Antetokounmpo, one of the greatest European players of all time

Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpois a Greek-Nigerian professional basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Antetokounmpo’s country of origin, in addition to his size, speed, strength, and ball-handling skills have earned him the nickname “Greek Freak”. Antetokounmpo is widely regarded as one of the greatest power forwards and one of the greatest European players of all time. 

BACKGROUND

Born and raised in Athens to Nigerian parents, Antetokounmpo began playing basketball for the youth teams of Filathlitikos in Athens. In 2011, he began playing for the club’s senior team before entering the 2013 NBA draft, where he was selected 15th overall by the Bucks. 

In 2016–17 he led the Bucks in all five major statistical categories and became the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in all five statistics of total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.[7] He received the Most Improved Player award in 2017. Antetokounmpo has received seven All-Star selections, including being selected as an All-Star captain in 2019, 2020 and 2023 as he led the Eastern Conference in voting in these three years. 

One of the most decorated players in NBA history,[8] Antetokounmpo won consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in 2019 and 2020, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to win two MVPs before turning 26. Along with his MVP award, he was also named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, becoming only the third player after Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) to win both awards in the same season. 

In 2021, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA championship since 1971 and was named Finals MVP.[9] The same year, he was honored as one of the league’s greatest players of all-time by being named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. 

The film Rise, based on the life of Antetokounmpo and his family, was released in 2022. 

Giannis Sina Ugo Adétòkunbọ̀ was born in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 1994, the son of immigrants from Nigeria. His father had been a soccer player in Nigeria, while his mother was a high jumper. Three years earlier, they had moved from Lagos, leaving their firstborn son, Francis, under the care of his grandparents. 

Adétòkunbọ̀ grew up in the Athens neighborhood of Sepolia in a primarily Nigerian household. His parents, as immigrants without work permits, could not easily find work, so Giannis and his older brother Thanasis helped by hawking watches, handbags, and sunglasses in the streets. In 2007, Adétòkunbọ̀ started playing basketball. 

Although Adétòkunbọ̀ and three of his four brothers were born in Greece, they did not automatically receive Greek citizenship as Greek nationality law follows jus sanguinis. Growing up, he sometimes felt as an outsider to both the Greek and the Nigerian communities in Athens, due to his parents’ heritage and different skin color in the former, and due to his lack of understanding of the Yoruba or Igbo languages in the latter. For the first 18 years of his life, Adétòkunbọ̀ could not travel outside the country and was effectively stateless, having no papers from Greece or Nigeria. 

He was eventually issued Greek citizenship on May 9, 2013, less than two months before the 2013 NBA Draft. 

After gaining Greek citizenship in 2013, his official surname became Αντετοκούνμπο, the Greek transcription of Adetokunbo, which was then transliterated letter-for-letter and officially spelled on his Greek passport as Antetokounmpo. Giannis is a Modern Greek variant of Ioannes (John). Because many could not pronounce his surname, he quickly became known as the “Greek Freak”.Antetokounmpo also holds Nigerian citizenship, having received his Nigerian passport in 2015, and as such possesses dual citizenship. 

He has stated that he feels both Greek and Nigerian and that he embraces both his Greek, as well as his African/Nigerian identity.

In 2011, Antetokounmpo played with the senior men’s team of Filathlitikos in the semi-pro Greek B Basket League (Third Division) during the 2011–12 season. 

In December 2012, a few days after turning 18, Antetokounmpo signed a four-year deal with Spanish club CAI Zaragoza,[32] reportedly including NBA buyouts after each season. Several other major European clubs had been interested in adding him, including Barcelona and Anadolu Efes. 

During the 2012–13 Greek A2 League season, Antetokounmpo shot 46.4% from the field (62.1% on two-point field goals), 31.3% from three-point range, and 72.0% from the free throw line, while averaging 22.5 minutes per game. Over 26 games, he averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game. 

He was also selected by the coaches as a special participant in the 2013 Greek League All-Star Game. Even though he was not selected as an all-star, the coaches let him play in the game as a treat for the fans.

On April 28, 2013, Antetokounmpo officially made himself eligible for the 2013 NBA draft. He fulfilled his draft projections as a first-round pick by being selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. On July 30, 2013, he signed his rookie scale contract with the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo made his NBA debut on October 13, 2013, at the age of 18 years, 311 days, as one of the youngest NBA players ever. He averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 77 appearances during his rookie season. He scored in double figures 23 times and grabbed at least 10 rebounds twice, with both efforts resulting in double-doubles. He finished the season with 61 total blocks, which led all NBA rookies, and was the seventh-most by a Bucks rookie in franchise history. 

He was selected to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, where he tallied nine points, two rebounds, and two assists in 17 minutes. At the season’s end, he was named to the 2013–14 NBA All-Rookie second team. 

Antetokounmpo’s second season with the Bucks saw both individual and team development. On February 6, 2015, he recorded a then career-high 27 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to the Houston Rockets. 

Three days later, he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played February 2–8, earning Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career. He later competed in the 2015 NBA Slam Dunk Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend in New York. On March 9, he scored a then career-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. 

In the 2015–16 season, Antetokounmpo developed further individually, upping his scoring average to almost 17 points per game. On November 19, he scored a then career-high 33 points in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.[42] On December 12, he recorded a near triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists, helping the Bucks snap the Golden State Warriors’ 24-game unbeaten start to the season with a 108–95 win. On February 22, 2016, Antetokounmpo recorded his first career triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 108–101 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. At 21 years old, he became the youngest Buck to record a triple-double.

On September 19, 2016, Antetokounmpo agreed to a four-year, $100 million contract extension with the Bucks. Antetokounmpo’s fourth year with the Bucks would be his breakout season, as he further increased his statistical output and ascended to stardom. 

On December 23, he had a then career-high 39 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in a 123–96 win over the Washington Wizards. A couple of weeks later, Antetokounmpo recorded 27 points and 13 rebounds and made his first game-winning buzzer-beater, a 15-foot turnaround jumper which gave the Bucks a 105–104 victory over the New York Knicks. With 25 points against the Knicks on January 6, Antetokounmpo had at least 20 points in his 14th consecutive game, matching the longest streak by a Bucks player since Michael Redd in 2006. On January 19, Antetokounmpo was named a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. 

At 22 years and 74 days old, he became the youngest player in franchise history to start in an All-Star Game. He also became the first Greek NBA All-Star. In the game, he led the East with 30 points in a 192–182 loss to the West. On April 3, 2017, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for games played in March. The award was the first of Antetokounmpo’s career and the first for a Buck since Michael Redd won the award in January 2004. Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks finish an Eastern Conference-best 14–4 in March, the franchise’s first calendar month with at least 14 victories since going 16–2 in February 1971. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in every one of the five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks) in the 2016–17 regular season, becoming only the fifth NBA player to do so after Dave Cowens, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James; Nikola Jokić have since matched it. He also became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in the league in each of the five major categories in a regular season. 

As a result of his efforts, Antetokounmpo was named to the All-NBA Second Team, earning his first All-NBA honor. He was also named the recipient of the NBA Most Improved Player Award for the 2016–17 season, becoming the first player in Bucks history to be named Most Improved Player. 

On April 15, 2017, Antetokounmpo scored a playoff career-high 28 points in a 97–83 win over the third-seed Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. In Game 5 of the series on April 24, Antetokounmpo set a new playoff career-high with 30 points, but could not lead the Bucks to a win as they lost 118–93 to go down 3–2 in the series. The Bucks went on to lose Game 6 three days later despite a 34-point effort from Antetokounmpo, ending their season.

Antetokounmpo began the 2017–18 season on a tear, scoring 175 points over the first five games of the season, including a then career-high 44 points in a 113–110 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged almost 27 points during the season, earning his second straight All-Star nomination and All-NBA selection, and broke Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s franchise record for triple-doubles. 

In Game 1 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Antetokounmpo recorded 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a 113–107 overtime loss. Antetokounmpo’s game-winning tip-in in Game 4 equalized the series at two games a piece. However, the Celtics would go on to eliminate the Bucks in seven games, in spite of Antetokounmpo’s 22 points and nine rebounds in Game 7.

Starting from the 2018–19 season, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks achieved a period of sustained team success. Under new coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks began the season with seven consecutive victories and went 25–10 before the New Year. 

Antetokounmpo was critical to this early success, earning the Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards for October, November, December and February. On March 17, Antetokounmpo scored a then career-high 52 points to go with 16 rebounds in a 130–125 loss to the 76ers. 

He avenged this loss in an April 4 victory where he recorded 45 points and 13 rebounds in a 128–122 win over the 76ers, helping the Bucks clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo eventually guided the Bucks to a 60–22 season and the best record in the league. 

He helped the Bucks advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001 after scoring 41 points in a 127–104 win in Game 4 over the Detroit Pistons for a four-game sweep. The Bucks went on to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were defeated 4–2 by the eventual champions, the Toronto Raptors, despite winning the first two games. At the 2019 NBA Awards end-of-season night, Antetokounmpo was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the second Bucks player to win MVP and became the third youngest player to win the MVP over the previous 40 seasons, behind Derrick Rose and LeBron James. Antetokounmpo began the 2019–20 season with a triple-double, recording 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 117–111 season-opening win over the Houston Rockets on October 24, 2019. 

On November 25, Antetokounmpo scored a season-high 50 points, along with 14 rebounds, in a 122–118 win over the Utah Jazz. After a December 14 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Antetokounmpo had led the Bucks to their 18th straight victory, 2 shy of the franchise record. 

The winning streak ended on December 16 with a close loss to the Dallas Mavericks, despite of Antetokounmpo recording an efficient 48 points and 14 rebounds. On December 19, Antetokounmpo made a career-high five three-pointers to lead Milwaukee over the Western top seed, the Los Angeles Lakers and helped the Bucks claim the NBA’s best record at 25–4. On January 23, 2020, Antetokounmpo was named an All-Star Game captain, alongside James, for the second consecutive year. 

During the season postponement that lasted from early March to the end of July, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Antetokounmpo claimed to not have a basketball hoop to practice with. 

He later clarified that he did have access to a gym and basketball hoop, explaining his earlier comments as a means to “get a little bit ahead of the competition.” Antetokounmpo and the Bucks resumed their campaign against the Boston Celtics on July 31, where Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to victory with 36 points and 15 rebounds. Although the Bucks finished the seeding games with a 3–5 record, they set the best record in the NBA for the second consecutive year, finishing with a 56–17 record. On August 12, Antetokounmpo was suspended for one game without pay for headbutting Moritz Wagner during a game against the Washington Wizards. During the playoffs, the Bucks advanced to the second round but lost 4–1 to the Miami Heat. 

In Game 2, the Heat’s Jimmy Butler was fouled while shooting by Antetokounmpo as time expired, leading to Butler’s game-winning walk-off free throws. Antetokounmpo missed most of Game 4 after re-injuring his right ankle which he twisted in Game 3. Milwaukee won the game, but Antetokounmpo was also out for Game 5, when the Bucks were eliminated. 

On September 18, 2020, Antetokounmpo won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award. In doing so, he joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to win MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.

On December 15, 2020, Antetokounmpo re-signed with the Bucks, coming to terms on a 5-year, $228 million extension, the largest in league history. At the 2021 All-Star Game, he played on the team captained by James and scored 35 points on a perfect 16-of-16 shooting from the field to lead the team to a 170–150 win and became the first non-American to win the All-Star MVP. 

The Bucks finished the 2020–21 season with a 46–26 record, clinching the third seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round of the playoffs, they faced a rematch against the Miami Heat. In a stark reversal of their upset loss the prior year, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a four-game sweep, closing out the series with his first playoff triple-double in Game 4. Antetokounmpo also led the Bucks to a seven-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where Antetokounmpo averaged 31.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. On June 29, 2021, Antetokounmpo suffered an injury to his left knee during the third quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks after slamming into Clint Capela and landing awkwardly, resulting in a gruesome hyperextension. 

Antetokounmpo would not return to the game, and the Bucks lost 110–88. MRI results would later show that he did not suffer any ligament tears. Antetokounmpo was ruled out for both Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a result of the knee injury. The series returned to Milwaukee at a 2–2 deadlock, yet the Bucks ended up winning both Games 5 and 6 in his absence, advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in 47 years. 

Antetokounmpo returned in time for the finals against the resurgent Phoenix Suns. In his Finals debut, he recorded 20 points and 17 rebounds in a 118–108 loss. He then registered back-to-back games with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Game 2 loss and a Game 3 victory, joining Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 as the only players to reach those numbers in consecutive Finals games. 

He also joined Jordan, O’Neal, and James as the only players to put up at least 40 points in back-to-back Finals games in the previous 50 years. The Bucks continued their comeback after having lost the first two games of the series, prevailing in the next four contests. In Game 6, Antetokounmpo recorded 50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Bucks clinched their first championship in 50 years. 

He posted series averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 blocks, and was subsequently named NBA Finals MVP by a unanimous vote. At 26 years, 226 days old, he is the youngest since Kawhi Leonard in 2014 to be named Finals MVP, as well as the first European since Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 to do so. Antetokounmpo also joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to have won the MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year awards during the span of their careers. 

Antetokounmpo is also recognized as an elite defensive player, capable of guarding all five positions but more often deployed in a “free safety” role that allows him to roam the paint and discourage attacks on the rim. He is also a proficient shot-blocker and has developed a reputation for blocking opponents in transition (the chase-down block). 

With Antetokounmpo in this role, the Bucks have flourished into one of the league’s best defensive teams, leading the NBA in defensive rating in 2018–19 and 2019–20. For his defensive efforts, Antetokounmpo won the 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and he has become a perennial NBA All-Defensive honoree.


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