New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis landed in Athens and headed to the Acropolis Museum— toured by none other than fellow NBA hoopsters Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
Porzingis was invited by the pair to take part in the “Antetokounbros Streetball Event”, which is organized by Eurohoops and the city of Athens, that encourages basketball playing amongst the kids of Greece.
Giannis Antetokounmpo plays for the the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s something of a legend to thousands of fellow Greek kids who were born and raised in the rough neighborhoods of Athens— far from the soccer pitches that many European kids spend time playing on and opting instead for basketball as their sport of choice.
The son of immigrants from Nigeria, Antetokounmpo was born in Athens and raised in Greek schools, speaking nothing but Greek.
For most of his life, he was, literally, a man without a country. Greek law prohibited non-Greek born children of immigrants in the country to become naturalized as Greek citizens, leaving Antetokounmpo— like thousands of others— in limbo.
This prevented him from playing on Greece’s national team and even from traveling abroad. The matter came to a heated close when he was mentioned as a top draft pick in the NBA draft in 2013.
Giannis was stuck in Greek red tape and archaic— some would call anti-foreigner— laws.
But some heavy politicking and lobbying by the Greek Basketball Federation got Giannis’ (and his brother’s) case accelerated and he was granted Greek citizenship right before he was set to travel to New York City for the draft. He was the #15 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks that year.
When his name was announced, his brother waved the Greek flag proudly.
“A dream came true. We are now officially Greek citizens, as we felt all these years,” said the brothers in a joint statement at the time.
But their dream wasn’t the dream of some neo-fascist racists in Greece who attacked the players and then prime minister Antonis Samaras.
“We are proud to see you in the NBA,” he said. “We have to thank you for raising the Greek flag during the draft. We all hope that you will make them go crazy with your dunks.”
Nikos Michaloilakos, head of Greece’s far right wing Neo Nazi party lashed out at Giannis and the Greek prime minister, calling the 6-foot-9 player a “chimpanzee” in a television interview.
Samaras issued an angry response.
“Giannis didn’t become Greek in ‘papers.’ He fought for it. He went to school. He learned to speak Greek better than many people. Nobody asked him to do it, but he was baptized as an Orthodox Christian. He started from the playgrounds of Athens to find himself in the NBA. He choose to be Greek. He fought for it and he deserves it. He is one of us. He makes us all proud. He is more Greek than those who talk bad about him because of the color of his skin and then burn our flag. Those people disgrace our country,” Samaras said in reference to Greece’s Neo Nazis.
The American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA)– an organization founded by Greek Americans as a direct response to racism against them in the 1920s– responded accordingly at the time.
The AHEPA released a statement from then president John Grossomanides which said: “We strongly condemn the racial slur directed toward Mr. Antetokounmpo by Golden Dawn’s leader. Simply stated, it is unacceptable. We applaud the Hellenic Basketball Federation for strongly condemning the remark, and we join with the federation in condemning the racial slur in the strongest terms. We wish Mr. Antetokounmpo the best in the pursuit of his NBA dream.”
Reporting from Eurohoops.net with additional reporting from nba.com