Giannis Antetokounmpo is one win away from the NBA championship.
I have been blatantly pro-Suns in this space, but I want to say that if the Milwaukee Bucks close this series out, I will not be distraught. I will be sad because of my brother, not just because the Bucks won. Giannis is one of my favorite players in the league or more accurately, one of my favorite people in the league. He has earned his success through hard work and his influence is evident.
On the court, he is capable of breathtaking acts. Take this now-legendary block from Game 4:
I mean…I’ve watched that video over a dozen times. It’s unfathomable. He steps up to cut off Devin Booker, who immediately lobs the pass over his head. Just the concentration it takes to track the flight of the ball is amazing. Then, the athletic ability to spin, recover, and leap in milliseconds to meet Deandre Ayton in the air is another. Finally, the hand-eye coordination and the strength to block the shot and do so cleanly is truly mind-blowing. An iconic finals play.
And yet! That was not the sequence that truly blew me away from the last couple of days. Leading up to Game 5 on Saturday, Giannis answered some questions with the media. This was one exchange:
I was stunned after watching that.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is 26 years old! That was one of the most insightful things I’ve heard a basketball player of any age say off the cuff. I love his description of ego, pride, and humility. I personally struggle with past events, though largely negative in scope, and how they affect my own ego. I struggle to live in the moment, and it’s something I have to remind myself to do often.
Giannis’ understanding that living in the moment can be a key to success is a beautiful and life-changing sentiment, and the fact that he seems to be adept at implementing it at such a young age is inspiring.
Giannis’ story is inspiring. The fact that Giannis’ family (Nigerian immigrants in Greece) struggled to make ends meet is mentioned in every piece about him. I just did it. He has spoken about times when there was no food in the fridge. I can’t imagine that hardship, especially compounded by the fact that three of those boys would grow up to be massive humans. In a New York Times article, Giannis explained that he and his older brother—and current teammate—Thanasis, would sell items like watches and sunglasses on the street to help make ends meet. Giannis talks often in interviews about not losing that perspective.
As I mentioned last week, Giannis Antetokounmpo is clearly building generational wealth for his family. It would be understandable for the countless zeros on his contract to be his main focus, especially at his age. However, Giannis is comfortable Euro-stepping off the beaten path of pitfalls that often comes from so much money, so soon in life.
I don’t think I am making a wild logical leap to believe that his life history has a huge role in that mindset. I think that background has motivated him to generate a solid list of charitable works.
Like many professional athletes, Giannis does the classic Thanksgiving meal giveaways. He donates his time and money to people in Milwaukee. I do believe that Giannis’ interest in giving back runs deeper than the rote motions of stardom.
Recent All-Star games have added a monetary incentive for in-game results. The money earned is donated to separate charities for both teams. Giannis has been the Captain of the east team the last couple of years, and through his leadership, the team went above their requirements in the same way Giannis soars above the rim.
Based on the results of the game in 2020, the Chicago non-profit After School Matters was set to receive $100,000. Giannis announced that his team would be donating an additional $100,000. As someone who works at a non-profit, that money can go a long way.
After the pandemic started and the world ground to a halt, Giannis and his family donated $100,000 to the staff of the Fiserv Forum, the arena where the Bucks play. His actions caused a ripple effect and the Bucks organization matched that amount.
He gives back across the oceans as well. He sent 20,000 masks back to his old neighborhood in Athens in addition to partnering with essential workers to provide boxes of food for those in need. He has donated water and protein bars to schools and workers across continents.
Giannis’ leadership is growing at a similar rate to his basketball skills. I appreciate that Giannis has stepped up in the face of the global pandemic. He has also risen up as a more visible presence in the face of another tragedy: the repeated murder of Black people in this country. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a growing physical and vocal presence in the Black Lives Matter movement.
He marched. He spoke at protests. These were his choices and not publicity stunts. This is a man who was stateless until he achieved Greek citizenship in 2013. He was born in Greece but was not seen as Greek until he became a basketball star. Now he is standing against other injustices in another country—one he did not grow up in. He has adopted Milwaukee as a home and spoke about why he was protesting,
“We want change. We want justice. And that’s why we’re out here, that’s what we’re going to do today, and that’s why we’re going to march with you guys. I want my kid to grow up here in Milwaukee, and not to be scared to walk in the streets. I don’t want my kid to have hate in his heart.”
In January, he spoke out about the violence in the Capitol with similar sentiments.
I want to reiterate that this guy is 26 years old. He is just beginning to show us what he is capable of achieving. And no, I do not mean the development of his jump shot. I can envision a long list of accomplishments in his future that stretch far beyond the basketball court.
Giannis is an NBA superstar, but he is so much more. He is a father, an advocate for justice, a brother, a leader, a philanthropist, and a thoughtful young man. Soon, he may add NBA champion to that list, but that will not change the way I think about Giannis Antetokounmpo.