If you check in the hall of fame of basket, you probably won’t find his name. Too unstable in his performances, too unstable in his weight control. But if, by chance, you watched a game and he was in a state of grace, then you’ll never forget him. Sofoklis “Big Sofo” Schortsianitis, born in Tiko, Cameroon, in 1985 by a greek father.
Sofo takes immediately the spotlight, for his size, more than 150 kilos distributed in 208 centimetres, even though he went up and down, when on serious diet. At a first sight the question is: how can he play basket? He looks unfit for a sport in which you run and jump. But thanks to his explosive strength, got an honorable career and achieved results most players can just dream about.
One greek championship with Panathinaikos, two greek cups with Olympiakos, 5 israeli cups with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team he won the Euroleague in 2014 with. But most of all, the satisfaction of defeating the U.S.A. national team at the world cup in 2006. As a protagonist.
Saitama, Japan, 1st of September 2006, semifinals. Greece is a good team, which just won the European competition, but the United States are of another level, for anybody. Is the classical fight between David and Goliath, but usually it doesn’t go like in the Bible and the odds are all for the favorite.
The match is pretty balanced, but the americans are always a step forward, +9 7 minutes before half time. But then the greek coach Panagiotis Yannakis found a trick up his sleeve. Who knows what the U.S. players thought when they saw the unproportioned Big Sofo, 21 years old but already in a very bad shape. The type of guy could be the mascot in movies.
Never judge a book by the cover, Schortsianitis leads his fellows to an incredible come back, also that like in the movies. 8 points in a row for a mini-partial of 9-0, 14 points in 17′, third greek scorer, just one rebound but a massive presence for its defense, more than what numbers alone can tell. In the end Big Sofo and friends will win against LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade 101-95, for a sport miracle, totally unexpected, gained with a mix of team play and individualities.
And it doesn’t matter that in the final Greece lost with Spain, they were already in the legend, no need for a gold medal to remind that. And Big Sofo, like he was an agile steinbock, climbed his personal Mount Olympus, to reach the other basket gods.
Many anecdotes and stories of Big Sofo circulated, some of them apparently unbelievable. He was chosen by Los Angeles Clippers in 2003, when he was only 18, but he didn’t convinced the coach. Anyway, he earned the nickname of Baby Shaq, for the vague resemblance with O’Neal. Then he was engaged by Cantù, in Italy, where he is remembered only for… his hunger.
They say he ordered 12 pizzas, plus four to take away, or that he once fell asleep with the french fries on the stove, and the firemen intervention was needed. Obviously, he didn’t fit in the stretcher and they had to take him down his home with a pulley.
Back in Greece, his career started to improve, but they had to watch him all the time, with a bodyguard who prevented him to eat too much, like when he was caught in a restaurant eating whole chickens. The Boston Globe narrates his personal record of 100 nuggets.
This gentle giant lost patience a couple time too, and you wouldn’t face him in a fight! Once it was during a friendly (!) match against Serbia, but he partecipated only to help his companions. Of course, once he released his anger, he was really hard to stop! The second time was in Israel, when he chased a supporter who spitted on him and racially insulted him. Good for this ignorant person that security stopped Schortsianitis before he went down on him like a crazy rhino.
After a short experience in Serbia, at Crvena Zvevda, Schortsianitis returned in Greece for a new beginning. 32 years, but a career that seems even longer, for its intensity and its ups and downs. But this man got shoulders large enough, literally, to sustain the weight of defeats, with a mentality that helped him to stand up again after every loss, having to demonstrate each time, working hard, doubling his efforts, that he was a real player and not a funny folkloristic guy. But the will is something that always been in Big Sofo, big not only in its aspect.
The highlights of Big Sofo Schortsianitis against USA