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Rip City Magazine Rewind: Sabas' Sixth Sense

In November of 1992, the Trail Blazers launched Rip City Magazine with the goal of "capturing all the excitement and action of Portland's 23rd season, neatly packaged for you to read and review time and time again, now and in future years."

Almost 20 future years later, and Rip City Magazine lives on. And this summer, we'll dive into the archives to offer up some of the most memorable covers and stories from nearly two decades of RCM.

In honor of the news that Arvydas Sabonis will return to Portland before his induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame, we decided to forgo chronological order to highlight some of the best Sabas stories told in Rip City Magazine. In this edition, we look back at Eddie Doucette's plea for Sabonis winning Sixth Man of the Year award in a piece from the April 1996 edition of Rip City Magazine entitled "Sabas' Sixth Sense". You can view a larger version of the cover here. Enjoy!


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Sabas' Sixth Sense
BY EDDIE DOUCETTE

A good sixth man re-energizes a game. He also must be able to handle pressure with the poise of a double agent in the enemy’s backyard. Consistency and reliability are necessities. The Blazers have a sixth man with all of these attributes: Arvydas Sabonis. Sabonis deserves the NBA Sixth Man Award for the 1995-96 season.

The NBA first began recognizing its best sixth men with an award in 1983. Bobby Jones, a spindly 6-9 forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, won the inaugural honor. Jones was a slashing scorer with the gait of an impala who played defense like a spider weaving a web. He probably would have owned the trophy had he not retired early to spend more time with this family.

Before 1983, there were many players who wore the unofficial sixth man title. John Havlicek jumps to mind, just like he used to cat n’ mouse behind those big screens, pop out and steal the ball. If you needed a big defensive play or someone who could get to the foul line in a crucial situation, “Hondo” was the guy. His presence gave the Celtics a chance to change the outcome of every game. He had the body of a thoroughbred, the stamina of a Kenyan runner, a basketball mind tantamount to an astro-physicist, the killer instinct of a big-game hunter and the winning attitude that was a Celtics tradition in those days. He was totally wrapped for his line of work. When we talk about a prototypical sixth man, the conversation starts with John Havlicek.

Of more recent vintage, Kevin McHale (a two-time Sixth Man Award winner, for the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons) and Detlef Schrempf (ditto, in 1990-91 and 1991-92) followed the Havlicek blueprint perfectly.

What about the Blazers Clifford Robinson, who followed Schrempf as the Sixth Man Award winner for 1992-93 season? I never considered Clifford to be the quintessential sixth guy. I always perceived him as being a starter on a team that had so many First Five candidates that he was the odd man out. (The same could be said today of Houston’s Sam Cassell, a top candidate for this season’s Sixth Man Award.) Clifford was good as a first sub, but he’s been better with more minutes so he can unload all his offense.

Which leads me to Clifford’s current teammate, Sabonis. Even though it’s rare for a backup center to win the award (Bill Walton was the last to do it, for the Celtics in 1985-86), Sabonis does all the things you look for from your key sub.

What the big guys lacks in lateral quickness at the defensive end, he makes up for with smarts. Few of today’s centers understand the way basketball was meant to be played as Arvydas does. In my mind, he’s the best passing post man since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I love watching how he positions without the ball. And what a nice complement to Chris Dudley’s steel-toed sneaker style. Dudley’s rebounding and defense and Sabas’ canny, offensive-minded game is a one-two punch that has floored several opponents this season.

Is Sabonis a classic sixth man? Maybe not. His physical limitations – not his game –are what cap his minutes. But he’s better than any other NBA non-starter this year, and a throwback to some of the great ones that I’ve witnessed. All NBA postseason awards, which will be announced during the playoffs, are determined by a vote of NBA beat writers and broadcasters. Sabonis gets my vote for this season’s NBA Sixth Man Award.
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