One of the iconic players in European basketball this century, former Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion Sofoklis Schortsanitis, announced his retirement as a player on Thursday at the age of 35. Schortsanitis was an attention-getter every time he stepped on the court during his 10-year EuroLeague career, which culminated with him winning the 2013-14 title with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was last seen on Euroleague Basketball courts with PAOK Thessaloniki in his native Greece, where he played the bulk of his career, including five seasons with Olympiacos Piraeus and one with Panathinaikos Athens.
"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," Schortsanitis said in an interview with Israeli television on Thursday. "I will have more time to spend with my family and that will give my wife also the opportunity to pursue her career."
Schortsanitis, who was often called a dancing bear for his combination of strength and agility, began his career with Iraklis of Greece and passed through Cantu in Italy and Aris in Greece, where he debuted in the EuroCup, before landing at Olympiacos in 2005. In his first EuroLeague season, he posted averages of 10.7 points and 4.9 rebounds. Over three more seasons in Piraeus, he helped the Reds make their first two Final Fours of the century, in 2009 and 2010. In the latter of those, he made his Final Four debut, averaging 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in two games as Olympiacos finished as that season's runner-up.
In the summer of 2010, he joined the second team he would be most identified with, Maccabi, and under the guidance of Coach David Blatt enjoyed his best EuroLeague season statistically. Big Sofo, as he came to be known throughout Europe, averaged 12.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in just 19 minutes per game while helping Maccabi reach the 2011 Final Four, where his team again fell short in the championship game.
After another year with Maccabi and one at Panathinaikos, Schortsanitis would return to Maccabi for what would prove his crowning moment. He averaged 9.6 points in 14 minutes per game and was the EuroLeague's top per-minute scorer as Maccabi marched through the playoffs and all the way to the title. The Israeli champs beat Real Madrid in overtime in an epic championship game in which Schortsanitis scored 9 points in as many minutes. It was an indelible moment for a player who inspired awe in his fans and opponents alike.
Schortsanitis was unique for having great impact in short stints on the court. His ability to throw his weight around, often against much taller players, led teams to foul him due to an inability to stop him. He holds the all-time EuroLeague career record for per-minute fouls drawn, with 10.2 prorated over 40 minutes, which added up over his 197-game EuroLeague career. He also ranks ninth all-time in per-minute scoring with 23.1 points prorated over 40 minutes.