Sarunas Jasikevicius, an international basketball legend and former Pacer, is retiring from playing at 38 years old, according to @LithuaniaBasket. He will continue to be around basketball, however, joining the coaching staff for Zalgiris, a professional team in his home nation, Lithuania, that has won the past four league titles.
In the United States, Jaskevicius may be best known for his difficult-to-pronounce name and failing to translate to the NBA game, but in Europe, everything he touched turned to titles.
He won three straight Euroleague championships from 2003 to 2005, the first two with Spain’s FC Barcelona and the third with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.
This came just a few years after he led the Lithuania national team to a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Sarunas Jasikevicius put his name on global basketball in the tournament, especially in the semifinals when he scored 27 points against the United States and missed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that would have won the game and eliminated Team USA.
Four years later, he got his revenge, as Lithuania beat the United States in the group round during the Greece games — the Olympics when USA Basketball would finally be humbled by not winning gold.
He scored 28 points and hit three in a row from behind the arc as the fourth quarter wound down, including a rare four-point play that put his team ahead to stay.
“This is, in a way, an incredible win, and in a way it doesn’t mean anything,” Jasikevicius said. “What does this mean if you don’t win a medal? We beat the States. So what? We came here not to beat the States or any other team, we just came here to fight for the medal.”
After all the success, many NBA teams came calling, but the Pacers were the lucky winners who signed the European star.
He failed to bring his winning ways — or even decent play — to the Association, however. He simply lacked the speed and athleticism, and struggled to adapt. At times, he even struggled to get the ball up the floor in the more-physical world on this side of the Atlantic.
After Jasikevicius played for a season and a half — and made $6 million — in Indiana, the Pacers shipped him off to the Golden State Warriors in the deal that saw the two teams swap their garbage: Stephen Jackson’s arrest record for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Muphy’s bloated salaries.
At the end of the year, he was back off to Europe.
Though he couldn’t make anything of himself in the NBA, he further proved that his early-career success wasn’t a fluke when he led Greece’s Panathinaikos to another Euroleauge championship and three Greek league titles. He is the only player in history to win a title with three different teams, and Jasikevicius seems like he may be headed to the Hall of Fame in Springfield.
That may sound crazy, but his international record speaks for itself. And this isn’t a Robert Horry situation; Sarunas Jasikevicius was a big cog in all these championship teams, and starred for Lithuania.
Dan Devine best summed up the occasion.