NBA basketball seems like an exotic and exclusive world to which only the “chosen” arrive, and Panama has delivered one of the best Latin American players to see action on the hardwood court: Rolando Blackman.
The former member of the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks lowered the curtains on his career competing in the European leagues such as the Greek, Italian and French club teams, but his biggest impact was on the best basketball in the world.
After being a two-time NCAA All-American selection at Kansas State University, Blackman, who was born in Panama City and raised in Brooklyn, NY, began his professional career after being selected in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks.
Before long, Blackman and forward Mark Aguirre became one of the NBA’s most dynamic tandems of the 1980s.
Offensively, the Panamanian was a talented scorer capable of being effective from long and short range which earned him four invitations to the All-Star Game (1985, 1986, 1987 and 1990), but above all recognized for his ability to finish in the middle of traffic.
In 11 seasons with the Mavericks, Ro and the Mavs reached the playoffs six times, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 1988 against the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. In that series, the Mavericks appeared in their first conference final in franchise history and pushed the defending champions to the limit by forcing them to the maximum of seven games.
After losing in the Western Conference Finals in 1988, Blackman played six more years in the NBA — four more in Dallas and the last two with the Knicks.
With the Knicks, Blackman was no longer the same kind of scorer he was for Dallas, but he was still a very reliable and effective member in the New York rotation. “Ro” appeared in 15 playoff games for the Knicks in 1993, the year New York lost in six games to the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan.
In 1994, Blackman played 55 regular-season games and six playoff games during the Knicks’ advance to the Finals, but were defeated by Hakeem Olajuwan and the Houston Rockets, in what was his final season.
The Panamanian said goodbye to the NBA with a lifetime average of 18 points, 3.3 rebounds and three assists, in addition to a 49% effectiveness in field goals, 84% in free throws and 34% in triples in his 13 seasons.
In 11 seasons with Dallas he averaged 19.2 points, including three averaging over 20 points, and is still the second-best scorer in franchise history with 16,643 points, second only to Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki (31,560).
However, basketball didn’t stop there. Rolando wanted to be remembered as a champion.
In the 1994–95 season he played for AEK Athens in Greece and the next year he moved to Italy as a member of Olimpia Milano with whom he became Italian League and Coppa Italia champions in 1996 before finishing his career in France with CSP Limoges.
In 2000, Blackman returned to basketball with the Mavericks as an assistant coach under Don Nelson and that same year his number 22 was retired by the franchise, thus becoming the first Latin American basketball player to receive that honor in the NBA.