Lithuanian Basketball Players In The NBA: Interesting Facts For Enthusiasts

With a population of roughly 2.9 million, Lithuania is a small country in Europe but the country’s love for basketball is thought to be among the highest in the world. The devotion of the people to the ball and the hoop turn Lithuania into a formidable force in basketball tournaments. In the NBA, there are many players (active and retired) that hail from the Baltic nation which is understandable considering the attractiveness of the league. When it comes to “Lithuanian basketball players NBA”, online search engines return millions of results.

Like to know more about NBA players from Lithuania and could definitely use an article that covers the big picture?  If that is so, you come to the right place. Down below, you would be provided with everything that basketball enthusiasts need to remember regarding basketball in Lithuania and Lithuanian NBA basketballers in the NBA. Overall, basketball is more than a sport to the Lithuanian, it’s a cultural phenomenon. Take a look at the following information and you would see why people called basketball the second religion of Lithuania.

History Of Basketball In Lithuania

The first official basketball match in Lithuania occurred on 23 April 1922 which marks the beginning of the sport in the country. The popularity of basketball at the time got somewhat overshadowed by football but in 1937, Lithuania shocked the world by coming out on top in EuroBasket 1937.  The Lithuanian basketball team received a warm welcome with thousands waiting at the train station. Needless to say, the event led to a dramatic rise in the number of basketball court across the country as people quickly embrace the sport.

In EuroBasket 1939, Lithuania was the host and once again, the Lithuanian basketball team reached the first position after beating Latvia. With 2 consecutive EuroBasket titles to their name, the Lithuanian basketballers dreamed of achieving successes in the upcoming 1940 Summer Olympics but sadly, WW2 broke out in 1939. In the period between 1947 and 1990, Lithuanian basketball players must competed in international matches under the banner of the Soviet Union. Actually, the Soviet Union national basketball team won the EuroBasket 1947 with 4 Lithuanian in its roster.

During the late 1980s, Atlanta Hawks became the first NBA club to visit Lithuania and hosted friendly games with the Soviet Union national basketball team. Once Lithuania declared its independence on March 11, 1990 the Lithuanians set up their own national basketball teams as with other countries in the former Soviet Union. From there on, Lithuania earned its third EuroBasket title at FIBA EuroBasket 2003 in addition to 3 bronze medals in the Olympics and various club-level achievements. Nowadays, no less than 10 Lithuanian basketballers have joined the league.   

Lithuanian Basketballers In The NBA

After Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union, Lithuanian basketball players had the opportunities to sign with foreign clubs.  Because the national basketball team performs well in the world stage, it’s generally agreed that Lithuania possesses talents that could play in the NBA.  

The first Lithuania (and also the first Soviet) basketballer to join the NBA was Šarūnas Marčiulionis, a player in the USSR Premier League. He signed with Golden State Warriors and played for 4 years. After that contract expired, Marčiulionis joined Seattle SuperSonics, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets before finishing his NBA career in 1997. With 363 games, 4631 points and 7 seasons in the NBA, Marčiulionis is known by many people as one the greatest basketball players that come from Lithuania.

With that said, how many Lithuanian basketballers are currently playing for clubs in the NBA? Well, there are 2: Jonas Valančiūnas and Domantas Sabonis.

Jonas Valančiūnas

  • Position: Center
  • Career In The NBA: Toronto Raptors (2012-2019) and Memphis Grizzlies (2019-)
  • Height: 7 Feet
  • Weight: 265 Pounds

From 2008 to 2012, Valančiūnas played professionally in Lithuania before he got drafted by Toronto Raptors in the 2011 NBA draft. The contract was signed on 18 July 2012 and he made his debut in a match against the Indiana Pacers. In that particular match, Valančiūnas recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes, an excellent performance for a rookie in the NBA. On 7 February 2019, the Raptors decided to trade him along with C. J. Miles, Delon Wright and a second-round draft pick in 2024 NBA draft to Memphis Grizzlies for Marc Gasol.

Domantas Sabonis

  • Position: Center / Power forward
  • Career In The NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder (2016-2017) and Indiana Pacers (2017-)
  • Height: 6 Feet 11 Inches
  • Weight: 245 Pounds

A son of the famous Lithuanian basketballer Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas Sabonis started playing professionally since he was 16 after signing a contract with Unicaja Málaga. During the time he spent with the Málaga, he never signed a contract to remain eligible for the NCAA. He finally got his wish by joining Gonzaga University prior to the 2014–15 season but after 2 seasons, he ended his career at Gonzaga and went on to join the Oklahoma City Thunder (he was initially picked by Orlando Magic but eventually got traded on draft night).  

Frequently Asked Question About Lithuanian Basketball Player In the NBA

  • So is there any new young talent in Lithuania eligible for the upcoming NBA drafts?

On April 2018, Laurynas Birutis submitted paperwork to make himself eligible for the year draft but unfortunately, no club picked him. For time being, Birutis continue to play in the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL) as center for Žalgiris Kaunas but with enough training, he might have a shot at the NBA. Born in 1997, Birutis is already a member of the Lithuania men’s national basketball team.

  • Between Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans, which group earns more success?

Generally speaking, Lithuanians that are born in America often have excellent opportunities when it comes to preparing for the NBA. On the other hand, with basketball being the rage in Lithuania, native Lithuanian could refine their techniques with relative ease. So in the end, Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans would be able to reach the NBA if they have the potentials.

  • Have Lithuanian basketballers experience issues with their ethic while playing?

Back in the old days, many players in the NBA had to deal with various harassments due to their skin, ethic, religion and so on. However, the situation improves after the turn of the century and now, you are going to face penalties if you express discriminations against certain groups of people in the NBA.