Exclusive video footage of the University of Virginia classic clash between touring Soviet NT from November 1982, featuring the epic clash between their gigantic but skilled big men, 7’4” Ralph Sampson and 7’3” Arvydas Sabonis, has been released on YouTube.
After watching this rare footage, basketball experts agree that there wasn’t any particular direct one-on-one duel between the two, except for a short stint during the overtime.
Sabonis would eventually outscore Sampson by 21:13, but during the game, Sampson displayed great rebounding and shot-blocking ability – he rejected as many as five shots from USSR center Alexander Belostenny (originally from Ukraine), who was then paired with Sabonis to form USSR NT intimidating version of ‘twin towers’.
Sampson would collect three consecutive Naismith Awards for the best collegian player (1981-1983) but have never won the NCAA title with Virginia Cavaliers. Drafted with the 1st overall pick of the 1983 NBA draft by Houston Rockets he would collect Rookie of the Year honors in 1984 and NBA All-Star game MVP trophy in 1985 before reaching 1986 NBA finals.
At the same time, Sabonis, who was regarded as the best center outside the United States by many experts, would lead rejuvenated 1980s USSR squad to the medal zone of each of the major FIBA competition after 1984 Los Angeles Olympics until the fall of ‘iron curtain’ in 1989, reaching its plateau by winning the gold medal in 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Interestingly, the team which in 1986 drafted Sabonis, Portland Trail Blazers, decided to wait until 1995. If the eventual NBA finalist, which had Duckworth and Cooper at the center position, called in 1989, and Sabonis agreed to the terms, he would then again face Sampson, who was with Nellie’s Warriors.
However, during 1991/92 season, the two would eventually square off once again and amaze the Spanish spectators while playing for their respective teams in the Spanish ACB league, Sabonis for Forum Filatelico Valladolid and Ralph Sampson for Unicaja Malaga.
It would be intriguing to see how both of these mid-1980s phenoms would do in today’s NBA bearing in mind not only their size but also their ability to regularly hit the outside shot.
Murray A. is BN contributor and the author of the book about legendary NBA guard Drazen Petrovic ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ which can be found here.