Europe Interview: Arvydas Sabonis
Arvydas Sabonis, a gold medalist in in 1988 with the Soviet Union and legend of BC Zalgris, CB Valladolid, Real Madrid and the Portland Trail Blazers, is one of this year's inductees for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Sabonis is a part of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's 2011 class, a group that also includes former NBA stars Dennis Rodman and Chris Mullin.
Unlike Rodman, Sabonis didn't give any interviews about this special event and never talked about it in public. The Lithuanian just doesn’t like it. Moreover, it is right to say that Sabonis is one of the most humble basketball superstars who have ever played this game.
Sabonis recently spoke with RealGM about his first days in the NBA, differences between American and European basketball and possibilities of having an NBA team in Europe.
RealGM: Do you remember your first days in the NBA?
Sabonis: It was October of 1995. Despite the fact that I was a 30-year-old, I felt like a rookie. Everything was very interesting for me; it was a completely different basketball. The organization, lifestyle and the intensity of the game were different.
RealGM: Like you said, despite being older, in the NBA you felt like a rookie. How your teammates treated you - more like a veteran player or like a rookie?
Sabonis: I can tell you that I didn’t have to sing birthday songs to anybody. Carrying things - I picked something, when I needed. I am doing that today as well, that is not a shame for me. Maybe my teammates respected my age or maybe they saw my passport (laughing).
RealGM: You had been playing against the best centers from all over the world. Can you evaluate the style of the game in Europe and in the NBA at that time?
Sabonis: The NBA game is more physical and the same is today. It is a more physical game in Europe now, but it is still not the same as in the NBA. The USA style is completely different; there is more individual game. The value of the game is also different. You cannot say that games, except playoffs, are not important, there is no time to celebrate victories or be sad after bad games. Tomorrow, you are going to play again and you have to move forward.
RealGM: In your opinion, is it possible to have an NBA team in London for example?
Sabonis: It depends on the NBA. If Euroleague opens borders, there will be no limits. If there will not be any restrictions on nationality question, for example, how many Lithuanians or Spaniards have to play for the team? However, all that depends on NBA.
RealGM: How would long flights affect players' performance?
Sabonis: When a plane is great it is almost like a bedroom and the eight-hour flight is nothing. Our longest trip was between Portland and Miami or Orlando. It was six hours - you take a sleep, eat and that is it. Nobody tells you to sit. I do not know what the NBA thinks about that. Maybe there are not enough arenas or the markets are too small. It is also uncomfortable that all old and traditional teams are from small cities like Villeurbanne, Pau Orthez or Kaunas. Even Vilnius... The population in some cities is the same as in all our country.
RealGM: Do you keep in touch with your former teammates or personnel from the Trail Blazers?
Sabonis: Not really, expect the doctor. I also communicate with physical trainer time after time.
Legendary NBA player Dikembe Mutombo, who played frequently against Sabonis during his 18-year NBA career had this to say to RealGM about his fellow center:
“Some people say that we never had a chance to play against Sabonis when he was younger and he was killing his all oponents in every international tournament. However, he got a chance to show his talent. I played against lot of big guys and I never saw a player, who could make behind-the-back passes like Sabonis and who could also shoot from the long range. There’s no player in the NBA right now who could be like Sabonis. If he had come earlier, Sabonis would had been the best center ever. I have talked with him few times and I respect all players, who came from abroad like me."