What Happened To Baby Shaq?

The history of basketball in Greece is one of success and international acclaim. As Greek Reporter says, Greece's basketball scene really kicked off in 1987. Much of the country's talent in the sport was reportedly disappointing, lagging far behind many other European teams. Greece needed a big win to ignite the country's love of the sport. And luckily, it got just that. Greece managed to make it all the way to the 1987 FIBA European Championship finals, which put the country on the basketball map.

After the Greek team won the championship against the Soviets, the country exploded in celebration, and an entire basketball scene materialized. Various Greek basketball legends, like Nikos Galis, Panagiotis Fassoulas, Kostas Politis, and more helped lead Greece to international acclaim. In modern times, one Greek basketball player, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, especially continued that tradition and helped highlight Greece's basketball talent once more (per Basketball Network). But whatever happened to him? And did he ever fulfill expectations?

Who is Sofoklis Schortsanitis?

Schortsanitis was born on June 22, 1985, in Tiko, Cameroon and got into basketball at a very early age. As SB Nation Los Angeles says, he was playing professionally at age 16 in Europe, which drew the attention of recruiting scouts. Known for both his size and swiftness, Schortsanitis attempted to carve out a place for himself in the sport. However, things did not go as planned, as initial interest from the Clippers back in 2003 eventually stretched into hesitation, delay, and a bevy of health problems.

Schortsanitis at some point weighed over 400 pounds, which he successfully alleviated somewhat by losing 60 pounds at a fat camp in Switzerland. However, Schortsanitis never got to stay with the Clippers, as he was eventually traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 2012, then acquired in 2014 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, as NBA explains. The player, however, would come to be one of the more colorful Greek basketball players, carrying the moniker of Baby Shaq.

How did he earn the name Baby Shaq?

As Basketball Network explains, Schortsanitis was given the nickname Baby Shaq for both his similar athletic ability and striking resemblance to basketball star Shaquille O'Neal (above). Schortsanitis shares a lot more in common with Shaq than just a nickname. For example, both Shaq and Schortsantis used similar offense strategies in the game. Both also famously used their enormous size to intimidate and overwhelm other players during a match.

As ESPN reports, both Shaq and Schortsanitis eventually met up in 2009 and had a friendly match, with Shaq eventually beating him by 12 points. As Schortsanitis told ESPN, the match was apparently a dream fulfillment of his. "I grew up watching Shaq, so it was great," he said. "It's a real honor that I can get a nickname of a player like that. He's an absolute power. I thought I was strong, but he's so strong. I really enjoyed it."

Sofoklis Schortsanitis retired in 2020

Schortsanitis was a major force to be reckoned with in the Euro League, having earned a title with the Maccabi Tel Aviv back in 2014. His other major accomplishments include winning MVP twice during the Greek League All-Star Games, earning a silver medal in 2016's FIBA World Championships. He became one of Greek's most well-known basketball players, even if his stats may not have measured up to other players in the big leagues (via Basketball Network).

As reported by Euro Hoops, Schortsanitis retired from the game altogether on December 10, 2020. The basketball player cited COVID and problems breaking into basketball leagues as major reasons for his retirement. He was only 35 when he retired, which is actually around the age that many professional players retire. According to Field Insider, mid-30s, particularly around the age of 34, is the average retirement age for basketball players. (Average retirement age in the United States is 63, writes Forbes.)

Where is Sofoklis Schortsanitis now?

After Schortsanitis retired, he decided to spend more time with his family. As Euro Hoops says, Schortsanitis had told Israeli Sport 5 that he wanted to support his wife's career as much as possible. "With the situation right now around the world and with COVID and how things are going and the leagues struggling right now, I decided to step down. I decided to retire," he said. "I will have more time to spend with my family and that will give my wife also the opportunity to pursue her career."

As Basketball Network explains, beyond some physical resemblance, Schortsanitis unfortunately never lived up to his moniker of Baby Shaq. For one, he was never able to succeed in the NBA, having his chances dashed through trades and performance problems. For some, Schortsanitis had remained a copy of the legendary Shaq, but without the potential or success story. Despite that, Baby Shaq will probably go down in basketball history as one of the more fascinating career stories in the leagues.