Zalgiris Kaunas will celebrate their 70th birthday in glorious fashion at the weekend, as the club will retire the jersey of the most emblematic player in Lithuanian basketball history.
The no.11 jersey that was worn by Arvydas Sabonis during his spell at Zalgiris will be lifted to the roof of the Kaunas arena on Saturday ahead of the start of the friendly Akropolis Cup tournament, which this year sees Panathinaikos, Galatasaray Istanbul, and Lokomotiv Kuban participating alongside the host team.
“This is the very first time that BC Zalgiris retires a player’s jersey,” the Kaunas club director, Paulius Motiejunas, commented.
“Arvydas Sabonis absolutely deserved this honour, since he has been such an important figure as a player and president of the club.
“We are happy that this ceremony will take place during this season’s biggest basketball event.
“We hope that many people will come to thank Arvydas Sabonis for what he has achieved and has given to Zalgiris and basketball as a whole,” Motiejunas concluded.
Sabonis, who turns 50 in December and is currently the president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation (LKL), was one of the first European basketball players to rise to bigger-than-life status in the collective conscience of fans around the continent.
He started his professional career at Zalgiris in 1981 and moved to Spain in 1989, playing first for Forum Valladolid and then for Real Madrid.
In 1995 and aged 31 he made the jump to the NBA, a full nine years after being selected in the draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and despite battling injury problems that accompanied him throughout his adult career.
That however did not prevent him from averaging 14.5 points on 55% shooting and 8.1 rebounds (in less than 24 mpg) and being named to the All-Rookie Team during his first season in the NBA.
Sabonis stayed a further six years at Portland and enjoyed his best season in 1997/98, averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game.
The Lithuanian legend assembled an enormous trophy case during his international career, playing first for the Soviet Union and then with the Lithuanian national team after the country’s independence.
His collection includes among others one gold and two bronze Olympic Games medals, one gold and one silver medal in the FIBA World Cup and one gold, one silver and two bronze EuroBasket medals.
Sabonis was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2010 and the following year he was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Source: FIBA Europe