A Peek at the Greek Freak


Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Antetokounmpo family immigrated to Greece from Nigeria in search of a better life in 1991. Giannis was born three years later in Athens. He was one of five brothers – a family of seven – sharing a small apartment. The boys did whatever they could to help their parents.

Giannis spent most days standing on a busy street in Athens selling sunglasses, watches and CDs to tourists. His brothers did, too. On a good day, they pooled their money for dinner. On a bad day, they didn’t eat.

Hungry or full, Giannis ended most days by reading about LeBron James, watching videos and dreaming of the NBA. He was only nine years old when LeBron entered the league and became his favorite player. Tonight, the journey of that nine-year-old kid comes full circle.

Although Giannis is the middle of the five brothers, he was the first to blaze a path to the NBA and open a door for the entire Antetokounmpo family.

In 2012 – just 17 years old – he was playing ball in Greece’s secondary pro league for very little money, but his height, wingspan and athleticism began to grab the attention of NBA scouts. At 18 years old, the Milwaukee Bucks took him with the 15th overall pick. He was seen as a long-term project that might never develop. They said his high-end potential would liken that of Nicolas Batum or Lamar Odom. Yikes. Half of the league passed on Giannis.

When Giannis moved to Milwaukee in 2013, his family came with him. Not many NBA rookies live with their parents, but Giannis puts family over everything.

NBA teams quickly realized there were more Antetokounmpos who played ball. Thanasis (26) and Kostas (21) were both drafted after Giannis’ ascension into stardom. And then there’s the 16-year-old, Alex, who the four older brothers say is the best of the bunch, even better than Giannis was at 16. He’s currently fielding Division I offers as a sophomore.

After Giannis’ game exploded in his third NBA season (2016), the Bucks wisely signed him to a four-year, $100 million contract extension – a far cry from selling sunglasses for food.

Shortly after the deal that changed his life, his father died of a heart attack in his Milwaukee home. With the other brothers playing basketball elsewhere in the world, Giannis takes care of his mother and Alex in Milwaukee. He’s family first, and basketball, second. You won’t see him request a trade, and you’ll probably never see him in anything but a Bucks uniform because of that first word; family.

“The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft. They got me in the NBA, kept me on the team with a role from my very first season, and they are my basketball family… I can see the love from people in Milwaukee. I can see that the city wants me to be there for a long time.”

Seven years separated a Greek street vendor from an NBA superstar. Now, Giannis has the Bucks atop the Eastern Conference, he’s in the running for MVP, and tonight he’ll be the chooser of all-stars opposite LeBron James, the greatest player on the planet and his childhood hero.

Instead of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant or James Harden, expect Giannis to reach for his Milwaukee teammate Khris Middleton with the first pick, because... you know, family.

Justin Tangfebruary2019