team. He was highly touted; everybody wanted Šarūnas. He was at that time with us might be the strongest guy in the NBA. He had crazy hands, and he would go down the floor and just take the ball from people with two hands.

Chris Mullin, via Knuckleheads

Šarūnas was a skilled lefty that could take it to the hole, but on top of that, a great defender that made things extremely difficult for the opposing guards. Mullin also shared how his intensity on both ends of the floor made Pippen and Jordan argue who will guard him because both of them knew he would make them work defensively.

He was like Bernard King. As an offensive player, he would punish you; he would hurt you because he was so strong. He would always drive left. I remember we are playing the Bulls, and Šarūnas was shooting a free throw. I was at the half-court with Michael and Scottie, and they were like, ‘you guard him man, I am not trying to get banged up with this dude, he is running me over.

Chris Mullin, via Knuckleheads

Mullin still has close ties with Šarūnas, who now lives in Lithuania. He mentioned that he considers Šarūnas as a true TrailBlazer; since he was the first European player actually to make it in the NBA. Other guys needed some time to adjust, but Šarūnas immediately made his presence felt and earned respect from first his teammates and then the rest of the league.

He was one of the nicest guys in the world, and I’ve been to Lithuania several times to visit him. To me, he was TrailBlazer. Petrovic was on Portland, so he didn’t really explode until he got to New Jersey, but Šarūnas really was a trailblazer for the international players. The guys respected him. He came over, and back then, European players were shooters, and they were soft. He was the opposite. He was a driver, and he was tough as nails.

Chris Mullin, via Knuckleheads

At the time, there were numerous stereotypes about European players that were slowly coming to the NBA, where they were labeled as soft and not able to play proper defense. Šarūnas was physical, tough, and the complete opposite of what a stereotypical European player was supposed to be at the time.

Unfortunately, after his first few seasons in the NBA, Šarūnas started having knee problems that soon made things more difficult for him on the floor. He was no longer the same player that people saw with the Warriors, and that ferocity and strength when he drove to the basket was almost gone. Nevertheless, Šarūnas made a great international and NBA career and will be forever remembered as one of the true pioneers that made things easier for international players in the NBA.