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YouTube Gold: Ralph Sampson vs. Arvidas Sabonis

Two of the most promising big men

1992 Olympics
A young Arvidas Sabonis

Here’s a fascinating little bit of video from the early ‘80’s when the USSR team was on an American tour and stopped in Charlottesville.

Students of basketball history will already realize the implications: it was a rare matchup between the great Arvidas Sabonis and Virginia’s all-time great Ralph Sampson.

You see more of Sampson’s greatness here than that of Sabonis. He’s a full 7-4, he’s incredibly agile and he gives Sabonis some real problems.

Things changed of course and both of these guys had, in different ways, tough careers.

Sampson’s knees robbed him of sustained NBA greatness; for Sabonis, it was injuries compounded by the USSR denying the Lithuanian star (most Americans saw him simply as a Russian, which was obviously not the case) the right to play in the NBA until he was 30. Like Sampson, injuries had robbed him of his considerable mobility, but even so, he was one of the great passing big men of all time.

Neither one is near his peak here and neither stayed there for long. But you can imagine them going after each other in the league. What a treat that would have been.