You could make a case – and a compelling one, at that – that Ralph Sampson was the most dominant player in college basketball history. In the early 1980s, Sampson led Virginia to an NIT title, two Elite Eights and a Final Four. He also won three Naismith Player of the Year awards and a pair of Wooden Awards.
“You never shoot for personal awards,” Sampson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “You want team championships. If those awards are out there and you get them, it’s really a team award. So I had the great ability to have good coaches, good teams, good players and good people around me at the University of Virginia.”
Sampson’s collegiate career was so incredible, however, that his NBA career seems so-so by comparison. The key words being “by comparison.” The No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, Sampson was Rookie of the Year in 1984, a four-time All-Star and the All-Star Game MVP in 1985.
“You do what you can do,” Sampson said. “Injuries are part of the game and part of my NBA career. My first four or five years in the league, (I averaged) 20 and 10 or whatever the numbers were. I didn’t do too bad.”
Sampson averaged 15.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in his career. Most NBA players can only dream of numbers like that.
Oh, and did we mention the Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors?
“I really don’t base my career on those accolades,” Sampson said. “I base it on just did I do what I could do while I was there? At college, was I the best I could be every day? In the NBA, was I the best I can be every day? We have days where you’re 80 percent, 90 percent. You might be sick. So if I’m 80 percent, I’m going to give 80 percent of what I got. And so I just based my ability and my career on that.”
Sampson, like many former greats, believes the game has changed over the years.
“I think the players back then – you had players on every team,” Sampson said. “I mean, the Clippers had first-round picks in Bill Walton and Terry Cummings. The Cleveland Cavaliers had (Craig) Ehlo and (Mark) Price and (Brad) Daugherty. Every
team had some solid guys. There were some bad teams, but not as many I think as today.”
Gottlieb wonders how Sampson’s game would translate today. In truth, he thinks the 7-4 giant would still be a stud. Sampson wasn’t a bruising player, but he could still assert himself down low, and he could shoot the jumper.
“Look at Dirk Nowitzki and what he’s done in his career,” Sampson said. “Just pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop. Same type of player. He’s done phenomenally well over his career.”
Gottlieb also asked Sampson about Dwight Howard, whose NBA achievements haven’t matched his potential.
“Everybody expected his potential to be at a certain level,” Sampson said. “Let the guy be who he is. Now he’s got a little knee surgery. See what’s going on with that. Hopefully he’s successful tonight and feels good when he plays. They got about 10 games or so left in the season. They’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen next and get him ready for the playoffs. If that can happen, that’s great. If not, they’ll sit him on the bench. But he’s a great player, and there’s no other big guy in the league like him. When he’s playing well, he’s pretty dominant.”