By Alexander Gordon
After the first 12 days of all-star voting a 23 year old from Greece playing in the quintessential small market of Milwaukee Wisconsin was leading the entirety of the NBA in fan voting. Since then the numbers have equalized, and Lebron James and Stephen Curry find themselves back at the top where one would expect them to be, however even with the handicap of spelling his name correctly (one voter managed to spell his name ‘Antetoukomounkiosmoinmpounmpo’), he almost overtook Ja,es, and rivaled Curry for the most popular jersy in the NBA store. What makes this so interesting, especially when juxtaposed with Curry, is that Giannis looks nothing like the rest of us.
Generally the reason given for Curry’s popularity is that he appears to be a relatively regular guy. He gives all the 5’10 shooters at the gym hope. With “average” athleticism (Curry can deadlift 400 pounds) a quick trigger and some bizzare coordination drills, you too can be an NBA champion. Nobody looks a Giannis and says “oh yeah, that’s me,” yet for some reason, his awe inspiring length transcends relatability. You cannot help but be stunned when watching him. If Curry is the self made NBA superstar, Giannis is the tailor made one. Part of this certainly comes from his wide smile and charm: recently, when asked if he thought he could play american football, he responded by saying “oh yeah, I would be a great pitcher.” But we very well could be missing out on the Antetokounmpo experience if not for an act of the basketball gods.
Giannis and his three brothers grew up in Greece as the children of immigrants Charales and Veronica Antetokounmpo. Originally from Nigeria, they were something of social outcasts. Forced to pedal toys and clothes to tourists whenever they could. The children were generally the only ones at the table, as the parents could quickly be deported if caught. His father, recently deceased from a heart attack, suffered from degenerative health, and at times his mother could not put up with the stress of trying to raise four rapidly growing boys on spotty and unsure income. She would fall ill, and the boys would would be forced to fend for themselves until she recovered.
Through all this she insisted they focus on their schooling as a way to escape the slums they resided in, but stubbornly, the brothers gambled their limited freetime on basketball. Inspired by his older brother Thianis, and much to the chagrin of his father, a former professional nigerian footballer, Giannis was able to find a way onto a Greek “ A2” league team. This was where Buck’s GM John Hammond first saw him, tipped off because Antetokounmpo had just agreed to a contract with a larger spanish pro team.
They didn’t expect him to explode onto the scene this quickly, but he saw a player with solid court sense, a decent handle, and an other worldly body. The Buck’s bought him out, and took him 15th overall in the 2013 draft. Nobody expected Giannis to be an exhilarating success, and especially not this soon. But we’ve been blessed, because as the fates would have it, Giannis Antetokounmpo found his way to America to play basketball.
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