When Sarunas Marciulionis made his NBA debut on November 3, 1989, professional basketball in the United States was still largely isolated from the rest of the world. Already a legend in his native Lithuania, and a gold medal winner who played for the USSR in the 1988 Olympics, the crafty left-hander impressed Golden State fans by scoring 19 points off the bench that first game. Americans were getting their first glimpse into the future of basketball and Marciulionis was leading the way. The bronze medals Marciulionis captured in 1992 and 1996 catapulted Lithuania to the forefront of international basketball, a stunning development for a nation barely two years removed from Soviet rule. He was the first to open the door for international talent to enter the NBA and enjoyed tremendous crossover success during his long career both stateside and abroad. After his retirement from playing, Marciulionis used his status to promote basketball in his homeland resurrecting the Lithuanian national team and founding the Lithuanian Basketball League.
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