Nikos Galis – Europe’s Greatest-ever Scorer
By Yannis Psarakis
Since the birth of the European Championships in 1935 and the first European club competition in 1958, literally thousands of players have stepped up to play at the top level. Yet few have had the impact on the record books as that of former Greek superstar, Nick Galis.
Playing in the 1980‘s and early 1990‘s, Galis literally broke scoring records in almost every competition he entered, playing for Aris Thessaloniki and Panathinaikos Athens. He also masterminded the greatest ever achievement of any Greek national team, namely a gold medal at the 1987 European Championship.
“I’d love to play with Galis in the same team,” said the legendary Drazen Petrovic before his death in 1993.
“I would assist him the ball and he would put it in the basket.”
Nick Galis, a 183 cm guard, was born in New Jersey (USA) on July 23rd 1957. Although he was not born on Greek soil, his Greek nationality was unquestionable. His parents, Giorgos and Stella, hailed from the island of Rhodos and when Galis first came to Greece he was known as Nickos Georgalis-Galis.
Galis’ first sport was actually boxing, but his mother soon put the clamps on his burgeoning career. Her horror at seeing her son come home every day with a new facial injury led to Galis taking up basketball and in 1970 began to play at Union Hill High School.
His prep career was successful enough to earn him a scholarship to the University of Seton Hall and he did not disappoint. In his junior year (1977-78) he averaged 17.3 ppg and as a senior he led the nation in scoring (Indiana State forward Larry Bird was second) at 27.5 ppg, with a career high 48 points against the University of Santa Clara.
Galis was chosen at no. 68 by the Boston Celtics in the 1979 NBA draft, but elected instead to pursue a professional career in Greece.
It was a decision which would literally change the future of Greek basketball.
Panathinaikos and Olympiakos had showed some interest in the newcomer, but it was Aris Thessaloniki who were the most active club. Giorgos Tsiligaridis was sent by Aris to the USA to convince Galis to sign with his team and he managed to return with his signature on a contract.
Galis came to Thessaloniki at the start of the 1979-1980 and it took the young guard all of one game to show his potential. In his debut he lit up rival Thessaloniki club Iraklis for 30 points and an epic career was underway.
Galis’ career is perhaps best summed up by the record books. He played 13 seasons with Aris, winning eight Greek titles, five Greek Cups, one Korac Cup (1985) and also making three EuroLeague Final Four appearances. Of the eight Greek titles, six were consecutive during which Aris put together a remarkable 80 game winning streak.
Along with the team success came the individual accolades. Galis led the Greek League in scoring in every single one of his 15 seasons. He is the league’s all-time leading scorer with a total of 12,849 points in 384 games and a remarkable average of 33.4 ppg.
His career high output was 62 points which came against Nikeas-Aris in 1981. He also torched Panellinios for 57 points in the 1987 final of the Greek Cup and his career high in European competition was 57 against Venice during the 1981 Korac Cup.
Galis was also a loyal servant of the Greek national team. His first game came during the 1980 pre-Olympic tournament and he would go on to play 168 times for his country. He is second on the all-time scoring list to former Aris team-mate Panagiotis Yiannakis at 5,130 points (Yiannakis scored 5,282 points in 351 games for Greece).
Galis’ crowning glory came literally during the 1987 European Championship which was held in Greece. He led his side to the gold medal and also earned tournament MVP honours in the process. He naturally led all players in scoring, including 40 points in the final, a 103-101 victory over the Soviet Union.
That performance led former Soviet Union star Sergey Belov to comment:
“I admire him. When he plays one against one there is no way to stop him. I never thought that could be a player who could on his own beat the Soviet Union.”
The praise from the Soviet Union continued in the form of coach Alexander Gomelski, who called Galis the “player of the 21st century”.
Galis also won a sliver medal at the 1989 European Championship in Zagreb and participated in a total of five European Championships. He was the top scorer at all of them except for the 1989 Championship. Galis participated in one World Championship in 1986, where he again led all players in scoring, and had a 53-point outburst against Panama.
Galis’ ability to put the ball in the basket compounded opposing players and coaches alike.
“I feel that if Galis wants to make a basket, he will do it no matter who his opponent is,” said Lithuanian star Arvydas Sabonis.
For those coaches who he came up against, most strategies to stop him proved futile. Former Nashua Den Bosh coach Rood Harrewain advocated locking Galis in the dressing room before the game, while Wojeck Krajowski of Lech Poznan looked to a higher power:
“Before the game we made our plans on how we will stop the four players of Aris,” he said following a European club competition game.
“For Galis, we made our prayers…”
In some ways, Galis’ scoring feats overshadow the fact that he was also a great playmaker. In 1990 he dished 23 assists in a European Cup game against Finish side Uusikaoupounk and in the 1992/93 season with Panathinaikos he was the Greek League’s best passer at 6.7 apg. During that season he also recorded a remarkable double-double, hitting a perfect 13/13 field goals and dishing 19 assists against former side Aris.
After he stopped playing basketball, Galis founded a Basketball Camp for kids at the village of Pefkochori in Halkidiki. This camp every year has more than 3, 000 kids who learn basketball from the great Nick.
Nick Galis - Scoring Machine
Competition Games Points Average
Greek League 384 12,849 33.4
Greek Cup 55 1,935 35.2
European Cups 146 4,807 32.9
National Team 168 5,130 30.5
Total 753 24,721 32.8
Titles Competition Titles Year
Greek Championship 8 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, all with Aris Thessaloniki
Greek Cup 6
1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992 with Aris, 1993 with Panathinaikos
European Championship for Men 2
Gold 1987, Silver 1989
European Championship for Clubs Final-Four 4 1988 4th, 1989 4th, 1990 3rd, 1994 3rd