Danilo Gallinari—all 6-10 of him—is sitting on a small couch in a makeshift green room at the Nordstrom Century City in Los Angeles. It is All-Star Weekend, and the veteran is making an appearance on behalf of Tissot.
Teammates describe Gallo as laid-back and unbothered, and that’s exactly how he looks today. The Clippers forward is lounging comfortably amidst several reporters, photographers, and security guards–like someone who’s been doing this for a long, long time.
It’s been almost ten years since Gallinari, who has played for the Knicks, Nuggets and Clippers in that span, entered the NBA; 13 years since he became a pro basketball player; and 23 years since he first picked up the game as a young boy living more than 6,000 miles away in Milan, Italy.
He was merely six then, but the love was already apparent.
“Basketball was the only sport in my life,” he tells SLAM, shrugging off soccer, the primary attraction in Italy.
His father, Vittorio Gallinari, played professionally for Olimpia Milano alongside current Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, and Danilo would often watch them practice.
“The passion started with [my father],” he explains.
When he could, Gallo would tune in to NBA games. He has fond memories of watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominate the 1990s. Vittorio was more of a Larry Bird fan, but Danilo always wanted to be like Mike.
At 16, he made his professional debut for Assigeco Casalpusterlengo. With his size and unique skill set, Gallinari quickly worked his way up Italian Leagues and would soon have NBA scouts raving about his immense potential.
I ask him what 2008 draft night was like, when the 19-year-old foreigner was selected sixth overall by the New York Knicks, and he smiles and responds simply: “Tough”
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning because you know…New York fans,” he adds.
Gallo’s experience that evening was similar to the one a skinny seven-footer from Latvia endured just a few years ago.
“A lot of boos and bad sounds,” Gallinari remembers. “But it was motivation for me—to show them who I was, because they didn’t know about me.”
The MSG stage didn’t intimidate the rookie.
“There are some players who don’t like those kind of lights. I honestly loved it,” he says.
Which is partially why almost a decade later, Gallinari feels comfortable in his first season with the Clippers, playing his home games in another one of the League’s premier venues.
From then to now, Gallo has averaged 15.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. His career offensive rating (117.4) is eighth amongst active players and his 87 percent mark from the free throw line would be the 33rd best in NBA history. He once dropped 47 in a game against the Mavs in 2015, torching them with seven three-pointers. He was one of the main pieces of the blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York, and helped the Denver Nuggets reach the playoffs twice during his stint there.
But compiling a list of Gallinari’s accomplishments to date always provokes the question: what could have been?
He came into the League with back issues. He was sidelined the entire 2013-14 campaign with a torn ACL, undergoing multiple knee surgeries during that period. He has suffered a broken hand, several ankle sprains, and numerous contusions and strains, missing at least eleven games every single season since 2010-11 (including a combined 52 from 2014-16). Though futile, Gallo admits to pondering how his career would be different had the injury bug not bitten him so ceaselessly.
“Sometimes I think about that. Me and my family and friends, sometimes we talk about it,” he says. “But it’s something you cannot control. Injuries are a part of my job, part of the deal, and unfortunately in my career, I’ve had too many.”
In glimpses, we’ve seen just how good Gallinari can be with a clean bill of health. After sitting out 25 games, he returned just prior to the All-Star break and averaged 20 points on 52 percent shooting to help the Clippers go 5-2.
“He’s been absolutely wonderful,” coach Doc Rivers said before the Clips beat the Nets 114 -101 at Barclays on Feb. 12. “This is the one we signed.”
Los Angeles is currently ninth in the West with a 30-27 record and competing with several tough teams to secure a playoff spot – not to mention doing so without Blake Griffin, who was traded at the deadline.
Any prospect of reaching the postseason hangs immensely on Danilo staying healthy and earning the three-year, $65 million contract he inked last summer.
Gallinari fits the modern, pace-and-space, position-less basketball mold perfectly. Versatility is the “best thing about my game,” he maintains.
“Point forward they call it now-a-days. So playing the 1 through 4 offensively and defensively.”
“He’s playing aggressive. He’s doing a lot too. Defensively he’s been really good. His passing is terrific. And he stretches the floor,” Doc told reporters. “With [recently acquired] Tobias [Harris] and him, we’re not sure who’s the three or the four. We just play them as wing guys, and that’s been really good for us.”
Sam Dekker, a teammate and close friend, often engages in one-on-one match-ups and shooting competitions with Gallo.
“He’s as good as they come in terms of skill set and knowing the game,” Dekker says. “He’s got an old man’s game in a young man’s body. Lot of pump fakes, hesitations, spins, good footwork. He’s just crafty.”
Informed of this description, Gallinari chuckles and concedes: “I agree with Sam.”
Given all the injuries, it can slip your mind that Gallinari is just 29-years-old and still has a “young man’s body.” He continues to chase the Larry O’Brien trophy with the same energy; but his goal stretches beyond that, because for someone whose life has been basketball, that isn’t enough.
“I don’t want to win a championship being a role player,” he says. “I want to be one of the main guys.”
For a look at what Tissot, the official watch of the NBA, did during All-Star, follow #ThisIsYourTime and @tissot.us on Facebook and Instagram.