Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Greek teenager who plays in the NBA. He’s one of its rising stars and has been embraced by his new team and by most of his fellow Greeks, here and in America (apart from the usual suspects at Golden Dawn). I thought it was about time we heard some immigrant success stories (of which there are thousands) rather than the usual negativity spouted by the Greek media.
Some of the best NBA players only need to go by their first name — LeBron and Kobe come to mind. In Milwaukee, the Bucks and the community have Giannis. The teenager from Greece has been embraced here, and never more so than over this past weekend.
When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted then 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in last June’s NBA Draft, they were banking on his amazing God-given talent to allow him to grow into an outstanding player.
Giannis grew alright — literally and figuratively — from 6’9? to over 6’10?.
Although he displayed the inconsistency of a teenager from Greece who’d never faced the best players in the world night in and night out, he showed flashes of brilliance.
In the process, Antetokounmpo fell in love with Milwaukee and the community fell in love with him.
“It makes my heart feel great. They are real nice, and I love the city and I love the people of Milwaukee because they really respect you, and I respect them too. I’m glad they like me as a person, and I hope in the future they like me as a player too,” Antetokounmpo said.
Praised for his work ethic and for being a quick study when it comes to the nuances of the game, Giannis has been practicing in the gym to get better since his rookie season ended.
Before that, he returned to his native Greece something of a celebrity after his year in the States and in a Bucks uniform.
“It was a lot different. A lot of people there knew us — me and my brother Thanasis. So it’s nice to go back and people — the Greek people recognize you. It is a little bit annoying because a lot of people stop you, but it is okay,” Antetokounmpo said.
A year ago, Antetokounmpo had never been to America. He barely knew the English language.
A lot has changed since then — fame and fortune, but Giannis says he hasn’t changed.
“I’ve stayed the same person. You know, I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m just having fun. Playing in the NBA was a dream for me, you know, so I’m just going to continue playing and have fun,” Antetokounmpo said.
On Saturday night, June 14th, Giannis and his family were having fun as guests at the Saints Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church’s Greek Festival.
“It feels really nice speaking Greek, you know, for a little bit, because it was a long time since I’ve spoken Greek the last time, so it is nice coming here — and having some Greek food too,” Antetokounmpo said.
At the age of 19, Giannis is still a kid at heart, so his parents love and guidance means everything to him.
“They help me a lot because they are not going to lie to me. They will always tell me the truth even when I am wrong, so it is nice to have your family on your side, because it is tough, and when I came here I was 18, so it was real tough to be alone here, and I’m glad that I have my family here so they can make me stay grounded and give me the right advice,” Antetokounmpo said.
When Veronica and Charles Antetokounmpo came to Milwaukee with the family to be reunited with their son, he wasn’t lonely anymore, and they became celebrities at Bucks games in their own right.
Like Giannis, they are grateful to be part of the Bucks family and the community.
“I am grateful to everybody, everybody,” Charles Antetokounmpo said.