Breaking News

Nick Galis, a Hero of Greek Basketball, Is Honored by Aris

A fellow Greek-American had approached him with an intriguing idea: go play basketball in Greece.

“I didn’t know at that time that Greece had basketball,” said Galis, who grew up in Union City, N.J. “My mind was on the N.B.A.”

After a sprained ankle reduced his chances of making the Celtics’ roster, Galis became the Michael Jordan of Greece. Children pretended to be him in pickup games. An American opponent named his son after him.

Galis inspired the nation when he led Greece over the Soviet Union in the final of the 1987 FIBA European championships. He scored 40 points in the 103-101 overtime thriller. It was the country’s “Do you believe in miracles?” moment.

But the story did not end there. Nearly 19 years after he played his last game, in which he quit at halftime to protest a coach’s decision not to start him, his former team Aris paid tribute to him May 7. Galis ended his career with Panathinaikos in Athens.

“We had to say sorry to Nick because now he’s 55 years old, and this should have been done many years ago,” said Lefteris Arvanitis, the president of Aris, who took over the team last year.

Former teammates and opponents joined 5,500 fans in the Thessaloniki arena to honor Galis, who made a rock star entrance through fog. He delighted them by spinning a basketball on a finger and dribbling through his legs. Nicknamed the Gangster for his no-nonsense style and piercing stare, he warmly hugged his 7-year-old daughter and cried when he embraced his former teammate Panagiotis Giannakis.

Galis’s yellow No. 6 jersey was raised to the rafters, and Greece’s deputy sports minister, Giannis Ioannidis, announced that the arena’s interior would be called Nikos Galis Hall.

“It’s better late than never,” said Galis, who rarely gives interviews. “I’m happy Aris is doing this now.”

Greeks say Galis’s effect on the country’s psyche and economy is immeasurable.

“He made us believe that we could be champions,” said Panagiotis Kostas, 33, a mechanical engineer who traveled 340 miles to attend the tribute. “This is too small. There should be something much bigger.”

Aris forward Antonis Asimakopoulos sobbed as video highlights rushed him back to his childhood. He was 11 when Greece won the 1987 EuroBasket and celebrated in Omonia Square, which, like other parts of Athens, has been battered by a recession now in its sixth year.

“It’s national pride for us,” Asimakopoulos said of the sentiment surrounding Galis. “We are a small country but we are so tight together, especially when we achieve something.”

The 1987 victory gave Greece a big economic boost as advertising money began flowing. Just as Bird and Magic Johnson revived the N.B.A., Galis’s success boosted Greek players’ salaries and created jobs.

Gregory Ioannidis, a sports lawyer in the United Kingdom and a university lecturer, is studying the economic effect of the ’87 championship and estimates that 7,500 jobs were created in the eight years afterward.

“Nick Galis basically gave a lot of people a reason to exist,” Ioannidis said. “People owe a lot to him. Basketball before 1987 was a just a sport. Immediately after 1987, it became a commodity. Sports marketing became a big thing. Everyone wanted to advertise.”

Greeks were not sure what to make of Galis, who arrived with an Afro and a New York accent. He made few friends and kept to himself.

With Galis, Aris won eight Greek league titles, including seven in a row after signing Giannakis before the 1984-85 season. Aris was 25-1 in their first season together, before going undefeated for three consecutive domestic league seasons. Galis and Aris also wowed crowds throughout Europe, playing in three consecutive Euroleague final fours (1988 to 1990) but falling short each time.

“Nick has always, for me, been like my secret hero,” said Audie Norris, who played for Barcelona. “His presence, his persona and the energy that he brings to the game and the things that he can do on the court, you don’t see too often.”

Galis averaged a little less than 33 points a game in his professional career. In his senior year at Seton Hall, he was the nation’s third-leading scorer. Bird was second.

“You have to appreciate his game to love it,” said Norris, who liked Galis’s game so much that he named his son after him.

View the original article here

Related Post:

  • 0Blogger Comment
  • Facebook Comment