In the proud history of this Lithuanian basketball powerhouse, there is no greater legend than Arvydas Sabonis. Imposing by his presence, his talent and a Hall of Fame career that spanned two decades, Sabonis is not only the most-admired Zalgiris player of all time, but one of the greatest centers that the sport of basketball has ever produced.
A big man who transcended generations, Sabonis put his hometown club on the European map in the 1980s when he led Zalgiris to three consecutive Soviet League titles, ending the dominance of mighty rival CSKA Moscow. Sabonis was only 22 years of age when he led Zalgiris to its first EuroLeague championship game in 1986. That turned out to be the start of a brilliant career, which ended with his No. 11 jersey hanging from the rafters of Zalgirio Arena.
Despite his 2.20-meter frame needing to fight off many injuries over the years, Sabonis never ceased to dominate. After Zalgiris, it was in Spain, first for three seasons with Valladolid and then three more with mighty Real Madrid, which he led to the 1995 EuroLeague title while collecting Final Four MVP honors. Altogether, Sabonis won a half-dozen medals with the Soviet national team, including golds at the World Cup in 1982, EuroBasket 1985 and the 1988 Olympics. Once Lithuania declared independence, Sabonis led his country to memorable Olympic bronze medals in 1992 and 1996, as well as the EuroBasket 1995 silver.
After conquering everything there was to conquer on the Old Continent, Sabonis moved to the NBA and joined Portland, where he was one of the European Trail Blazers, literally and figuratively. As dangerous a scorer and rebounder as he was a passer, the 31-year old rookie took North America by storm. Sabonis was a force in the NBA for the next seven years before making his return to Zalgiris for the 2003-04 season at the age of 38. Even though injuries had sapped him of his once-amazing mobility, Sabonis captured EuroLeague regular season and Top 16 MVP honors, got his team within a Maccabi Tel Aviv miracle shot of the Final Four, and finished his outstanding career in the most fitting way possible – playing great and wearing green.