PRINCETON, New Jersey — In December 2014, Giannis Antetokounmpo was taking a taxi to the Western Union for game day, when he stopped at an ATM to send money to his family in Athens, Greece. However, when he got back to the cab he realized he left no money for himself. With no other options, Antetokounmpo started to run the two miles to the arena so he would not miss the game until a driving couple recognized the rookie and offered him a ride.
This little moment in his career is a metaphor for his NBA journey. He overcame adversities as a Greek immigrant through dedication to the game of basketball and has since been making the most of his opportunities from others and giving back to his home.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was born in Athens in 1994, his life from the start had disadvantages. Both his parents were Nigerian immigrants who came to Greece in search of better work opportunities. However, the family never received recognition as Greek citizens.
Due to this, they had limited means of income and once they were able everyone in the family needed to contribute in order to survive financially. Antetokounmpo’s mother was a babysitter and his father was a handyman.
Giannis and his brothers helped make ends meet by selling goods on the streets. Growing up Antetokounmpo suffered from hunger due to a lack of food in the home and the family facing multiple evictions, Olympics.com reported.
Finding a Future
Antetokounmpo escaped from his impoverished and xenophobic surroundings through sports, such as football when he was younger. However, when Giannis was 13, one man took notice of his potential in a different sport which would change his life.
According to Olympics.com, in 2007, local basketball coach Spiros Velliniatis spoke with Antetokounmpo’s mother about him having a future in basketball and she agreed to let Giannis and his brothers play.
Six years later, Antetokounmpo grew so much as a player, both in size and skill, he was receiving worldwide attention from scouts and the Greek government granted him citizenship to make him fully available for the 2013 NBA Draft.
Taking a Gamble
Antetokounmpo’s new life began when Milwaukee Bucks drafted him with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. It was a risky pick at the time, however, the belief of Bucks general Manage John Hammond led to the selection.
Hammond banked on the upside of Antetokounmpo, being 6’11 with unusual speed and athleticism. Hammond spoke about Giannis saying “How are we going to get our next all-star? I don’t want to put that on this kid’s shoulders, but I think he has the skillset to become that if it all falls together for him,” Olympics.com reported.
Hammond did not know at the time he had drafted an almost decade-long franchise cornerstone.
His Career… So Far
In just nine seasons in the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo already has a resume that could be considered for the Hall of Fame. He is a six-time All-Star player, a four-time all-defensive player, a two-time league MVP, the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the NBA’s top 75 players anniversary team, one of the richest players in the league with a contract around almost $230 million and a 2021 NBA Champion and Finals MVP for beating the Pheonix Suns in six games.
He also uses his earnings and accomplishments to empower other underprivileged youth through his organization Antetokounbros Academy. This organization works with boys and girls between the ages of 12-16 and coaches between 18-25 to become better athletes and citizens through social programs and partnerships. It provides basketball training camps for 100 young athletes a year and educational mentorship programs to have better working opportunities.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s story is one of the most inspiring the NBA has ever seen. From a stateless greek immigrant with limited means, he dedicated himself to sports, took the opportunity of a coach who changed his life and reached many of the highs one can have in an NBA career. Now, he uses his experience to give back to those who were like him.
– Alex Havardansky