Before a Frenchman could take home the Finals MVP trophy, there was Sarunas Marciulionis.
Before Manu Ginobili took the crown of “best foreign lefty,” there was Sarunas Marciulionis.
Marciulionis was truly one of the great players in NBA history. As one of the first foreign players to receive significant playing team for an NBA team, he helped forge the way for today’s influx of overseas talent.
Back in 1987, the Warriors and Don Nelson (who else?) took a sixth-round flyer on Sarunas (sidenote: who knew there were six rounds in the draft at one time?). He didn’t come over for two years though. In 1988, he led the Soviet Union to a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, thus spurring the formation of the Dream Team in 1992; the following year, he came to the Bay Area.
In his four years as a Warrior, Sarunas twice finished as a runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year, including a stellar 1991-92 campaign that saw the lefty average 18.9 points per game off the bench. After the 1993 season, he left the Warriors and was never the same. In three years, he bounced around from Seattle to Sacramento to Denver, but never averaged more than 10 ppg.
Even though his NBA career ended in the mid-90s, Marciulionis accomplished his greatest, um, accomplishments in his tundra-laden homeland. After his native Lithuania gained independence in 1990, Marciulionis almost single-handedly put together that great national team that stole the hearts of many international fans with their fast-break style and Grateful Dead-sponsored tie-dye uniforms. Later, Sarunas would be the founder and commissioner of the North European Basketball League. He is currently one of Lithuania’s most successful businessmen.
Sarunas Marciulionis [Wikipedia]