When it comes to marriages between superstars and classic clubs, Arvydas Sabonis and Real Madrid were a match made in basketball heaven. One of the best big men to ever play the game, Sabonis helped Madrid write some of the finest chapters in club history, but chief among them was the EuroLeague title they lifted together.
Sabonis came to Madrid in 1992 as a 27-year-old after having started his legendary career with Zalgiris Kaunas and then played three seasons in Spain for Forum Valladolid. Despite a series of injuries, Sabonis was a dominant force with an unprecedented combination of size, passing skills, post moves, basketball IQ, shooting range and leadership.
In his first season with Madrid, Sabonis helped his team take the Spanish League title and qualify for the EuroLeague Final Four as he teamed up with Joe Arlauckas to form one of the best frontcourt duos in European basketball history. After their second Spanish League title in 1994, Sabonis – who had been to the EuroLeague championship game with Zalgiris in 1986, but lost – wanted nothing more than to win the elusive continental crown. It finally came in 1995 with Zeljko Obradovic as head coach and Sabonis collecting Final Four MVP honors. It was Madrid's eighth EuroLeague title, but the first since the club had won seven such trophies from 1964 to 1980. Madrid would wait 20 more years until it lifted the trophy again.
Sabonis is a Basketball Hall of Famer and Lithuania's most famous citizen. His trophy case also includes gold medals from the 1982 World Championship, EuroBasket 1985 and the 1988 Olympic Games among his nine medals from major competitions with the Soviet and Lithuanian national teams. But when it come to the clubs Sabonis suited up for, his defining achievement was beating Olympiacos Piraeus in Zaragoza, Spain, for the 1995 EuroLeague crown and rewriting Real Madrid's history in golden letters.