Born: March 25, 1943 (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Died: February 6, 2015 (Victoria, British Columbia)
Mike Gallo was a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Victoria, B.C., when a boy in his split Grade 6-7 class came out for basketball.
The boy, who had been born in South Africa, preferred soccer as a sport. “This was a new sport for Steve but it didn’t take long before he was playing at a level above his peers,” Gallo later wrote. “Steve took to basketball quickly, working hard on the fundamentals and his shooting skills. He would walk to school bouncing a tennis ball, first with the right hand, then with the left. The object of this exercise was not to stop his dribble until he reached school or home.”
Steve, of course, was Steve Nash. Gallo was his first basketball coach, a fun-loving instructor who watched from afar as his prodigy went on to a glorious career as Canada’s greatest basketball player of all time, including back-to-back most valuable player awards in the NBA.
Without giving up his daytime teaching job, Gallo became coach of the University of Victoria’s varsity women’s team in 1970. In his first season, the team won a national senior-A championship. (A national women’s university championship tournament was established after Gallo became coach.) He built the program into a championship contender over seven years of prowling the sideline.
His Vikettes teams went undefeated in Canada West league play his three final seasons as coach, only to be defeated in the semifinals of the national tournament.
“Those three years of going undefeated in league play only to finish third in the country almost killed me,” he once said.
He was replaced by Kathy Shields, whose teams went on to win eight national titles.
His time with the Vikettes was al the more remarkable for his fear of flying. He would leave Victoria a day early on Thursdays to ride the ferry to Vancouver to catch the train for weekend games in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Alta., and Saskatoon, Sask.
Gallo was the namesake son of a career naval man, whose 35-year career included Second World War service on convoy duty aboard HMCS Prince Robert, a steamship passenger liner converted into an auxiliary cruiser.
The younger Mike gallo graduated from Victoria (B.C.) High School, where he was a popular figure on students’ council and on the Totems basketball team. A 5-foot-7 guard, he was known as a floor quarterback and as a playmaker. After graduation, he played senior-A basketball in Victoria.
Nash always thanked Gallo for introducing him to basketball. The coach, who retired as vice-principal of Hillcrest Elementary in Victoria in 1997, was invited by the NBA star to serve as a coach at Steve Nash Foundation Charity Classic games in Vancouver.