Τετάρτη, 26 Ιουνίου 2019

Giannis Antetokounmpo: from Nigeria & Greece, Most Valuable Player in MBA

Giannis Antetokounmpo delivers an emotional speech after winning the 2019 MVP Award following a stellar 2019 performance that led the Bucks to the NBA's best record. Watch highlights from Inside the NBA with Shaq, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson and more! (NBA on TNT)

Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been named the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Nicknamed the "Greek Freak", the 24-year-old Milwaukee Bucks player on Monday got 78 first-place votes, well ahead of the 23 received by fellow MVP finalist James Harden of the Houston Rockets. 
"Two, three years ago, I had the goal in my head, that goal [was] to be the best player in the league," a tearful Antetokounmpo said at the packed awards ceremony in Santa Monica, California.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to win and I'm going to win MVP. And every time I step on the floor, I think of my dad, and that motivates me to play harder and move forward when my body is sore," he said, referring to his late father whom he credits for his hard work ethic. 
Bucks General Manager John Horst said the recognition was the result of the player's hard work and dedication as well as his "grace on and off the court". 
Here are seven things to know about Antetokounmpo, the epitome of a rags-to-riches story.

1) He is of Nigerian descent

Antetokounmpo was born in Greece's capital, Athens, on December 6, 1994.
His parents, Veronica and Charles Antetokounmpo, immigrated to Greece after leaving Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, in the early 1990s.
Though proud of his Nigerian heritage, the 2.11-metre-tall player opted to play for his native Greece and made his debut for the national team in July 2013, at the FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship. 
A year later, he joined the senior team and went on to represent Greece at the EuroBasket 2015.

Antetokounmpo beat out James Harden of the Houston Rockets to take the coveted title [Michael Dwyer/AP]

2) He took Greek citizenship aged 18

Greek immigration laws are such that the children of immigrants cannot apply for citizenship until they turn 18.
Antetokounmpo's parents were undocumented migrants, which effectively meant that he could claim legal status in neither Greece nor his family's homeland, making him stateless.
All that began to change when he took up basketball at age 12. By the time he turned 16, it became apparent to local and national scouts that they were dealing with the country's next sports phenomenon.
"A dream came true. We are now officially Greek citizens, as we felt all these years," an elated Antetokounmpo said upon his naturalisation in 2013.

3) First Greek to win MVP

Antetokounmpo is the first Greek national to take the coveted honour. 
He was also the first Greek player to be selected for an NBA All-Star Game in 2017, garnering 1.6 million votes and coming in third after NBA superstars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, respectively. 
In January 2018, Antetokounmpo earned a starting position in the NBA All-Star Game for the second year in a row. 
Antetokounmpo was again selected as starter in 2019 and became team captain for the first time.

Antetokounmpo representing Greece in September 2015 [File: Darko Bandic/AP Photo]

4) He didn't have it easy

His MVP win on Monday capped Antetokounmpo's astounding rise to the top of the game. The NBA's best top player grew up in a tough neighbourhood of Athens, sharing a tiny flat with the other members of his poor family.
His immigrant parents found it difficult to secure steady jobs and getting by was a daily struggle.
In fact, only a few years before he was selected by the Bucks as the 15th pick of 2013 NBA draft, the "Greek Freak" and his brother, Thanasis, could be seen in the streets of Athens hawking various products such as watches, hats and DVDs to help their family make ends meet.
"It was tough. We didn't have a lot of money. But we had a lot of happiness. So we wasn't broke happiness-wise. When we were struggling back in the day, we were all together in one room, same room. We were having fun. We were smiling," he told 60 Minutes last year.

5) His nickname isn't an insult

His versatility is what earned him his nickname.
Whether it's supporters, sports commentators or journalists, Antetokounmpo's ability to be - or appear to be - everywhere in the court at all-time didn't go unnoticed. Being able to play every position - from point guard to centre - he has been consistently leading the Bucks in points, rebounds and assist.
Indeed, despite averaging 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, Antetokounmpo was also finalist for defensive player of the year, which he ultimately lost out to Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert.
Scoring-wise, his career-high so far was recorded in a match against the Philadelphia 76ers in March, logging a staggering 52 points.
Six years after making his NBA debut, Antetokounmpo in May led the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals, which they lost to subsequent champions Toronto Raptors.

6) There's (potentially) more like him 

Antetokounmpo isn't the only one in the family to have taken up the sport.
His older brother, 26-year-old Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 26, plays for Greek champions, Panathinaikos, while Kostas, 21, made his NBA debut with the Dallas Mavericks in March.
Their youngest brother, Alexandros, whom Giannis has described as possibly the best among them, also looks set to follow in the elder Antetokounmpos' footsteps. 
The eldest of the boys, 31-year-old Francis, is the only of the Antetokounmpo brothers to have been born in Nigeria.
"I want to thank my amazing brothers," Antetokounmpo said during his MVP-acceptance speech, tears running down his face. "I love you guys."

7) Speaking up against racism 

In late 2018, Antetokounpo didn't hesitate to hit back after a presenter of a Greek TV show used a racial slur to describe his older brother, Thanasis.
He took to Instagram to denounce the incident and reiterate his pride in being a Greek-Nigerian. 
"My brothers and I are Greek-Nigerian." he wrote. "If anybody doesn't like it, that's their problem." 

‘The Greek Freak’ wants to go back to his Nigerian roots
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo opens up about his African upbringing

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he is not just “The Greek Freak.” Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images


“The Greek Freak” can’t wait to go learn more about his roots.
His roots in Lagos, Nigeria.
“Obviously, a lot of people don’t know where I’m from,” Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo told The Undefeated. “A lot of people think my mom or my dad are from Greece, but no. Both of my parents are black. Both of my parents are Nigerian.”
Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo moved from Lagos to Greece in 1991 in hopes of a better future for themselves and their family after struggling to find employment. The Adetokunbos’ eldest son, Francis, was left behind in Lagos to be raised by his grandparents. Charles Adetokunbo worked as a handyman and wife Veronica as a baby sitter in their struggle to make ends meet for their family, which was the only black one in the area, according to The New York Times. The Adetokunbos had four more sons, all born in Greece, including Giannis on Dec. 6, 1994. (Antetokounmpo became Giannis’ surname after it was spelled that way on his Greek passport instead of his birth name of Adetokunbo.)
Antetokounmpo grew up in Greek culture learning the language, going to school and eventually starting to play basketball at age 7. But when he was home with his family, he learned and lived the Nigerian way.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, I was born in Greece and went to school in Greece. But at the end of the day when I go home, there is no Greek culture. It’s straight-up Nigerian culture. It’s about discipline, it’s about respecting your elders, having morals.”
Veronica Adetokunbo spoke to her sons in the Nigerian language of Igbo, which is one of the four official Nigerian languages and is spoken by about 18 million people in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, according to several websites.
“I can understand it a little bit. I can count. It’s not like I’m fluent,” Antetokounmpo said of Igbo. “It’s not like I can go back home to Nigeria and they can understand what I am saying. It’s kind of funny.
“Both my parents are from Nigeria. But Nigeria is like 250 dialects, so my mom and my dad don’t speak the same language.”
Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who is arguably the greatest international basketball player of all time and one of the greatest NBA players, also has a Nigerian connection with Antetokounmpo. Olajuwon told The Undefeated that he and Antetokounmpo are Yoruba.
“I know from his last name that we are from the same tribe, the Yoruba tribe. His last name, which in Yoruba is spelled Adetokunbo, means ‘the crown has returned from overseas,’ ” Olajuwon said.
With the Bucks owning the best record in the NBA, Antetokounmpo appears to be the front-runner for the 2019 NBA MVP award, competing against the likes of the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.1 points, 12.6 rebounds and six assists and led the Eastern Conference in All-Star votes.
“I’m sure Nigerians are very proud of him, especially because of the way he has conducted himself and how he is dominating the league,” Olajuwon said. “He has accomplished a great deal in such a short period of time.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo visited South Africa as part of Basketball Without Borders in 2015.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Antetokounmpo wasn’t projected to be a superstar when he was selected 15th overall in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft by the Bucks. But former Warriors center Festus Ezeli, also a native of Nigeria, believed Antetokounmpo would be special after seeing him score a game-high 22 points for Team Africa in the first Africa Game in Johannesburg, on Aug. 1, 2015. The exhibition was Antetokounmpo’s first trip to Africa.
“Oh, my God, he took over for Team Africa in South Africa,” Ezeli said. “We were talking about it on the bench, ‘This kid right here. …’ I was thinking, ‘Yo, this kid is really special.’ Just the ease of how he did things and the way he was getting to the cup, the athleticism was there. And in a friendly game in Africa, the competitiveness and edge were there.”
Olajuwon also spent time with Antetokounmpo on the trip and said he enjoyed meeting his family.
“It is always good to trace back your roots,” Olajuwon said.
Antetokounmpo hasn’t traced his roots in person yet but says he hopes to visit Nigeria either this summer or next summer. He said he nearly went to Nigeria last summer, but “my mom said, ‘No, don’t go, because everyone is going to be on top of you.’ ”
Sadly, his father died at the age of 54 after a heart attack in 2017.
“I want to see where my family comes from, where my mom was raised, see my family, see where my dad was raised. That is very important. I hope my kids can do the same thing for me,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, I am going to have kids that are going to grow up in the U.S., but one day I hope they can go back [to Greece] and visit and see where I grew up, the playground I was playing.”
Antetokounmpo said he also got his Nigerian passport in 2015.
When asked why he acquired a Nigerian passport, Antetokounmpo answered, “It’s important. It’s part of who I am. Both of my parents are Nigerian. They wanted me to get it. I wanted to have it, so I got it.”
“The Greek Freak” said during the recent NBA All-Star Weekend that he loves his nickname and it’s “a part of who I am right now.” But he also told The Undefeated that he is much more than just “The Greek Freak” by strongly stating he is also a proud African.
“There are a lot of people that I see and I tell them that I am African. I am not just ‘The Greek Freak,’ ” Antetokounmpo said.
“It doesn’t matter what people may believe because of my nickname. There were a lot of times when I was in Greece where people said, ‘You’re not Greek. You’re Nigerian because you’re black.’ But then there have been a lot of times where it’s been the opposite, where people say, ‘You’re not African. You’re Greek. You’re ‘The Greek Freak.’ ’ But I don’t really care about that. Deep down, I know who I am and where I am from. That’s all that matters to me.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is an Orthodox Christian

Giannis Antetokounmpo, picked by NBA team Milwaukee Bucks, received by PM Samaras (2013)
Prime Minister of Greece Antonis Samaras, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family with the holy icon of Theotokos "Axion esti". Photo from here.

Prime Minister [of Greece] Antonis Samaras received international basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family at Maximos Mansion, government headquarters, on Tuesday in the presence of Culture Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos and Minister of Sports Yiannis Andrianos. Addressing the young basketball player, selected a few days ago by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 15 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the prime minister thanked him for honoring Greece and underlined that he has become a role model for many, noting that all Greeks have witnessed how much he struggled since he was a child to help his siblings.
The prime minister wished him success saying characteristically, “I wish you to make America go crazy over your slam dunks”.
He thanked him for a cap the young basketball player gave him as a present and told him that the Greek people will be watching his career abroad. He thanked him for holding the Greek flag with his brother when the draft results were announced and presented him with the “Axion Esti” icon.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Antetokounmpo said that the prime minister was “friendly” and a “basketball fan”.
“He knew about basketball. He is a very cool guy,” he said, adding that after the prime minister thanked him in a very emotional moment, he wanted to know about the school he attended and where he grew up before wishing him health and a bright future.
“He will come to America to watch me play,” Antetokounmpo said, and referring to his future in basketball he said that he has set many goals.
He displayed the icon the prime minister had given him as a gift and said that his present to him was a cap with his signature. He also said that he had spoken with the prime minister's son, who is “also a basketball fan”. 

Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo become godfathers

Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo become for the first time godfathers according to the Greek-Orthodox tradition [our note: no "Greek-Orthodox" but simply Orthodox].

By Eurohoops team/ info@eurohoops.net

The two elder Antetokounmpo brothers, Giannis and Thanasis, become godfathers of the young Nikolaos, the son of their close friend and Giannis’ agent Giorgos Panou.
According to the Greek-Orthodox religion, godfather is the person who sponsors a child’s baptism and ”receives in his arms” the newly baptized infant. After the ceremony, the child becomes the godchild. 

It’s an experience that many Greeks have and the two brothers got it today for the first time.

See also

Orthodox Nigeria
About the Icon and Hymn of Theotokos "Axion Estin"


Orthodox Churches in Nigeria – A result of spiritual searches of the Nigerians themselves!...
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
In Search of Orthodoxy
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?
Momentous statements by the Metropolitan Alexander of Nigeria, in the cadre of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church

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