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Arvydas Sabonis Articles.
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Legend at large.
by Jackie MacMullan | Sports Illustrated, 03/30/98, Vol. 88 Issue 13, p90, 4p | Oct 8, 1999
He is a figure from a reel of grainy documentary footage spliced into
a modern highlight tape. While other players gyrate and jam around
him, Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis lumbers down the floor to
unleash a classic hook shot or a feathery finger roll. At those
moments he seems to be superimposed on the game, as if by some
technological trick, like Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner
in that commercial.
The 7'3", 292-pound Sabonis seems even more anachronistic when he
delivers his pinpoint assists to reckless young talents such as Isaiah
Rider and Rasheed Wallace, who don't appreciate that they have as
their teammate one of the most gifted players in history. "Arvydas and
[Bill] Walton are the two best passing big men ever," says Portland
coach Mike Dunleavy. "No one else is close."
Despite his ailing knees and back and the chronic pain in his right
heel, Sabonis, 33, is enjoying the best stretch of his three-year NBA
career. At week's end he had achieved double-doubles in seven of his
last 10 games, raising his averages for the season to 16.4 points and
10.2 boards in 32.4 minutes a night (up from 25.5 in 1996-97). He had
hit 81.6% of his free throws, connected on 26.9% of his three-pointers
and provided at least one moment of delicious creativity each night
that sent fans rocketing out of their seats. Against the Knicks on
March 9 at Madison Square Garden, his breathtaking move was a no-look
behind-the-head lob to the startled 19-year-old Jermaine O'Neal, who
would have had an easy layup if he hadn't dropped the pass.
Sabonis has grown accustomed to such misplays, just as he has come to
expect one of the Blazers' upstarts to wave him off when he is
entrenched in the post, despite the advantages in size, skill and
savvy he usually has there. In a March 17 game against the Cavaliers,
Sabonis uncharacteristically barked at his teammates for not feeding
him the ball. Afterward Rider haughtily said, "He gets enough
Portland's new point guard, Damon Stoudamire, disagrees. "We should
utilize him on every play," he says of Sabonis. "The guy is an
Sabonis developed his no-look passes and his shooting touch on the
courts of Kaunas, Lithuania. He loved to play guard, but when he was
nine years old--and almost 6 feet tall--his coach sent him down to the
blocks. "The reason I love to pass," he says, "is I know the feeling
of waiting and waiting for the ball and no one giving it to you."
The Blazers drafted Sabonis in 1986, but nine years later, when he
finally went to Portland, the nucleus of the team with which he was
supposed to win a title--Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Terry
Porter--was gone. In its place have come a succession of youngsters
whose up-and-down performances have disappointed Sabonis. "I think,
sometimes, when these young players win the money, they have what they
need, so they no longer play like they could," he says. "I've always
loved to play, whether I was getting a lot of money or not."
PHOTO (COLOR): Air-vydas; Despite his chronically ailing knees,
Sabonis has found clever ways to take his game to a higher level in
his third NBA season.
Sabonis will exercise the escape clause in his contract this summer
and become a free agent. Portland is expected to double his $3.1
million salary, and he would like to play there for three more years.
Yet the pain in his heel is constant, and it will one day force him to
call it quits. "When I see the ball in the air," Sabonis says,
"sometimes in my mind I think I can still jump up and grab it."