Arvydas Sabonis, who entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on Aug. 11, might be the best-loved Portland Trail Blazer of all time. Sure, Bill Walton won the team a championship, and Clyde Drexler fought some epic battles with Michael Jordan, but both players also left fans with heartbreak (Walton left on ugly terms; Drexler won a championship with Houston). The only hang-up most fans have when it comes to Sabonis' career, on the other hand, is that it took him so long to become a Blazer.
Despite being regarded as "past his prime" when he joined the team in 1995—nine years after he was drafted, thanks to Cold War politics and injury woes—the Lithuanian center looked kind of like your Uncle Frank, if your Uncle Frank excelled in every area of the game save for speed, where Sabonis was comically inadequate. (OK, he couldn't jump, either, but when you're 7-foot-3, you don't really need to jump.) Perhaps most endearingly for Blazer fans, though, Sabonis played at full force through injuries and chronic knee pain, hitting the court for over 85 percent of his games as a Blazer—a startling number for one of the largest players in league history. When the aches and pains became too much, the big man simply refused to accept a new contract and returned to Europe.
That was 2001. When a somewhat recuperated Sabonis returned for a final season with the Blazers (his only NBA team) in 2002, fans knew to relish every masterful behind-the-back pass, every effortless block, every clunky-looking hook shot that sailed through the net and, yes, every three-pointer (Sabonis nailed 50 percent of them in his final season). The last time we saw him playing in Portland, a still-dangerous 38-year-old Arvydas was helping bring Portland back from a 0-3 playoff deficit to go seven games with Dallas. Even in the defeat of the series, Sabonis, at least, looked unstoppable—playing a young man's minutes and towering over the competition. We shall always remember him this way.
SEE HIM: Arvydas Sabonis arrives at Pioneer Courthouse Square at 1 pm Thursday, Aug. 18. Free. A 6 pm reception follows at the Rose Garden. $50.
THURSDAY AUG. 18
FRIDAY AUG. 19
SATURDAY AUG. 20
SUNDAY AUG. 21