Good morning, fellow CHers:
I imagine that this second fanpost about historic FIBA games transform these into a series, as Eric politely asked me to do. As I work as a newswriter, employing my time writing anything else arise in me a mixed feeling of laziness and remorse, so this will be a very discontinued and unreliable series. Almost wolvesy.
To force me to step up and work in a new post, I must find a basketball gem with so many facets and so stuffed with greatness that the itch to login and share it with you must be unbereable. And this one has had me grinding my teeth last week.
The Eurobasket was born in 1935, and is the international competition that crowns the best national squad in the continent. The most laureated country of all is the U.S.S.R., with 14 titles, eight of them consecutives, from 1957 to 1971.
Since 1947, the Eurobasket is biannual, and in its current format is comprised of a group phase of 24 teams and, after that, elimination rounds between the best 16.
In 1987, Greece was selected for the first time to host the Eurobasket. The Greeks were awakening as one of the most passionate basketball fandom, but their teams were not representing them in the international scene.
It was a national pride issue that Hellas (the mantra chanted every game by the crowd, greek for Greece) performed above possibilities. The players showed a fanatic resolution and shocked everybody besting the strongest continental league in quarterfinals, Italy, and defeating the allmighty Yugoslavia in the semifinals, with an emotional comeback that helped to set an unpararelled ambience for the final against the other unquestioned favourite, the U.S.S.R.
This final was the career summit for one of the players that must be in contention for best "european" player ever: Nicos Gallis.
The reason for the commas is simple. Nikolaos Georgalis was born and raised in New Jersey, son of an emigrant family with roots on Rhodes. His father was an amateur boxer, and Nikolaos followed his steps as an early teenager. He started to cultivate his body and his fighting spirit in the ring, but his mother, concerned about injuries, convinced him to practice any other sport.
The basketball earned him an invitation to Seton Hall, where Bill Rafferty moved him from PG to SG despite Nikos bieng 6’0". In his senior year he was the third NCAA best scorer, behind Lawrence Butler and Larry Bird.
Everybody counted on him to be drafted in first round, but his agent hit a jackpot with the solo debut of Diana Ross, that recently parted ways with the Supremes, and neglected his duties with his other protegees. He even failed to arrange some workouts with NBA teams, causing Nikolaos to slip to fourth round, where the Celtics got him at #68.
The Celtics had everything they need in that draft with Larry Bird, and Georgalis had to fight for a filling spot in summer camp. He was sidelined with an injured wrist and when he could return to the team two weeks later Gerald Henderson had taken the job. Red Auerbach long regretted that decision as one of the the worst he took in his career.
A Greek friend convinced Nick to listen some offers from Greece, but he turned Olympiacos and Panathinaikos off because he only wanted to sign a one year contract to pursue the NBA dream the next summer. The president of Aris Thessaloniki travelled to the United States and convinced him to play one year for him.
The whole country surrendered to him in a heartbeat. He was renamed Nicos Gallis and invited to join the national team that same year. He was treated as a basketball god and decided to stay for good even when the Celtics called him again. He would play the next eleven seasons for Aris.
In 1983, Aris added two very needed pieces: a 7,1" center and one of the few players in the league able to compete with Gallis in the scoring side, Ionnios’ point guard Pannayiotis Giannakis. In the best scoring card of Gallis in his career, 63 points against Ionnios, Giannakis went for 73.
When he was paired with Nicos in the backcourt they instantly developed a fabulous chemistry, sharing the playmaking and scoring duties in some kind of interchangeable positions that made very difficult to label them by the books. Together, they started a dinasty that gave Aris eight consecutive league titles, with a three year span without a single loss.
Nicos wreacked havoc with a very personal style. Usually the shortest player on the court, he scored at will in the paint, his favourite hunting ground, looking for contact with the rival bigs taking advantage of his herculean strenght and his powerful vertical jump. He was a lethal shooter and mastered the driving steps, managing to manouver towards and under the basket almost unmolested.
An scoring machine, undeniable, but with often overlooked passing abilities that led him to set the FIBA record of assists in a game with 23. You know, European assists.
As every played considered a cornerstone of the game, Gallis has his own legends. People say that one summer, the University of North Carolina toured around Greece, and played two different games againt Aris. Gallis scored 25-30 points on them on the first. Jordan, trash talking the Greek told Nicos that he was not a NBA caliber player. The next game Gallis scored 50, mostly on Jordan. That second time, Jordan had to acknowledge that Gallis could do anything he wanted in a basketball court.
Gallis and Giannakis were like Attila’s horde in the local competition, and Gallis was constantly the best scorer there and in Euroleague aswell, he even robbed Oscar Schmidt the scoring title in a World Championship, but never made an splash at international level. They lacked some help from their teammates to be competitive at the next level.
Gallis and Giannakis finally found a perfect fit in Pannayiotis Fassoulas and Fannis Christodolou in the national squad. Christodolou could be perfectly a modern wing, a 3 and D SF with an NBA physical; and Fassoulas was a 7’0", an unbelievably skinny and weird looking spider that had an uncanny tempo for blocking shots; a rim protector with the longest reach in the business that covered perfectly the lack of defensive prowess of his all-scoring backcourt.
Those four players were scheduled 40 minutes a game if it was necessary, and their last effort should be done against an incredible strong U.S.S.R. team. They had recently added Sharunas Marciulonis to a talent crowded backcourt, with names that you are learning to recognize as Valters, Homicius, Volkov, Tikhonenko, etc... The only weakness you could find in them were the injury-ridden frontcourt, where Sabonis and Belostenny were fondly missed. To man the ranks, the soviet team recovered the veteran 7’ 3" Vladimir Thatchenko to pair up with 7’ 1" Viktor Pankrashkin, backed by the young rising star Valeri Goborov, lost for the basketball because an unfortunate car accident at age 24.
I bet you that you has hardly witnessed a most emotional, passionate and tense basketball game than this. The crowd, 17.000 spectators, were noisy as hell and spent the game standing up chanting, yelling and gesturing like crazy .
The Greek bench were as good as part of the crowd. Giannakis was almost mad when fouled out, and spent the last minutes standing literally inbounds agonizing wrapped in a towel that sometimes was used to cover his eyes.
Nikos Gallis lived up to the expectations and scored 40 points, but the history wanted that the decisive free throws were made by the more obscure starter in that team, Kambouris.
That magnificent starting four tried to repeat their incredible feat the next edition, but were defeated by Yugoslavia 98-77 in the final in Zagreb.
In the homefront, Gallis and Giannakis received with open arms the signing of Slobodan Subotic in Aris, and at last they were able to step into the Final Four. Actually, they did it three times in a row, from 1988 to 1990, but never won a semifinal.
Olympiacos ended he golden era of Aris in Greece, and the team couldn't afford to have both Nickos and Pannayiotis with them anymore. The couple reunited within a year when they signed with Panathinaikos in 1993 and 1994, shifting forever the core of Greek basketball from Thessaloniki to Athens. The retirement of Nicos Gallis, when he was 37, couldn’t be other way: In a game, amidst the season, Nicos was angered because he was not playing as much as he wanted. His coach told him that if he was not happy he could go away. He left the pavillion at halftime and never played professional basketball again.
The next year, in 1996, Giannakis was the starting point guard for Panathinaikos when they won the Euroleague with Dominique Wilkins as MVP of the Final Four.