Elias “Lou” C. Tsioropoulos was born August 31, 1930 in Lynn, Massachusetts. He played for Kentucky in 50-51, 51-52 and 53-54 and the NBA’s Boston Celtics for three seasons from 1956-1959. He was tabbed by the media during his playing days as “The Golden Greek”, a nickname he bristled at.
Lou Tsioropoulos’ father was a foreman in a tannery, a brutal job in any era but an especially punishing form of employment in the 1950’s. His father would come home beaten some days, almost broken others, which is why Tsioropoulos took his education at UK so seriously. He wanted to make sure he never had to spend a day in a tannery. And he didn’t.
Tsioropoulos played college basketball at the University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp. As a sophomore in 1951 he was a member of Kentucky’s NCAA Championship team, the Wildcats defeating Kansas State 68-58 in the Championship game.
In the fall of 1952, a point shaving scandal involving three Kentucky players (one of whom was a teammate of Tsioropoulos on Kentucky’s 1951 NCAA champions) over a four-year period forced Kentucky to forfeit its upcoming season, which would have been the senior year for Tsiroropoulos and future Hall-of-Famers Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan. The suspension of the season made Kentucky’s basketball team, in effect, the first college sports team to get the “death penalty.”
Tsioropoulos, Ramsey and Hagan all graduated from Kentucky in 1953 and, as a result, became eligible for the NBA Draft. All three players were selected by the Boston Celtics—Ramsey in the first round, Hagan in the third, and Tsioropoulos in the seventh. All three also returned to Kentucky for one more season despite graduating. After finishing the regular season (one in which Tsioropoulos averaged 14.5 points per game) with a perfect 25-0 record and a #1 ranking in the Associated Press, Kentucky had been offered a bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats clearly had the best team in the country. However, then-existing NCAA rules prohibited graduate students from participating in post-season play. Tsioropoulos, Hagan and Ramsey were unaware of the rule and had earned their bachelor’s by January thanks to their extra year of schooling. The Wildcats declined the bid because their participation would have forced them to play without Tsioropoulos, Ramsey and Hagan, thus jeopardizing their perfect season. They remain the only Division I team to finish a season undefeated yet not be recognized as the national champion. La Salle won the NCAA title that season by defeating Bradley in the championship game, but let the record show that Kentucky had smothered that same La Salle team, 73-60, that December in the UK Invitational Tournament.
Tsioropoulos’ #16 jersey was retired and he is in the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame.
As Tom Heinsohn’s backup at forward, Tsioropoulos played three seasons with the Celtics, winning championships in 1957 and 1959. In 157 games, he averaged 5.8 points per game. His best season was 1957-58; he averaged 7.7 points per game. This season was the only one of his three in which he played in the playoffs; he averaged 6.3 points per game. That year, the Bob Pettit-led St. Louis Hawks (which also featured Tsioropoulos’ ex-college teammate Hagan, who had been traded to the Hawks in the Bill Russell deal) defeated the Celtics in the NBA Finals. His career was derailed by a knee injury that required surgery early in his junior season at Kentucky. “Required” and “underwent” were two different things, though and he played that season with torn cartilage.
In August of 1963, he introduced himself as Lou Tsioropoulos to the pretty sister of a neighbor in Louisville. Within three weeks, they were engaged. On May 16, 1964, Lou and Jan Tsioropoulos were married at a protestant church in Louisville.
Tsioropoulos is a retired principal of Jefferson County High School in Louisville, Kentucky and now lives in Florida.