Lengthy Earlier than Giannis, Sofoklis “Child Shaq” Schortsanitis Blazed a Path as a Greek Hooper
This story seems in a whole journal devoted to one of the crucial impactful draft courses ever. Get your copy right here.
Are you able to identify the most important participant taken within the 2003 Draft? Right here’s a touch: He’s Greek.
Nope, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t been round that lengthy.
The reply is Sofoklis Schortsanitis, aka Child Shaq, aka Huge Sofo, and whereas he in the end by no means performed a second within the NBA, he had one heck of a professional profession. A profession that mainly simply ended, in reality, placing him close to the highest of the listing for size of careers amongst all of the legends chosen again in June, 2003.
“I’m completely retired now,” Schortsanitis says over a WhatsApp name from his residence in Athens. “I had loads of accidents and I wasn’t in a position to return 100 p.c so I made a decision to retire.”
Schortsanitis, a 6-10 heart whose weight was all around the map (Basketball-reference lists him at 345 kilos) throughout his 20-plus years as a professional, made the announcement final December. Whereas it didn’t make any waves within the US, hoops followers all through Europe, particularly in Greece and Israel, took discover.
Schortsanitis was born in Cameroon on June 22, 1985. He moved to Greece along with his mom and father, a Greek man who’d been working in Cameroon, shortly after. He obtained Greek citizenship by his father from the second he arrived.
Sofo wasn’t at all times huge, and he didn’t immediately take to basketball. “In Greece everybody cares about soccer,” he instructed ESPN in 2010. “So once I first performed basketball once I was like 7 or 8, I didn’t prefer it very a lot.”
He grew, although, and that inevitably led to a push in direction of hoops. By 14, he was enjoying repeatedly—and infrequently dominating the low publish.
By 16, he was getting paid to play for Iraklis, a professional membership within the northern Greek metropolis of Thessaloniki. In 2003, having gained some buzz for his membership play in addition to with the Greek Junior Nationwide Group (he was MVP of the worldwide Albert Schweitzer tourney in ’02), Schortsanitis entered his identify within the draft.
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European scouting was not as refined as it’s at this time, however NBA groups have been definitely intrigued by prospects from the continent (greater than a 3rd of the picks within the ’03 draft have been from Europe). Assured he’d get picked, if uncertain when, Schortsanitis got here to New York Metropolis for the draft, which was held at The Theater at Madison Sq. Backyard.
“That was my first time within the States,” Sofo remembers. “It was overwhelming however enjoyable. I used to be on the draft and once they begin asserting names you begin to get anxious. However finally I obtained drafted by the Clippers and I used to be actually pleased.”
A primary-round choice would have meant a assured NBA contract. Going within the second spherical positioned Schortsanitis in a purgatory of kinds, along with his rights belonging to the Clippers however buyouts hooked up to his contracts abroad.
Whereas he was typically enjoying nicely and having enjoyable with the Greek Nationwide Group and a number of other high-profile Greek groups (most prominently Olympiacos, with whom Sofo performed exhibitions towards the likes of the Spurs and the LeBron/Shaq Cavs in ’09), Schortsanitis wasn’t talked about a lot in NBA circles by a lot of the ’00s. He was additionally often disciplined for exceeding weight limits.
In the summertime of 2010, a match Schortsanitis returned to the States and took half in Summer season League with the Clippers, who nonetheless owned his rights. He was 25 and the window to make the NBA was nonetheless open. Alas, it didn’t occur. Within the years that adopted, his rights have been concerned in a few NBA trades however he by no means actually obtained near the NBA once more.
“It’s OK that it by no means occurred,” Sofo says at this time. “If I used to be in the USA for a profession, I wouldn’t have met my stunning spouse or have my youngsters, so all of it labored out.”
Whereas the NBA wasn’t within the playing cards in 2010, Schortsanitis nonetheless superior his profession, becoming a member of the EuroHoops energy Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, with whom he spent the higher a part of 4 years.
“The spotlight of my profession was my years with Maccabi,” he says. “The individuals there have been nice and I had loads of enjoyable. I used to be blessed with having actually good teammates on a regular basis. We received the Euroleague. That was nice. I nonetheless have loads of good associates over there.”
From 2015-20, Schortsanitis performed primarily in Greece, barely diminished by age and accidents however nonetheless an enormous, fashionable participant.
Being in Greece, which was on strict lockdown for a lot of the pandemic, meant loads of household time. As issues open again up, Schortsanitis says he could not wish to ever turn into a full-time basketball coach, however that he does like working with youngsters on their expertise. That might embody his youngsters, a 9-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.
“They inform me they wish to do basketball like I did,” Schortsanitis says. “However I don’t wish to be that form of dad that tells them they need to play. They’ll resolve what they wish to do. We’ll see. I’m pleased that they’re fascinated about that.”
Within the meantime, he’ll assist his buddy Giannis and the Bucks (“In fact!”) and be hit up for historic items like this one each on occasion. Extraordinarily modest on the cellphone and exhibiting a humility typical of Greek tradition, Schortsanitis declines my declare that he is part of historical past. However he doesn’t deny that, not less than due to the greatness of his friends, his draft class was one thing particular.
“Carmelo, Wade, LeBron, Bosh? We had so many nice gamers.”
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Ben Osborne is a former SLAM Ed. and is now Head of Content material for Simply Ladies’s Sports activities. Photographs by way of Getty Pictures.