Radnor, PA— Hellenic News of America sat down with John Vasiliou, co-founder and co-Commissioner of the Philadelphia Greek Basketball League (PGBL) to discuss the league and their upcoming Greek Heritage Night with the Philadelphia 76ers on April 13.
HNA: What is the PGBL?
JV: The PGBL is the Philadelphia Greek Basketball League, which is a relatively new organization in the Greek community. It was started eight years ago by myself and my good friend Bill Zonios. We are an adult basketball league for Greeks here in Philadelphia, and our season runs from October to February every year. All of the PGBL games are played in the beautiful gymnasium at St. Demetrios in Upper Darby every Thursday and Sunday night during the season.
We are also the newest member of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Philadelphia. We joined the Federation, at the invitation of President Stathis Karadonis, because we aim to grow the PGBL into more than just a typical basketball league. Just recently we have added a summer golf tournament, end of the year “Hall of Fame” banquet, Greek Heritage Night with the Sixers, and my personal favorite…. We started The PGBL Scholarship Fund. We also just proudly participated in the Greek Independence Day Parade in Philadelphia as a league and even had a float to ride on! We are happy to be a new organization in the Greek community and are looking forward to continue to grow with the community.
HNA: Who can join PGBL?
JV: The PGBL is for Greek adults 18 years old and over, and we also include women! Contrary to popular belief, it is not a men’s only basketball league. The PGBL is an adult basketball league. If a woman can compete and likes basketball, she is invited to join. As a matter of fact, a young Greek woman in our community named Eleni Tsakiris was the first female player our league has had.
The PGBL does not have a religious affiliation even though all of our players are Greek Orthodox and all of our games are played in a church facility. Also, many of our players are also leaders in the various church communities in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
HNA: Why is PGBL important in the community?
JV: PGBL is important in the community for many reasons. For starters, it uses basketball as a tool to bring Greek young adults together and into the Greek community. It introduces them to other Greek community events such as the parade, Greek festivals and other church related activities. It’s a fun way to get involved in the community and stay involved in our Greek heritage. The PGBL brings people together every Thursday and Sunday night from October to February at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Upper Darby and it does this in 3 different way: the first is for athletic competition between the athletes, the second is for the social setting in a Greek community sense, and the third is for parents and grandparents to watch their kids and grandkids play basketball. People are now accustomed to the fact that the PGBL has taken place for the last 8 years. They love coming to watch the games, socialize with friends, eat spanakopita, drink frappe, and meet new people. Bill Zonios and myself believe the PGBL is so important because it is another way to keep the Greek community alive in Philadelphia.
HNA: The PGBL is a unifying force in the community, what is your proudest moment so far?
JV: Let me preface my answer by saying other adult basketball leagues have been attempted by other Greek organizations, but never worked out. So the proudest moment for Bill and me was at the end of our first year. Suddenly it hit us, we just completed our first year with no problems and we were deep into planning for the second year. Even from back then the finals were highly attended and competitive. We had a lot of great press and publicity. After the first year we made a strong effort to continue to grow the PGBL. In the beginning we only had 7 teams and 70 players and now we have 10 teams with 120 players. We were very proud back then because it was a great moment in our league and it set the foundation for a strong future.
HNA: Tell us about your co-Commissioner, Bill Zonios. What is it like running the league with him?
JV: Running the PGBL for the past 8 years with Bill has been an honor for me. Bill is one of the best people I know and during the past 8 years he went from being just a friend, to one of the few three or four people I call my best friends today. No person has been more dedicated or passionate about the PGBL than Bill over the past eight years…. The whole idea behind the league was actually even Bill’s from the start! His deep passion for the PGBL can be felt by just watching him on a game day during the season. We work so well together as commissioners of the league and I could not imagine running the PGBL with anyone else. I tell people all the time that Bill Zonios is the heart of the PGBL and one of the most underrated members of the Greek Community of Philadelphia.
HNA: Tell us about the Greek Heritage Night that the PGBL is hosting.
JV: Greek Heritage Night with the Philadelphia 76ers is the largest event that the PGBL has ever organized. It is a joint effort between the PGBL, Colonial Marble and Granite, The Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia 76ers of course. It involves five organizations coming together to show Greek pride to a very large audience and it is the largest Greek Heritage Night in the NBA that will be held this year. No other Greek community in any city in America has done a Greek Heritage Night of this magnitude. 1,000 Greeks from Philadelphia will be attending this event. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be playing for the Milwaukee Bucks that night and we will be honoring him after the game. We want to show him that the Greek community of Philadelphia is strong and proud and we support him. It’s going to be a night filled with Greek activities from start to finish. Local Greek band “Atlantis of Philadelphia” will perform in the lobby as fans walk in before the start of the game. “Pegasus” dance group from St. Demetrios, Upper Darby will perform at half time and there is going to be post game festivities with Giannis. During the time outs there will be fun fan activities with Greek questions addressed to the crowd and people from the Greek community are already telling me they plan on coming to the game dressed up in our traditional Greek costumes. It will be a fun few hours of people celebrating our heritage. Furthermore, we will also have the national spotlight for a few hours because we will be covered by the national, local and Greek media.
Gianni Antetokounmpo is also a member of the Greek national team and grew up in Greece. My hope is that we leave such an impression on him that he will speak to his friends on how wonderful and supportive the Greek community of Philadelphia is. Coming to Philadelphia and seeing that 1,000 Greeks came out to watch him is going to be a really cool experience for him as a player and us as fans. We are very proud of Gianni, not only of what he has done in the NBA, but the fact that he is very proud to be Greek. He comes from African descent, but he grew up in Greece and speaks fluent Greek. I want to make him proud of us, and in turn show him how proud we are of him!
HNA: What does being Greek mean to you?
JV: Being Greek is the only thing I’d ever want to be! Greece has influenced every part of the world and we Greeks have great pride for who we are. We can go into any topic and or discussion and know that we have influenced it in some positive way. I love who we are as Greek-Americans, who our ancestors are, where we come from, who my friends are, and what my local Greek community is today. And I think that it is so important for us to continue in our parents and grandparents footsteps and keep our heritage alive here in America. Being Greek in America to me is an important responsibility because it’s up to us today to keep our traditions and heritage alive for future generations in the USA. I have friends that are Greek-American like me and can share my culture with…I want to make sure my children have the same experience. While it’s important to be active in the American community because we are also proud Americans, I am just so deep into the Greek community as well. I hold my head up high because I am lucky to be born Greek. I love everything it comes with…and the food is pretty good too!!
I would also like to thank the Hellenic News of America and specifically Aphrodite and Stavroula Kotrotsios for taking the time to do this interview and covering the upcoming Greek Heritage Night. The HNA has been such an important part of the Greek community of Philadelphia for the past 28 years and I wish the HNA all luck in the coming years.
Photo Credit: Stellios Lambrou & Cosmos Philly