Lithuanians Won't Play With Soviets -- Marciulionis, Sabonis Just Say No
Sarunas Marciulionis, the leading scorer on the Soviet Union's 1988 Olympic gold-medal basketball team, says he will be in Seattle for the Goodwill Games.
But not to play basketball. Only to watch.
Marciulionis said he and fellow Lithuanian players will not play with the Soviet national team. Arvydas Sabonis, another Lithuanian who is considered one of the world's premier centers, is listed on a Goodwill Games roster submitted by the USSR to USA Basketball. However, Marciulionis said Sabonis told him he will not play.
Sabonis was the only Lithuanian listed on the Soviet roster. Tiit Sokk, an Estonian who was the Soviets' starting point guard, is not listed. The independent-minded Baltic republics provided four-fifths of the Soviets' starting lineup, plus their key reserve, at the 1988 Olympic Games.
``I don't want to be an enemy of my own country,'' Marciulionis said via telephone from his Bay Area home. ``These are hard times. There is a blockade of my country. Under those circumstances, I will not play with the Soviets. No Lithuanians will play.''
Shortly after Lithuania declared its independence March 11, its national Olympic committee withdrew the republic's players and teams from Soviet teams and leagues.
Lithuania since has rejected a compromise proposal that would have allowed its athletes to carry the republic's flag during welcoming ceremonies and wear patches on their Soviet uniforms bearing the Lithuanian insignia.
Marciulionis, who played last season for the NBA's Golden State Warriors, said the apparent easing of tension between Lithuania and the Soviet Union will not influence his decision.
He added that further changes in relations will not occur quick enough to alter the Lithuanians' stance on the Goodwill Games.
Another surprise omission from the Soviet roster was Alexander Volkov, the only non-Baltic starter on the USSR Olympic team. Marciulionis said Volkov told him he would play in the Goodwill Games. A spokesman for the Atlanta Hawks, for whom Volkov played last season, also said the 6-foot-9 forward is scheduled to play in the Goodwill Games.
Craig Miller, spokesman for USA Basketball, pointed out that the Soviet roster lists only 12 players. Countries are allowed to carry 15 for the Goodwill Games, so there is room for late changes in the Soviet roster, Miller said.
According to a TBS spokesman, the Soviet roster is not an accurate representation of the team that will compete in the Goodwill Games. The roster does not, for example, include any guards. Pressed by USA Basketball to submit one, the Soviets are presumed to have submitted a tentative roster.
Oher big-name omissions came from the Yugoslavian roster, which listed 18 players. Vlade Divac is not listed, and a Los Angeles Laker spokesman said the team's rookie center will not play in the Goodwill Games. Guard Drazen Petrovich is committed to a rookie-free agent camp for the Portland Trail Blazers. Dino Radja, who is being wooed heavily by the Boston Celtics, also is not listed.
USA Basketball has received rosters from five of the eight countries committed to the men's basketball tournament. Rosters for Brazil, Canada and the United States have not been finalized.
Australian Andrew Gaze, who failed a tryout with the Seattle SuperSonics last fall, is the biggest name among the final rosters submitted to USA Basketball. According to various sources, Jose Ortiz, formerly of Oregon State, probably will play for Puerto Rico. The status of Brazil's Oscar Schmidt, one of the most renowned international players, is not known.
Also, the NBA is not allowing its American players to compete.
Marciulionis and Sabonis recently wrote the Goodwill Games' founder, Ted Turner, asking that Lithuania be permitted to compete in exhibition matches. Valdemaras Chomicius and Rimas Kurtinaitis, two other Lithuanian players who played prominent roles on the Soviet team, also signed the letter.
``We are not politicians or soldiers,'' the foursome wrote. ``We are basketball players. Our mission is to raise the awareness of Lithuania to the world.''
A Turner Broadcasting senior vice-president, replying on Turner's behalf, referred the Lithuanians to USA Basketball, which is technically in charge of the men's basketball competition. Marciulionis said the four have decided not to pursue the proposal.
Alexander Gomelsky, head of the Soviet basketball federation, recently asked the Lithuanian government to give the four basketball players permission to play for the Soviets. According to Marciulionis, the Lithuanian government left the decision to the players.
``I really hoped to play in the Goodwill Games - but on a Lithuanian team,'' Marciulionis said. ``I think it would have been a strong team. But, this year, it's impossible.''
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