Here’s a hilarious story by former Portland Trailblazer Antonio Harvey about the day Rasheed Wallace almost lost his life to the great Arvydas Sabonis. The day was April 15th of 2001 and the setting was a game between the Blazers and Lakers at Staples. During the first half, the 7’3 Lithuanian legend took a hit from Shaquille O’Neal, flopped and accidentally smacked Rasheed Wallace in the face, chipping his tooth. Sheed, who was given a black eye by Sabonis earlier that month, loses it and throws a towel at Sabonis’ face during a huddle and walks off. The towel incident was witnessed by TV commentator and Sabonis fanatic Bill Walton, who according to Grantland wanted to fight Sheed for his second towel throw of the season (he was suspended two months earlier for hitting a ref with a towel after an ejection).
Walton, who was broadcasting the game nationally, still feels remorse over the incident. “It was one of the lowest moments of my life,” he said. “If I was any kind of a man, I would have got up from that broadcast table and walked across the court and punched Rasheed Wallace in the nose. But I let Sabonis and the game of basketball and the human race down that day.”
What Walton didn’t know is the human race almost lost Sheed that same day. According to Harvey, back in the lockeroom, a loud and furious Sheed was yelling and saying he was going to “fuck up” Sabonis, who Harvey also claims to be “built like a tree” with the “biggest head you will ever see.” Sabonis calmly looks at Harvey and says, “I will kill him” in his best Ivan Drago voice. Harvey, realizing Sabonis is dead serious and fears his Jailblazers teammates wont be able to stop Sabonis from “choking the life” out of Sheed, starts yelling at the hot head with a spot on his head to shut up.
Sheed obviously survived the incident but was suspended for the final game of the season by the organization for “conduct detrimental to the success of the team.” The media assumed it was just for the towel incident.
As fate would have it, Sheed was back on the court just in time to face Shaq and the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Three games and approximately ten Sabonis posters later, the Blazers season was done.
HOW GOOD WAS SABONIS?
As interesting as the question “What if Sabonis would have killed Rasheed Wallace in 2001” is, it’s not as interesting as one of the biggest “What Ifs” in NBA history: What if Sabonis came to the NBA during his prime?
For over a decade, multiple NBA teams tried to get him: The Hawks drafted him in 1985 but the league voided the selection because he was under 21. A year later, the Trailblazers drafted the now 21-year old Sabonis with the 24th pick in the 1986 draft, but wasn’t able to put a jersey on him until almost a decade later (1995). Many people, including myself and Blazers’ great Clyde Drexler, believes the Blazers would have won multiple NBA championships in the late 80s with a prime Sabonis.
In his first year in the league, as a 31-year old rookie with so many injuries the Blazers GM said “Sabonis could have qualified for a handicap parking spot based just on his X-Ray,” Sabonis was runner-up for Rookie of the Year (over players like Joe Smith, Jerry Stackhouse, Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace) and the 6th Man of the Year award. He also became a fan-favorite in Portland during the Jailblazers era for seven seasons.
Although the future Hall of Famer was good for a double-double on any given night in the NBA, occasionally had dominant performances (21/20 against the Championship Bulls – video below) and probably was the best big man passer in the league, it was always a little disappointing to see him play so well as a shell of his former self because I knew most people would never consider him as one of the GOATs because he didn’t get to dominate the Hakeems, David Robinsons and Patrick Ewings in the 80s and early 90s. Well, he did get to dominate David Robinson during the Olympics.