The life of an NBA rookie such as Giannis Antetokounmpo has its challenges.
Sure, suddenly he’s the rookie with some buzz after showing flashes of his seemingly limitless potential while getting a little run with the Bucks this preseason; but come the regular season he will spend a lot of time on the bench behind Caron Butler, Khris Middleton and eventually Carlos Delfino at the three (although the Bucks GM says they want to expose him more now). All that talent is not going to stop some hard lessons that will come on the court and some playful rookie hazing off it.
But compared his family’s life back in Greece — where his parents and their four children were Nigerian illegal immigrants — this is all the good life, Antetokounmpo told Jim Owczarski for a fantastic story at OnMilwaukeee.com.
The interest from NBA personnel departments helped the brothers earn spots on the Greek National Team. An issue had to be resolved, however. In order to travel they needed passports. To have a passport, they needed citizenship.
Giannis, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex (the four children) were all born in Greece, but as children of Nigerian immigrants they were never recognized as Greeks. Nothing was ever steady, certain. They faced evictions, moved from place to place. They had survived together as a family, the boys selling sunglasses, hats and bags on the street. (Mother) Veronica babysat, (Father) Charles worked as a handyman. Once Giannis and Thanasis picked up basketball, they shared the same shoes.
“For 20 years they were illegal,” he continued. “It’s very hard to live for 20 years without papers. Very, very hard. You have children and you have to go out and work without papers. At any moment, the cops can stop you and say come over here and let me send you back to your country. For me, my parents, they are heroes.”
Don’t miss out on the hypocrisy here — as soon as they found out Antetokounmpo could play ball suddenly the Greek nation that made them live in the shadows for two decades embraced the family like prodigal sons. They have met the prime minister and are treated like heroes. Like a lot of nations, when times get tough and unemployment rises some people seek scapegoats in people they don’t think belong.
“If Giannis was an Einstein or a scientist, he would not be getting Greek nationality because there are 100,000 kids, at least, with the same problem,” said (Spiros Velliniatis, the Greek basketball coach who introduced the teenager to the world). “Because basketball is the national sport here, those kids got to overcome the legal difficulties. The problems still stays for 100,000 kids trapped. It’s correct to say this because Giannis was the exception.”
When he was drafted and becoming a national hero in Greece, the head of one “nationalistic” party (to be kind) said Antetokounmpo shouldn’t be celebrated but arrested and deported. There are still people who feel about him that way at home (and Antetokounmpo still says Greece is home).
However, the Antetokounmpo family is living in Milwaukee now, no longer wondering where their next meal will come from. It’s a great story for them.