SAN FRANCISCO -- Sarunas Marciulionis no longer wears a mustache. His knee isn't always feeling so great these days.

But the memories of a career that earned him enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame are still fresh in his mind.

Told that Don Nelson said he was the toughest player the former Warriors coach ever had, Marciulionis smiled.

"Maybe (because) I can handle Nellie's treatment, you know?" Marciulionis mused. "So that was my toughness."

Whatever challenges Marciulionis faced during his stereotype-shattering seven NBA seasons or while carrying the weight of Lithuanian basketball, the muscular guard broke right through them.

Marciulionis overcame a language barrier and an adjustment to an American style of basketball in coming to the Warriors in 1989 as one of the first international players to earn regular playing time in the NBA.

Marciulionis came from the Soviet Union and lived to go to the basket and draw contact, playing unlike other European guards that former Warriors teammate Chris Mullin remembered.

"Sarunas was the total opposite, a bull in a china shop, aggressive, powerful, dynamic scoring guard," said Mullin, who will serve as Marciulionis' presenter at the enshrinement ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Friday.


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"To me, he was really the trail blazer for European players coming over and having a major role on a winning NBA team. One year (in the 1991-92 season) he averaged 18 (points) off the bench for us. We had guys come over to try the NBA for a little bit, but then they would go back. Nobody really stuck until Sarunas. He said, 'I'm not going to go and try the NBA, I'm going to make the NBA my career.' "

Marciulionis recalled Nelson getting on him about breaking old habits and shooting with confidence. It was Nelson's son, Donnie, who had led the effort to bring Marciulionis over from Europe. He ended up averaging 12.8 points over his career while playing from mostly off the bench as well for Seattle, Sacramento and Denver.

"That was a tough time," Marciulionis recalled of his rookie season. "No language, no understanding of the game.

"Nellie was hard, but a good coach."

Marciulionis thanked his Warriors teammates for their support in helping him adapt and also won over Nelson, whose tips are still passed along to coaches at the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy in Lithuania to this day.

"He spent a lot of time on the free-throw line because he had no fear," Nelson said.

Ankle and knee injuries cut short Marciulionis' final two years with the Warriors, but it was his body of work with Lithuania that won him direct election by the international committee into the Hall of Fame.

Marciulionis won an Olympic gold medal playing for the USSR in 1988. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, he led the resurrection of the Lithuanian team, helping it win two Olympic bronze medals.

The fledgling Lithuanian team captured worldwide attention having gained the support of the Grateful Dead and the band's tie-dyed garb. The Lithuanians beat the Russians to win Olympic bronze in Barcelona in 1992.

When Marciulionis turned 50 in June, Donnie Nelson surprised him by showing up for the birthday celebration in Lithuania.

"It's recognition for what I've done for the game of basketball," Marciulionis said of the Hall of Fame honor, adding that what he did for Lithuania is just one story in a career filled with them.

"I'm proud of it."

Staff Writer Carl Steward contributed to this report. For more on the Warriors, see the Inside the Warriors blog at ibabuzz.com/warriors.

GETTY IMAGES
Former coach Don Nelson called Sarunas Marciulionis, above, his toughest player.