3. What if Arvydas Sabonis came over in 1986?
Sabonis was drafted in the fourth round in 1985 by the Atlanta Hawks, but he did not come to the NBA, which put him back in the draft pool. The Hawks fought hard to change that rule the following year, but it was Portland that benefitted. The Trail Blazers selected the 7’3 big man with the 24th overall pick and held his rights until he arrived in 1995.
Sabonis was over 30 years old before he played his first game with the Blazers, and there was no question he was past his prime. He suffered several injuries during his playing days in Europe, including a torn Achilles. His athleticism and speed were gone, but Sabonis was a special passer, shooter, and rebounder. The 7’3 big man made an instant impact but left fans wondering what could have been.
Arvydas Sabonis was from the then-USSR, so there was no way he could come to the NBA in 1986. His home country would not allow it. They lifted the ban in 1989, but it was still six years before he came over. He helped the USSR win the Olympics in 1988 as Sabonis was recovering from a torn Achilles. The 7’3 big man was unbelievable and is known as one of the best European players of all time.
Sabonis would have been a dominant force in the NBA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but even without the political climate, there is no guarantee he would have come. He loved his home country and stayed in Europe for years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Portland Trail Blazers wish they would have got a prime Sabonis, but it never happened.