NEW YORK – A former cab driver and bridge painter is now making a name for himself as a viral streetballer in New York City.
From the moment he rises from the subway in the West Village, George Papoutsis has a plan to put on a show.
FOX 5 New York’s Dan Bowens stood with Papoutsis on the sidewalk on 6th Avenue outside the famed “cage” fence of the West 4th Street courts, probably about 10 feet behind where a normal NBA three point line is.
“This shot is for you guys,” Papoutsis said to a group of people walking by on the sidewalk. Even on the busy sidewalk of a city street, the group stopped to see what he’s talking about.
“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” he said as he launched a shot high over the fence. About halfway to the basket he called his shot – “Backboard!” Sure enough, it clanged off the backboard and dropped through the hoop.
The small group said “Ohhhhhh” at the same time before laughing and walking off.
But George had a different reaction. He turned from the sidewalk and sprinted toward 6th Avenue. He took a step off the curb and screamed repeatedly, “Backboard! Backboard! Backboard, New York!”
About a minute later, someone threw the ball back over the fence. George did it again, and again.
“Got ’em, New York. Got ’em,” George screamed after another shot.
It’s not just the shot that fascinates the crowds, it’s also his looks. The thick beard, hoodie and rugged worn out boots. He doesn’t exactly look like a basketball sharpshooter. He’s also 39, but admits he looks a lot older.
“He acts like he doesn’t know hot to play, but he knows how to play ball,” said one of the many people who stopped to watch as George launched his shots.
The shots, the stories and the unique look all made George a viral sensation even in his native Greece, where is family is originally from.
It wasn’t always like this. When he was younger, he was usually not able to get in one of the many pickup games on the courts.
He grew up in Queens to immigrant parents and never forgot the lesson his mother taught him before she died while he was just a boy.
So, he played and played a lot while also working. He had real blue collar jobs, first as a bridge painter in the city and later a cab driver for more than a decade.
“He actually used to pick up myself and some other players,” said trainer and coach Mark Williams.
Williams is helping George turn his social media fame into something more. They’re hoping for a shoe deal for those boots or a pop-up hoops clinic for kids.