Sharunas Marchulenis, the leading scorer for the Soviet Union's 1988 Olympic gold medal-winning team, became the first player from his country to join the National Basketball Assn. by signing a three-year contract with the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors, in announcing the signing of the 6-foot-5 guard from Lithuania Saturday, declined to disclose contract terms.
"He is the world's premier basketball player outside the United States, both in my opinion and in the eyes of many basketball authorities," said Don Nelson, Warrior coach and general manager. "It is indeed an incredible day for us."
Nelson said Marchulenis is so good that he would have been a lottery pick in the college draft the past two years. "He's a ready-made package," Nelson said. "By taking his skill and putting him on a basketball court, he's ready to roll."
Marchulenis, 25, is playing for the Soviet national team in the European Championships at Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He is expected to visit the Bay Area within a month.
Alexander Volkov, another member of the Soviet team, also received permission to sign with the NBA, but a controversy is brewing over his rights. The league says he can sign only with the Atlanta Hawks, who drafted him in 1986, while Volkov and his American agent, Marc Fleisher, say he is free to sign with any team. Fleisher also is Marchulenis' agent.
Arvydas Sabonis, said to be the best Soviet player before suffering an Achilles' tendon injury, is passing up a chance with the Portland Trail Blazers to play in Spain for a year.
Marchulenis averaged 18.1 points in eight games during the Seoul Olympics, including a 19-point effort in an 82-76 victory over the United States.
"I am extremely pleased to be playing with the Warriors," Marchulenis said in a statement read at a news conference. "Don Nelson is the best coach, and Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond are two of the best players in the NBA. Golden State was one of the most-improved teams in NBA history last year. This season we will be even more successful."
Richmond, last season's rookie of the year, played on the U.S. Olympic team.
Nelson said the Warriors have been watching the Soviet player for 2 1/2 years and had been negotiating with him for several months.
Exactly where Marchulenis will fit in with the Warriors' plans, and whether he will start, will be answered at training camp, Nelson said. A factor that helped complete the deal was the ruling last spring by the international body governing basketball that NBA players will be allowed to compete in international competition.
The effect of the ruling in Europe has been that basketball authorities interpret it to mean they may bring their national players back for Olympic competition.
A native of Vilnius, Lithuania, Marchulenis and his wife Inga have a young daughter. Marchulenis is able to speak and understand some English but will take additional language lessons, Nelson said.
Portland sends Sam Bowie and the 12th choice overall in Tuesday's draft to New Jersey for Buck Williams. Page 8.