Arvydas Sabonis returns to Portland

Sept. 20, 2002 at 8:58 PM
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PORTLAND, Ore., Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Arvydas Sabonis, who will turn 38 in December, Friday signed a multi-year contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.

After six years with the Trail Blazers, he spent last year with his family in Spain, where he played prior to entering the NBA in 1995.

"We are very excited to have Arvydas back in the Blazers family," Blazers president Bob Whitsitt said. "Sabas has been a big part of our success in the past and we are looking forward to having him back on the court."

A native of Lithuania, the 7-3 Sabonis was the starting center on the Portland teams that reached the Western Conference finals in 1999 and 2000. He gave the Blazers a legitimate body to match up with center Shaquille O'Neal of the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Lakers.

Sabonis averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 61 games in the 2000-01 season, when Portland was eliminated in the first round. During that season, temperamental teammate Rasheed Wallace threw a towel in Sabonis' face during a nationally televised game.

Sabonis was not with the team last season, Maurice Cheeks' first as coach. Portland won 49 games, but without a true center was no match for O'Neal and Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.

"His skills and experience make him a great addition to our team," Cheeks said. "I have seen him play over the years and I am excited to have the opportunity to work with him."

With excellent passing skills and uncommon shooting range for a big man, Sabonis was considered the best foreign player in the world in the 1980s. He led Russia to the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics.

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