During Clyde Drexler’s stint with the Portland Trail Blazers, he turned the team into a perennial playoff contender. Unfortunately, his efforts did not yield a single title. There are a lot of reasons behind this. According to Drexler, one of them is that he missed out on teaming up with Arvydas Sabonis.
Sabonis was picked 77th overall in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, but the selection was voided since he was under 21 on draft day. Arvydas was again picked 24th overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Blazers but was forbidden to play in the NBA by Soviet authorities.
Come the 1995-96 NBA Season, Sabonis finally stepped on the NBA hardcourts. He showed off his searing potential. Unfortunately, Drexler had already been traded to the Houston Rockets the season prior. He missed teaming up with Sabonis who would’ve been the perfect fit for Drexler’s playstyle.
“We 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. And he would have been younger. He was very effective in the NBA as an older player who had suffered an ankle injury,” Drexler said per ESPN via Hoops Habit.
Perhaps Drexler was right in his prediction. With the Rockets, he teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best bigs in NBA history. Drexler knew that given his outside shooting and slashing ability, the perfect star that would complement him was a mobile big.
Most people know of Sabonis as one of Shaquille O’Neal’s crash test dummies during the Los Angeles Lakers reign in the 2000s. People are unaware of his early years in the NBA, especially his stint outside of it.
Sabonis was a beast in the European basketball scene with several championships, MVPs, Player of the Year awards, and a slew of other accolades. In his later years, Sabonis looked like a traditional big: slow and hefty. But during his prime in Europe, way before the injuries piled up, he fit the mold of the modern-day NBA big man. He was mobile, quick, had good defensive instincts, and had pretty good playmaking skills.
Those who saw him play against David Robinson when Team USA went to Europe say Sabonis dominated him a la Hakeem Olajuwon in the playoffs. Arvydas was that good.
We can treat Sabonis’ story as a sad tale. He could’ve been one of the best, but injuries and a plethora of other factors curtailed his rise. However, we could go the other route. Instead of lingering on the dark chapters, we could simply celebrate Sabonis’ career and boost his stock. Before the emergence of mobile big men in the NBA, a guy named Arvydas Sabonis made his mark on the European scene.