Nikos Galis (real name Nikos Georgalis, known to Seton Hall basketball aficionados as Nick Galis), often referred to as the Michael Jordan of Greece, was born in Union City, New Jersey, USA, on the 23rd July 1957. The child of a poor immigrant family from Rhodes, Galis was the fourth and last child, but was destined to become the best!
Boxing becomes basketball...
Following in his father's footsteps, Galis took up boxing in his early years, his father George Georgalis having been a very good boxer in his youth. Fearful of seeing him come home with his face covered in blood, his mother, Stella Georgali intervened to persuade him to take up something else. He didn't find rugby attractive, so he took up the other most popular sport in the New Jersey neighborhoods: basketball. In an interview for the magazine "Triponto" some years ago he said "In our neighborhood I would always play the older boys and beat them. I would rarely lose whether I was playing boys my own age or older!"
Career highlights and history
Galis in the NCAA
So, Galis enrolled in Union Hill High School and became a crucial and irreplaceable player. Important New York colleges began to show an interest in him, but Galis finally ended up with the Seton Hall Pirates. There, he got the shirt with number 11 and became a crucial player fairly quickly. But the lack of other good players prevented Galis' team from reaching any NCCA finals in the 4 years that he was playing there. In his fourth and final year, Galis, by now a shooting guard, saw his points average reach 27.5 and his name ranked third among the leading NCCA scorers, behind the great Larry Bird and Balder. When he left Seton Hall, his name was on nearly every record scoring list in the college. He currently ranks 10th all-time on SHU's scoring list with 1,651 points. He was the Haggerty Award winner in 1979.
Thanks, Mr. Manon
In the spring of 1979 Galis realised that the time had come for him to try and play in the NBA. But this big plan was ruined by the whims of his manager, Bill Manon, who may have ruined Galis' career but surely all Greeks are now grateful to him. Bill Manon was the agent of a few basketball players but mostly actors and artists, etc. Among those was the famous Diana Ross who had just launched her solo career away from her band "The Supremes". 'Upside Down' became a big hit and the agent started making money hand over fist, neglecting his then 22 year old Greek basketball player. So, from the first round of drafts, Galis found himself in the fourth with the number 68 and was picked by the Boston Celtics who had already chosen Larry Bird and wanted Galis just to make up the numbers. Galis tried to stay in the NBA but at the worst possible moment an injury left him out for 2 weeks and on his return, he found his place had been taken by Henderson.
NBA 0, Greece 1
So he was forced to say goodbye to the NBA, but he would not have believed it if he had been told that soon after he would become famous in the land of his forefathers, where, as he admits now, he didn't even know they played basketball.
Galis' professional basketball career in Greece became the stuff of legend. In the 1987 Euro-basket championship, after Greece won Italy at the quarterfinal they asked Galis if this was the greatest moment in his career and he said "the greatest until tomorrow". In the semi-finals, Nikos Galis outscores Yugoslavian Drazen Petrovic 36 to 31 to put Greece in the finals. In the championship game he scores 40 to lead the Greek team over the USSR (final score 103-101), and set off a celebration that rivals any Athens has seen in its 3000 year history.
Galis continued playing competitive basketball until his late thirties. He turned Aris Thessaloniki into the "Emperor" of Greek Basketball leading them to one title after another in the Greek A1 Division. Later on he would ply his trade with Panathinaikos before retiring on account of a fight with his coach.
Today, he has a basketball camp in Chalkidiki, where he teaches the children how to play the game. He never tried to become a coach and has been rather quiet about his life. For years after he retired there were rumors he would could come back and save Aris but he never did.
Said about Galis
- Michael Jordan: "I did not expect to find such a good offensive player in Europe, especially in your country." (October 1983, National team of Greece Vs University of North Carolina for the "Dimitria" Tournament).
- Drazen Petrovic: "I'd love to play in the same team with him so I can pass the ball to him to score!"
- Drazen Petrovic: “If I'm the Devil's son, then Galis is the devil himself.”
- Aza Petrovic (1988): "Drazen is my brother, but I vote for Galis."
- Arvydas Sabonis: "I have the feeling that if Galis wants to score a basket, he will score, no matter what the opponent does, nor who the opponent is. He is always determined to succeed."
- Giorgos Amerikanos: "The man is a computer! He knows what, when, how and why he does what he does. I have not seen such self respect to a player before. He can, if he is certain, take a shot from the center of the court, having five players guarding him, despite a teammate of his being unguarded under the opponent's basket. If I had him next to me in AEK, there would be decades before we taste a defeat."
- Audi Norris: "I have seen a lot of big players in my life, but what Galis did today (1987-88, Barcelona - Aris) can be done only by 2-3 players in the whole world."
- Antonio Miguel Diaz (1990): "Come on, tell me the truth. Galis came with you. Where do you hide him?"
- Bob McAdoo (1985): "What Galis and Aris did tonight never happened to me before. Not even in a Celtics game."
- Bob McAdoo: "I've seen Galis doing things that I have not seen either Lakers or Celtics doing."
- Vasilis Goumas: "If we played together we would score 300 points every game. He sees the basket as a barrel."
- Yiannis Ioannidis (1986): "I warn you! When Galis won’t be able to fly as now, he will be the best play maker in Europe!"
- Sergei Belov: "I admire him. When he plays one on one there is no way to stop him. I never thought there could be a player who could on his own give nightmares to and beat the Soviet Union."
- Ruudd Harevaain (Holland coach): "I found a way to stop Nick. We will lock him in a hotel so that he cannot come on the court."
- Aleksandr Gomelsky (former Soviet Union head coach): "Galis is the player of the 21st century."
- An opposing team's head coach, during a pre-game press conference: "I found the way to stop Galis. I'll shoot him".
After retiring from basketball, Nikos Galis opened a camp for kids 6-16 years of age in Pefkohori, Kassandra, Chalkidiki.
It was the second marriage for Galis, whose first wife, Jenny, died.
Did you know?
- At the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Nikos Galis entered the stadium as the first torch bearer. He went to pass the torch on, to Greek football legend Mimis Domazos
- Galis Camp in Chalkidiki