Rising to the top of the sports world and winning a professional championship is a near-impossible feat on it’s own. Having you and your brothers do it in back-to-back years after growing up “selling stuff in the street” in order to secure the next meal seems incomprehensible. But that’s exactly what the Antetokounmpo brothers just did with Giannis winning the NBA Finals and Finals MVP last night for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Antetokounmpo’s parents left Nigeria in 1992 fleeing unrest and settled into a suburb outside of Athens, Greece. They weren’t ever recognized by Greek authorities as citizens as they worked different jobs for 21 years to try and make ends meet. They gave birth to four children in Greece, (Thanasis, Giannis, Costas, Alex) and gave them Greek names in order to try and help assimilate them into Greek society. Unlike the U.S., being born in Greece does not guarantee citizenship.
Thanasis and Giannis began to play basketball in order to try and help their family escape poverty.
Winning for his mom and dad
“I started playing basketball just to help my family. Tried to get them out of the struggle, the challenges we were facing when we were kids,” Giannis told reporters after his Finals win.
Giannis wasn’t granted Greek citizenship until he was 18. He and his brothers would sometimes sleep in the gym where they practiced together.
“This is for my mom,” he said. “She works extremely hard every day for me to be in this position, and she never pressured me to do other things. This is for me dad. He’s watching from above, and he can see it. This is for my significant other. Every day, she helps me be a better person. She lets me do what I’m supposed to do. She takes care of my son. And for my brothers.” Giannis said, fighting off tears at the post-game podium.
A family of champions
Last season, Costas Antetokounmpo won the family’s first NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers which Giannis said did make the family dinner table a little awkward. Giannis’ older brother plays on the Milwaukee Bucks with him, but because of COVID-19 safety protocols was forced to miss the second half of the NBA Finals.
“Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn’t know where my next meal will come from. My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I’m here sitting at the top of the top. I’m extremely blessed. I’m extremely blessed. If I never have a chance to sit on this table ever again, I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams,” Giannis.
“I know I’m a role model. But this should make every person, every kid, anybody around the world believe in their dreams. No matter whatever you feel when you’re down, when you don’t thinks it’s going to happen for you or you might not make it in your career — might be basketball, might be anything — just believe in what you’re doing and keep working,” he added.