When you grow up Greek, you get the entire culture instilled into your veins. From the stubbornness that flows with your words, to the passion you show when speaking about your home country. It’s all there. Growing up in America, I still felt as Greek as someone born in Athens. The pride in our heritage goes to immense lengths.
Nikos Galis. He’s the one figure you can look at who embodies all of this. Many had never heard a word about him until this historic Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction. To Greeks, of all ages, he’s iconic. Iconic in everything he has done.
Growing up in Union, New Jersey, Galis was on a path to the NBA. His journey started near his hometown, playing collegiate ball at Seton Hall. He played well enough to be drafted by the Boston Celtics in the fourth round of the 1979 NBA Draft. With his chances already looking bleak, an ankle sprain sent him overseas, where he’d establish the most illustrious career a European can have for the Greek team Aris.
From there, he’d become Greece’s greatest story. He holds the scoring record for the Greek League, and led the country through its golden era of basketball, winning EuroBasket in 1987 and placing second in 1989. Immense glory and pride spread across the nation, and out of nowhere, the kid from Union became an actual Greek god.
As cliché as it sounds, the mystique of Galis is just that incredible. He reached the most rare heights of stardom, similar to the way Michael Jordan became the greatest NBA player. Go to the courts scattered throughout Greece and listen—listen to the esteem which Galis is held by.
“I went to play basketball with a couple of friends,” explained George Orfanakis, a Greek journalist for eurohoops.net. “On the court next to me were kids around 15 years old. The one kid tried a difficult basketball move, and his friend joked with him asking, ‘Take it easy! Who are you, Galis?’”
His legendary status continues to follow him. Why? “That was Galis. The man—synonymous for unbelievable basketball,” explains Orfanakis, “the unthinkable that became reality. One of a kind.”
Galis was one of a kind. He has forever stood ahead of the pack when it comes to Greek basketball.
And on Friday night, he pushed himself further. As he stood at the Naismith Hall of Fame podium, donning his white sports coat, he had an entire nation behind him. “This is a childhood dream come true,” were Galis’ words as he went on to tell the story of his incredible career. He mentioned he “fell in love with the country of Greece,” and his people. That love came back to him tenfold.
He finished his speech with a story about a lady who hugged him in the streets of Thessaloniki. The lady claims that Galis’ victory in the 1987 EuroBasket tournament saved her son’s life, who was a drug addict-turned-basketball fanatic. With that closing story, he became immortal, as he became the first Greek enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
What does Galis and his induction truly mean to Greece? Ioannis Psarakis of the Greek newspaper Live-Sport put it best.
“This induction means a lot to all Greeks and especially for the… older ones who were lucky to see Nick at his playing times back in the ‘80s. Galis was not just the person who changed the history of Greek basketball through the gold medal at ’87 Eurobasket. He was the man who changed the way Greeks see sports. He was a real professional, an athlete who was taking care of his body, never talked too much, and—the most important—proved that Greeks should not be afraid of any opponent, no matter how much stronger they seem to be.”
Galis’ quote, “This is the biggest win in my career till the next one comes,” after the quarterfinal of ’87 Eurobasket is still mentioned in all of Greek sports.
That’s what Nick was and still is. The man who changed the (sports) world for Greece. Whenever you mention Galis in Greece, it means “winning.” It means “effort.” It means basketball.”
Galis carried the same evident confidence, the same determination and pride that Greeks have been associated with for centuries.
“We owe it to Nikos Galis. It’s no mystery he’s the one who carried that ’87 team that revolutionized basketball. What really impresses me about Nikos Galis is his untouchable mystique. You see kids ages 10–15 who have never seen him battle, but know that he is God,” explains Orfanakis.
If that’s not enough proof that Galis is Greece’s version of His Airness, then take it from the words of some of the nation’s elite players in recent years. George Zakkas of sdna.gr points out the greats that have praised him.
“Dimitris Diamantidis once said: ‘Nick Galis was, is, and will be one and unique.’ Vasilis Spanoulis called him ‘GOAT.’ What else do we have to say about him? Even the real GOAT, Michael Jordan, praised him for his scoring ability! From now on, Nick Galis is not just the Greek God of Basketball, he is also a Hall Of Famer and he totally deserves it.”
If the first two names don’t sound familiar, Diamantidis is a legend for Panathinaikos, and Spanoulis has the same status for rival club Olympiacos. And you all know the last person named.
Like Jordan, Galis’ status is heightened by the stories surrounding him. While playing in his prime in Greece, the Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets offered him a contract to play in the NBA. But he denied what was once his dream.
The reason? This was before professional athletes were allowed to play for their nation. At the time, FIBA didn’t have professional status which allowed players to play for the national team.
Galis denied the NBA. The pinnacle of the sport. His dream. He denied it for Greece.
John Karalis, founder of the popular Celtics blog RedsArmy.com, reflects on Galis as a Greek-American.
“When Red Auerbach says one of his biggest regrets is not getting you to play for him, you know you’re a big deal, and Nick Galis is a big deal. I wish he was healthy enough to be more of a household name, but maybe his induction into the Hall of Fame will inspire more people to learn more about him. Regardless, he’s a huge inspiration to kids in Greece and a big reason why basketball has grown so quickly there. I’m excited for what his induction means for the future of Greek basketball.”
Former Orlando Magic blogger, Adam Papageorgiou, also explained why his physical stature allowed Greek fans to connect with him more.
“Probably the most remarkable thing about his career is Niko doesn’t look like a legendary basketball player. He’s like the Allen Iverson of Europe. Just some normal guy, not really tall, not a physical behemoth. And I think that plays a role in why all Greeks around the world who care about basketball have so much respect for all of his club/country records and accomplishments.”
It’s true, go back and look at video. Galis was not a physical specimen of any sort. Yet it still seemed like he was a level above anyone he played against. He was the underdog even as the best player on the court. He was the player who played with controlled recklessness, yet somehow showed elegance and grace around the basket.
He is the epitome of a Greek. From denying the NBA for the national team to his last career game. Galis retired at halftime of a game, in protest to his coach not starting him. You might be thinking, why? It’s because he’s Greek. His pride can be misinterpreted for arrogance, but it takes complete immersion into Greek culture to fully understand what he felt at the time. He is the representation of us. He is Greek basketball.
A legend in all aspects, he finally got his recognition Friday night. So as we salute Galis into basketball immortality, let us appreciate. Appreciate what he has done to change the culture of Greek basketball. Appreciate the hope he gave the nation.
Not bad for the kid from Union.
Congratulations, Nikos Galis. Congratulations.
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
A reminder that joy and excellence are not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Sometimes messy can be better than perfect, right?
Well, no. Perfect is better than messy, but when it comes to sports, the picture gets murkier. Sports has a way of instantly anchoring in time, era and context – we’ll always remember where we were when Baron Davis yammed on Andrei Kirilenko. That sort of deal.
When you factor in context like that then yeah, messy can feel pretty damn perfect.
The “We Believe” Warriors, they of the 8-seed-playoff-upset and the sea of yellow towels and raucous Oracle Arena, were feted all of last season. It was a reminder that joy and excellence were not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
However, the real peak of that iteration of the Warriors occurred the next season, this 2007-08 team that’s easy to forget now, was actually the first of the “We Believe” teams to play a full season together. That team has always been this Warriors fan’s favourite for the entirety of my life, that’s for sure, and it’s easy to understand why.
They didn’t make the playoffs. Let’s start there.
They didn’t make the playoffs, becoming the first team in NBA history to win 48 freaking games and not qualify, because, as you know, the 07-08 season happened sometime over the last 20 years while the Leastern (nice!) Conference couldn’t pull its head out of its own ass. They didn’t make it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They finished two games behind the Denver Nuggets for ninth in the Western Conference, and three games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the East.
These Warriors rode the previous season’s playoff high and played 82 games, or 3,936 minutes, at the league’s fastest pace and in front of an attendance that ranked sixth in the NBA while employing a motley crew of preposterously entertaining characters, each seemingly more insane than the previous one.
Seriously, just take in the following. Rookies Brandan Wright, C.J. Watson, and Marco Belinelli hadn’t become the mere expiring contracts they would eventually be, while Patrick O’Bryant wasn’t a full-on bust yet, but they were mere appetizers here. Matt Barnes played almost 20 minutes trying to drive all the way out to Temecula if that’s what it needed, Mickael Pietrus was a knockdown shooter, Austin Croshere was the token white guy, at the same time that Andris Biedrins lead the NBA (!!!!) with a 62.5 field goal percentage. (This Warriors fan called him Prom King back then. He would always don the same gelled hairdo you had for prom. Just look at this.)
Only Jason Richardson was missing from the previous year’s roster, but it didn’t matter. Al Harrington was the foremost irrational confidence guy in a team full of them, Stephen Jackson was the God personified, Monta Ellis had it all,and our point guard followed his all-time dunk over Kirilenko by turning in the best season of his career that ultimately, much like the team he so brilliantly led, fell short of notching him an All-Star berth (he still smiled though).
It had no reason to work the way that it did, but goddamn if it didn’t, and if it didn’t constitute the greatest thing in the world for us Warriors teens. They were a cartoon of a team, and we mean this in the best of ways. The 2007-08 Warriors played their NBA games like they played ball in NBA 2K, and if you can’t see the beauty in this then we probably can’t ever be friends.
This Warriors team that season were, ultimately, just like the young man I was a decade ago: frustratingly irregular, talented but lazy, and ultimately they fell short, much like we all do.
However, when they clicked, boy did that machine click. Golden State scored the most points per game in the NBA on the league’s fourth-ranked offense. Biedrins, as mentioned, had a career year and Ellis shot over 60 per cent from the field for the entire month of February. Seriously! Head coach Don Nelson’s system was ultimately player-proof as the numbers and successes of players like Corey Maggette, Reggie Williams, Corey Crawford, Cartier Martin or Anthony Morrow would attest in later years. But okay, sure, let’s keep this focused on our favs.
The Warriors didn’t play any real kind of defense, none whatsoever, let’s mention this too. That’s probably why they were doomed. “You need to play defence in the NBA to have success”, they said. However, we say “That’s what made them thrilling!”. In 2007-08, Golden State was the bastard stepbrother of Mike (No) D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds Or Less Phoenix Suns”, who somehow never changed as he grew up and graduated college—well, almost graduated. They didn’t make the playoffs, remember? It’s a loss in the penultimate game against big freaking brother, the Suns, that doomed them.
Over time, the Warriors and this writer grew up and cleaned their act up, and learned not to mess up as often as they used to. Regardless, this 07-08 team has maintained an alluring sense of awe and wonder, constantly pulling. us. back. in. These current Warriors, the supernova of supernovas, may have perfected basketball (or thereabout), but the messiness of a decade ago still appeals to this now adult fan: it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in messing up, that those you look up to also do it.
Clean up they did. They drafted Steph Curry, because it was the smart thing to do and, when it had become clear it should be his team, when it was clear they believed in him and his faulty ankles, they traded away Ellis and our Lord Stephen Jackson and received Andrew Bogut in return. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Sometimes you need to study for the stats exam even if it’s fucking great to just play the PS4 all day long with the homies.
But then the Warriors went ahead and added Kevin Durant, whose legal name might as well have been Kevin Freaking Durant. Now all of a sudden, college doesn’t feel so bad.
You can’t ever front on KD.
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.
We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.
Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.
It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.
We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.
I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.
Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.
The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).
Stay tuned, because it’s not over.
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
The path to becoming the most progressive major sports league in the world hasn’t been a simple one.
Cyntoia Brown and Trayvon Martin. Two names that went viral on social media, two teens that were both failed by the American criminal justice system, two lives that ended far too young, and two people that gained the attention of NBA All-Star LeBron James. Trayvon Martin was tragically gunned down while returning from the corner store with a drink and candy in his hand. His killer was never brought to justice, but instead was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter. Cyntoia Brown was 16 when she shot and killed a man that had solicited her for sex after being forced into prostitution. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to 51 years to life for first degree murder. James chose to reach out to his roughly 30 million followers across his social media platforms to demand justice for these individuals. But this story doesn’t start with Martin and won’t end with Brown. This story is more about the social justice movement in the NBA that has been in the making for decades, inspired by individuals just like these.
Earlier this year the NBA placed itself into a category of its own in an unprecedented move across the sports community. Commissioner Adam Silver and Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts co-signed a letter for players encouraging their social awareness and pledged their full support. In an excerpt obtained by ESPN, part of the letter reads:
None of us operates in a vacuum. Critical issues that affect our society also impact you directly. Fortunately, you are not only the world’s greatest basketball players — you have real power to make a difference in the world, and we want you to know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.
To the public the NBA might look like a leader in the industry, but it has never been a short or easy journey. To understand how far the league has come we have to look back at its controversial past.
I’ll start with the more recent history of the Chicago Bulls NBA championship visit to the White House in 1992. A dashiki-donned Craig Hodges showed up with a handwritten letter to former United States President George H. W. Bush opposing the administration’s treatment of the poor and minority communities. That same year Hodges was then waived by the Bulls and failed to receive an offer or tryout from any of the other 29 teams. Hodges was only 32 at the time and not only a three-time three-point shootout champion, but a two-time NBA champion. Four years later he filed a $40 million lawsuit against the league and its teams claiming they blackballed him. In his complaint he listed reasons that included his association with African-American social activist Louis Farrakhan, and his criticism of other African-American professional athletes not using their wealth and influence to enact change, most notably calling out former teammate Michael Jordan.
That same year the league saw more controversy when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the American anthem in protest against a country and flag he deemed a symbol of oppression and a conflict with his Islamic beliefs. The league’s commissioner at the time, David Stern, handed Abdul-Rauf a suspension that carried a $31,707 fine for each game missed. It seemed like a clear message from the league to its players: Either stay in line or there will be consequences.
It then took almost a decade for Steve Nash to place himself in the middle of political controversy by sporting a shirt during the Mavericks’ pregame warmups that read: “No War. Shoot for Peace.” Progression was happening slow in the social athletic world, but two years later the Wizards’ Etan Thomas echoed his sentiments and developed his own reputation as a political activist by delivering a powerful anti-war speech at a rally.
The cries of players’ voices did not go unnoticed as the NBA started to see entire teams rally around social justice causes. Nash (traded to the Phoenix Suns) was placing himself in the center of controversy again—this time being joined by the team’s managing partner. Together, the two of them lead the “Los Suns” movement. The team sported custom jerseys for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs in support of the Hispanic community that was facing Arizona’s highly controversial law heavily criticized for encouraging racial profiling.
Less than two years later, the league would see one of its most recognizable pictures to date and it would be the beginning of the movement of players and teams proudly standing together in unison in an attempt to enact change for individuals being targeted—predominantly in the black community. In Florida, the Miami Heat were only a few miles away from where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after walking through a gated neighbourhood back to his uncle’s house wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Dwyane Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union, brought the issue to her husband’s attention and in a revolutionary move, LeBron James and Wade spent several days planning a social justice plan of action. All it took was a photo that spoke a thousand words and a hashtag that read #WeAreTrayvonMartin.
The killing of an unarmed black man, or in this case, a child of only 17 years old, is not anything new for many people in America. This time it happened to hit Wade a lot harder than he ever expected.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Wade stated, “This situation hit home for me because last Christmas all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies. So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”
This was also one of the first times where it seemed a social issue was spreading beyond individual players, beyond a single team, and was being acknowledged league-wide. Further acknowledgement towards Martin’s death was displayed by New York Knicks teammates Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Although we may not know the depth to the role that the Heat and players across the NBA actually played in garnering attention to Martin’s death, there was still traction and at that same time a Change.org petition had already gained almost 1.5 million signatures. Wade had retweeted CNN journalist Roland Martin’s tweet asking people to keep using their voices to demand justice. A Florida lawmaker further pushed Heat players to show up to pregames in hooded sweatshirts, and although the NBA’s uniform policy didn’t allow it, James and Wade were seen with “We Want Justice” and “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” written on their sneakers. And in yet another groundbreaking move, the National Basketball Players Association released a powerful statement not only listing the standard condolences but went further to call for a permanent resignation of the Sanford Chief of Police and a full review of its police department as well.
Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Freddie Grey. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Cyntoia Brown.
These names are far from the only ones that should have gained attention over the years, however, in the case of Eric Garner, players and teams across the league were seen protesting his killing by wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” shirts during warmups. Under new Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA had taken a step forward by choosing not to fine players for not wearing Adidas as the league rules require. Silver stated his respect for players voicing their personal views but added that he would still prefer they abide by the rules. Over the years he has continued to progressively lead the way in the sporting community. In addition to not fining players for violating league rules with their shirts, he had previously fought to remove Donald Sterling as L.A. Clippers owner after his racist comments went public. The NBA commissioner has also shown his support for the LGBTQ community by withdrawing an All-Star game in Charlotte after it passed a discriminatory bathroom bill, and rode on a float the past two consecutive years in New York City’s pride parade.
The players, the coaches, the owners, and Silver have all taken the NBA to new places as it’s become the most progressive across the four major sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association). If you’ll recall, it was not so long ago when players, most famously Michael Jordan, refused to address political issues in fear of hurting their brand or alienating some fans. Jordan has had the quote, “Republicans buy shoes too,” follow him throughout his career and life, and regardless of whether or not he actually said those words, he publicly refused to take any political stances during his time as a player. It’s uncertain whether or not the movements of players have forced the league to progress, or the NBA’s adaptability has allowed the players to. But second to the changes in the league has been most recently MJ himself. Last year, he took the opportunity to speak out for what was possibly the first time in his career.
In a statement published to ESPN entitled, “I Can No Longer Stay Silent,” MJ wrote, “As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.”
The former apolitical player and current Charlotte Hornets principal owner and chairman also donated $2 million between the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Whatever caused him to finally use his voice proves that change is possible.
In LeBron’s famous 2014 Sports Illustrated article, he said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead …”
James has arguably been the most politically vocal sports figure (especially since Donald Trump took office) and one can only conclude there’s no silencing him in the future. His and others’ voices across the NBA and the rest of the sporting community are so important today and will only continue to grow and inspire others in sports to speak up and hopefully one day provide justice to those like Trayvon Martin or Cyntoia Brown.
Progression is possible, and if the NBA is any indication, I think it simply proves the point that athletes should absolutely not just “stick to sports,” and that social change is possible. I look forward to the future where sports figures, celebrities and those in positions of power will all use their voices to inspire and enact change in their communities and our society.
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
USA VS EVERYBODY | The Break | Episode 17
Trading Places | The Break | Episode 18
February Fouls | The Break | Episode 16
Hardwood Battles | The Break | Episode 15
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
Something Out of Nothing
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