On Wednesday night, 26-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks became NBA champions. For the team, it was their first triumph in 50 years. For Antetokounmpo, the coronation of an ash-laden history the sports world has hardly seen before. From street vendor and stateless to one of basketball’s biggest stars and now an NBA champion.
– This should make all people, every single young person, everyone around the world believe in their dreams. Just believe in what you have done, keep working. Do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, said a touched Antetokounmpo at the press conference after the triumph.
Antetokounmpo was the final player of the finals, and was named the Finals MVP (most valuable player, journ.anm.), After averaging 35.2 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in the six finals.
In tonight’s decisive match, he had 50 points and 13 rebounds, a performance that is compared to the best performance in such a match ever.
– If it is not the best, it is all the way up there with Magic Johnson in 1980, Bob Pettit in the 60s and Jordan in 1998 when Pippen was injured, to highlight some. What he does tonight is exceptional. There are many of the teammates who have played well until now, who did not have a particularly good match, but he just lifted them forward, says commentator and NBA expert Arnstein Friling.
The Greek Freak
Antetokounmpo has been noticed since the beginning of his career due to his very special physique. When he made his NBA debut as an 18-year-old, his huge hands were quickly noticed.
The hands, which should measure 12 inches, about 30 centimeters, are larger than a milk chocolate bar.
With the abnormal hands and a wingspan of over 220 centimeters, as well as physique to be able to knock with only a dribble from midfield, as well as a surname most Americans struggle with, he was nicknamed “The Greek Freak”, the Greek freak.
The nickname has remained and Antetokounmpo is today one of the league’s most popular players.
After joining the NBA in 2013, the career arrow has only pointed one way for the 26-year-old. Every year he got better and better. In 2017, he won the award as the league’s most improved player and received praise from legend teams.
– He’s going to be an MVP, a champion. This guy’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. “I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day,” said Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
The prophecy was to be fulfilled. In both 2019 and 2020, Giannis was named MVP, the league’s most valuable player. The Bucks were the best team in the base game in the NBA, but struggled in the playoffs and smoked in the second round both seasons.
That meant criticism for Giannis. The critics thought he knelt down when the pressure became great and that he had to leave the Bucks if he was to have a chance to win. Instead, he chose to remain loyal to the Bucks.
– When I returned, I thought: This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us. I wanted to achieve this. I am stubborn. It’s easy to go somewhere else and win a championship with someone else. I could go to a super team and do my part and win a title. But this is the difficult way to do it. This is the way to do it. And we did. We did it damn well, said Antetokounmpo and hit the table to emphasize his point.
Now he has a track record that only Michael Jordan can match. Twice the league’s most valuable, best defender, MVP in the final. It at the age of only 26 years.
Antetokounmpo really wanted to be a football player, but when he grew up he was discovered by a local basketball team. At the age of 12, he started playing basketball. He himself had never thought it would end like this.
– No never. I started playing basketball, just to help my family. Tried to get them out of the toil, the challenges we faced when we were kids. But I never thought that as a 26-year-old I would play in the NBA Finals. Just playing, I was happy, not even winning, just being a part of it. I never thought I would sit here with these two. It has been a long journey, said Antetokounmpo as he sat at the press conference with the two trophies.
Not only is he a good basketball player, also as a person Antetokounmpo gets good shots.
– Giannis is apparently a type that is incredibly well-liked, among absolutely everyone. I’ve never seen anything else. He is relatively humble that he has to work all the time and that is what makes him special. He really has no ego. He is only concerned with being as good a player and teammate as possible, says Friling.
From street vendor to NBA star
The road to the huge show has been anything but easy for the Greek. The family moved to Greece from Lagos in Nigeria to have a better life. While big brother Francis remained with his grandparents, Giannis was the first of five brothers born in Greece.
In one of Athens’ toughest areas, he had to earn a living from the family. As a young boy, he ran with his brothers around the streets of Athens, selling stolen or counterfeit goods so that the family could get food on the table.
The boy grew big and was discovered by a local basketball team. It was the rescue for Antetokounmpo and the family. The Filathlitikos club, which played in the Greek second division, gave Giannis the chance and provided his mother with work and helped them financially several times.
The physical potential of Antetokounmpo was unique, creating interest outside Greece. NBA teams went to small gyms in Greece to take a look at the then 17-year-old player. The potential was sky high, but the youngster was fresh and played at a low level. When the Bucks chose Antetokounmpo as number 15 in the 2013 draft, the youngster was almost 206 centimeters tall. One year later, Antetokounmpo had grown to almost 211 centimeters.
Just a few months before he was drafted, Antetokoumpo had been granted Greek citizenship, after eighteen years in the country as a stateless person.
Antetokounmpo moved to the Midwest and called Milwaukee in 2013. Without the family in place, the Greek sent as much money as he could home to Athens every time he got the opportunity. Once early in the season, Antetokounmpo had sent home so much money that he could not afford a taxi ride to the Bucks home arena after the bank visit. The two-meter-tall Greek ran down the street through Milwaukee to reach his home game, before a couple of fans spotted him and asked if he needed a ride, Sports Illustrated journalist Chris Mannix said in 2014.
The family soon moved in and the Antetoukounmpos have settled in Wisconsin. Little brother Thanasis also plays for the Bucks, while another brother Kostas was on the team when the Lakers won the title last season.
From a hinged teenager with untapped potential, Giannis has become an international superstar with a physique unlike any other basketball player. Back in 2014, he promised Bucks fans that he would stay until the team fought for trophies again.
Fifty years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the team their first NBA title, the Bucks have a new superstar who led them to the title.
After many years of hard work, the mother Veronica saw her son achieve the greatest possible on the basketball court.
– This victory is for my mother. She has worked insanely hard every single day for me to be in this position and she never pressured me to do other things, said a tearful Antetokounmpo.
He also thanked his father, girlfriend and brothers.
– I can be stubborn sometimes. I can disconnect from around the world because I want this so badly. I did it, and that’s why I’m so emotional. But many helped me get here. I did not do this alone. Every single day, people helped me. I want to thank them all, Antetokounmpo concluded.