The Greek Freak: Giannis Ugo Antetokounmpo’s Journey to Basketball Stardom
BY JENNIFER IKWUEGBU
Giannis Ugo Antetokounmpo, born Giannis Ugo Adétòkunbọ̀, is a professional basketball player of Nigerian/Greek descent. He achieved fame as the star player for the Milwaukee Bucks, leading the team to an NBA championship in 2021, earning him the nickname “Greek Freak.”
Born on December 6, 1994, in Athens, Greece, Giannis hails from a family of five sons, with his father being a Nigerian immigrant. Growing up, the family faced economic hardships and the looming threat of deportation due to their immigration status, also following the Greek nationality “jus sanguinis” law which could not grant Giannis and his three Greek born brothers citizenship by birth.
It wasn’t until the age of 13, in 2007, that Giannis and three of his brothers, Thanasis, Kostas, and Alex, took up basketball. By 2009, he was playing for the Filathlitikos youth league team. In 2011, Antetokounmpo began playing with the senior men’s team of Filathlitikos in the semi-pro Greek B Basketball League. During the 2012-2013 season, he moved up to the Greek A2 League. His remarkable combination of height (eventually reaching 6 feet 11 inches [2.1 meters]) and speed attracted attention from NBA scouts.
In 2013, April 28, Giannis officially became eligible for the 2013 NBA Draft. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the 15th overall pick and made his NBA debut at just 18 years old.
His journey took an interesting twist when he gained Greek citizenship, allowing him to travel to the United States. To facilitate this, his family name was officially changed to the Greek transcription of Adétòkunbọ̀, spelled as Antetokounmpo on his Greek passport.
Due to the complexity of pronouncing his surname, he quickly became known as the “Greek Freak,” a nod to the Modern Greek variant of his name, Loannes (John). Notably, Giannis holds dual citizenship, embracing both his Greek and Nigerian identities after obtaining his Nigerian passport in 2015.
In his second season, Antetokounmpo ended up participating in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and helped lead the Bucks to a 41-41 season. In his third season, Antetokounmpo made a huge leap, recording his first career triple-double and his shooting numbers increased across the board. He became the first player in Milwaukee history to record more than three triple-doubles in a season.
Giannis’ career in the NBA progressed significantly, and he consistently made the All-Star team. In the 2018-2019 season, he earned the league MVP title and was named an All-Star captain in 2019 and 2020.
In June 2021, Giannis suffered a knee injury during a playoff game but made his return to help the Bucks secure their first NBA Finals appearance in 47 years. The Bucks ultimately won the championship in 2021.
His achievements and compelling journey were even commemorated in a documentary titled “RISE,” produced by Walt Disney Pictures and released as a Disney original film in June 2022.
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