Giannis Antetokounmpo made history last night, delivering the Milwaukee Bucks their first NBA title in half a century, completing a remarkable journey that began in the rough streets of an Athens neighborhood.
If this story were a book, it would no doubt, be in the “fantasy” section of Amazon. If a Hollywood studio had produced it, the film would have been listed as science fiction.
But once in a lifetime, the stuff of dreams do become reality and the scrawny Greek-born son of Nigerian immigrants in Greece who spent his childhood hawking sunglasses, handbags, DVDs and CDs to tourists on the street, is on top of the world.
To think of the journey is mind-boggling.
He spent his adolescence peddling on the street so he could support his family. He didn’t even touch a basketball until he was 13 years old.
When he was 15 years old, he wasn’t even amongst the top 10 or so players at his school. At 18 he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th selection in the first round.
But even after his draft pick, it still wasn’t clear that he could go to the United States to play. Laws in Greece prevent children of foreign born immigrants to obtain a passport.
Add to his struggle the systemic and societal racism that exists in the country that places roadblock after roadblock on people struggling to integrate fully into Greek society, not to mention outright racism from certain media and government circles that could have easily led to a dreamer like Giannis to become demoralized and give up on his dreams.
Even though Giannis was born in Greece— his Nigerian parents disqualified him from equal rights with other Greek kids that he shot hoops with in the courts of Sepolia while he was growing up.
Without legal status, every day activities like registering for school or finding a job were complicated, if impossible.
In addition to the open and blatant racism that he experienced on the streets, in the media and in Greek society in general, there were laws on the books preventing him from even obtaining Greek citizenship.
Greek law prevented hundreds of thousands of these Greek-born kids whose parents emigrated to Greece to work to obtain legal status in the country, forcing them to live in a sort of “no-man’s land” of existence.
But throughout this journey, one thing drove Giannis from the dredges of Greek society to the top of the world— his character.
Congratulations Giannis. I think it’s safe to say you’re the most famous Greek in the world and you represent the country with pride and dignity, on every corner of the planet.
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