Milwaukee Bucks power forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo has revealed poverty pushed him to take up a career in basketball.
“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. But I never thought I’m going to be 26 years old, with my team playing the NBA Finals.
“Just playing — like, I was just happy just being like not even winning, just being a part of this, of this journey. But I never thought I would be sitting here with this right here and this right here (the championship and MVP trophies.) We’ve come a long way,” he said.
Antetokounmpo further advised all the people who looked up to him as role model to believe in their dreams while expressing his joy at winning his first NBA title.
“I represent my country, both countries, Nigeria and Greece. A lot of kids from there. But not just from Nigeria; all Africa and all Europe. 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 think it’s going to happen for you or you might not make it in your career — might be basketball, might be anything — just believe on what you’re doing and keep working.
“Don’t let nobody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. People told me I cannot make free throws. I made my free throws tonight and I’m a freaking champion.
“I made them when I’m supposed to make them. I’m joking — actually, I’m not (laughter). Just believe, man. I hope I give people around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope that it can be done. It can be done.
“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.”
Antetokounmpo was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the series, becoming only the first player in NBA history with 50+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ blocks in a Finals game. He is also the first player ever to average 30/10/5 on 60 percent shooting in a Finals series.
Who is Giannis Antetokounmpo?
Giannis was born in Athens in 1994 to Nigerian parents Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo. His mother is from the Igbo ethnic group while his father was Yoruba.
In an interview with The Undefeated in 2019, Antetokounmpo – whose other names include Sina and Ugo – spoke about his upbringing in a Nigerian household in Greece and how it has shaped his life.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home,” he 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.”
Giannis’ parents immigrated to Greece from the West African nation in 1991. His father, unfortunately, passed away in 2017. Following Tuesday’s victory, Giannis dedicated his milestone achievement to his parents.
“This is for my mom,” he said while holding back tears. “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 my dad. He’s watching from above, and he can see it.”
Giannis isn’t the only person in his family with an NBA championship ring. He is teammates with his 29-year-old brother Thanasis – so that means he also won the championship with the Bucks. Their 23-year-old brother, Kostas, also won the championship with the Los Angeles Lakers last year.
Though Giannis is yet to visit his parents’ home country of Nigeria, he has expressed his desire to go there soon. “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,” he told The Undefeated.
“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.”
Together with his brother Thanasis, Giannis used to hawk on the streets of Athens selling watches, bags and sunglasses to supports their parents as they faced difficulties finding work as immigrants in the European nation.