Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion and his journey to the top might just be the most epic in the history of basketball.
Born in Greece to Nigerian parents in 1994, he worked as a street seller in Athens as a kid to help his parents make ends meet.
Now, he has won an NBA Finals MVP, becoming the first player since Bob Pettit over 60 years ago to score 50 points in an NBA Finals closeout game.
The talented two-time MVP spoke at length about the struggles he and his family endured in Greece, with his family who migrated there, often lacking proper paperwork to receive help.
He and his brothers Francis, Thanasis, Alex and Kostas would sell trinkets on the street to help the family survive.
He began to play the game of basketball in 2007 and caught the attention of scouts with his performances in the Zografou Indoor Basketball Hall locate right outside of Athens. He walked 2.5 miles each way daily to participate.
His talent drew some interest from Willy Vallar, the Real Zaragoza sporting director. In 2012, he signed Giannis to a four-year contract with the Spanish club CAI Zaragoza.
Antetokounmpo quickly improved and shot up draft boards ahead of the 2013 NBA Draft, eventually being selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
They considered lending him back to Real Zaragoza, but instead kept him and made him one of the youngest NBA players ever at the age of 18.
Giannis showed promise as a rookie and in 2017 he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, which was followed up by back-to-back MVP Awards (2019 and 2020) and a Defensive Player of the Award (2020).
Now in his eighth year, and not running to join a super team in a bigger market, he has won the NBA Championship and was also named NBA Finals MVP.
He reminded us of that in his postgame presser and interviews.
“We might never win another one. It's fine. We did it. We did what we're supposed to do. And I’d rather do it this way — win one this way than go somewhere else in a super team and win two or three.” @SportsCenter conversation with Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo: pic.twitter.com/6z5U7IyydH
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) July 21, 2021
Led by Giannis, this Bucks team showed resiliency and a belief in whatever head coach Mike Budenholzer was selling. They trailed multiple series (0-2) and had enough resolve and mental toughness to get off the mat and win it all for the first time in 50 years.
After winning the title on Tuesday night Giannis was asked about his love for Greece and Nigeria and here’s what he had to say.
“I represent both of my countries, Nigeria and Greece, and a lot of kids from there.”
“For the whole of Africa and Europe. I know that I’m a role model.
“This should make everybody believe in their dreams. When things look down and you might not make it in your career, albeit basketball or anything, just believe in what you’re doing and keep working. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what can’t be or can’t do.”