|Many basketball athletes have experienced smooth career transitions into the National Basketball Association (NBA). A typical career transition into the NBA would first (sometimes) start with basketball training camps in middle school. The second transition would be to play for a basketball team in high school and then recruited. Thirdly, is to play for a top college basketball team and the last transition would be to be drafted into the NBA. This is what a typical NBA career transition would look like in a perfect world. However, we are far from it. Realistically there are and have been many NBA athletes that were not as privileged to be able to take that smooth pathway into the NBA. In fact, the public today are probably unaware about the hardships and struggles that some of their favourite players had once endured. For instance, currently playing for the Philadelphia Sixers, Jimmy Butler was homeless at 17. Caron Butler, a now retired Sacramento King, was incarcerated multiple times before the age of 15. The stories of these athletes should never be taken for granted as it has made them what they are today.|
In 1992, Veronica and Charles Antetokounmpo immigrated from Nigeria to Greece. They were in search of job opportunities for a better future. Sadly, they had to leave their eldest son Francis back in Nigeria with his grandparents. Even though they were based in another country far from home, they still continued to grow their family in Greece. Veronica and Charles had four more children, one of which is a current NBA superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was the third child they had of the five.
Veronica and Charles had great difficulty finding employment because of Greece’s weakening economy. Charles’ income was not enough to provide for the whole family that he needed Giannis and his brothers to sell stuff on the streets. Thanasis recalled the struggle they had to survive in an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical. He said “We would be out on the street together, selling a toy, a watch, something, and we’d raise $10, And that is good, because we didn’t starve today. We’re going to go home. We’re going to have something to eat. And it is a good day.”
An interesting turn of events happened in 2007 when Spiros Velianitis, a coach from a Greek professional basketball club called Filathlitikos, spotted Giannis and Thanasis playing soccer on the streets. Velianitis asked the brothers to train at the professional basketball club and at first, they rejected his offer. Giannis and Thanasis knew that it was important for them to help and provide for their family. Eventually with more convincing, the both agreed and the head coaches at Filathlitikos, Coach Panagiotis Zivach and Coach Velianitis found a way to help the Antetokounmpo family financially.
Initially, Giannis was not he was not exceptionally gifted at playing basketball. He worked on his skills remarkably hard in order to be great in basketball. Giannis wanted to not only help himself but also help his family. Spiros Velianitis told Telegraf, a Serbian news tabloid, “There are no doubts about it, Giannis has a character for survival, he was born to survive, you could see that in his eyes. He was a champion even before me, I just taught him the basketball and created some ambitions. He will do anything to survive.”
In 2009, 15 year old Giannis and 17 year old Thanasis had joined the Filathlitikos youth team and started to play competitively against future Greece basketball stars. Training was still an enormous struggle for Giannis and Thanasis as they would walk 5 miles (8 kilometers) to the Filathlitikos gym from home. There were times when they would sleep in the gym overnight instead of walking home. Eventually Giannis and Thanasis moved nearby so they could train at their convenience and to also avoid being fatigue during practices. Together the brothers’ monthly income was only $500. Once they even had to play with the same pair of shoes during a game. “I remember one game we played with the same pair.” Thanasis in an interview on CBS called 60 Minutes about sharing a pair of shoes with Giannis in a game.
In 2012, Giannis moved to the senior team of Filathlitikos where he competed in the Greek A2 Minor League during the 2012-2013 season. He averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds,1.4 assist and 1.0 block per game. Giannis admitted during his part of the interview on 60 minutes, that he was not the best player in the league during that time. Nonetheless, Giannis was still invited to the 2013 Greek League All-Star Game because the coaches knew how much potential Giannis had. He was spotted and recruited by with a basketball team in Spain called CAI Zaragoza and signed a contract with them. With CAI Zaragoza he would have made 400,000 Euros annually.
With no combined experience, low career averages per game and a few highlight tapes from Greece, the NBA Milwaukee Bucks took a gamble and drafted Giannis 15th overall pick. As did the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis had also taken a risk and decided to sign with the NBA. The NBA bought out his contract with CAI Zaragoza.
Giannis struggled at first because this was the first time he was away from his family. He would sleep in the teams practice stadium because he felt like there was no reason to come home. He sold his first PS4 because he felt uncomfortable having certain luxuries while his family was at home struggling financially. Brandon Knight a former Milwaukee Bucks player recalled in a sport blog operated by ESPN called Grantland that Giannis would carry 6 or 7 boxes of free food from the team’s cafeteria or lounge to his home to save money. Even if he could afford to buy food with his new career, Giannis knew first hand the pain and struggle that people go through just to eat, hence why saving money became a priority for him.
On November 23, 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks played a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Prior to the game, Giannis took a cab to Western Union to send money to his family in Greece. He unknowingly wired all of his cash and realized that he did not have cash to take a cab to the game. Giannis, with no other choice, decided to run to the Bradley Center. He wanted to make it in time for the warmup and the game. By luck, a couple who were fans of the Milwaukee Bucks were driving by and spotted Giannis running. They stopped and offered him a ride to the Bradley Center in their Honda Fit. In a hurry to make it on time, Giannis accepted. He was only able to leave them with a signed autograph and his ultimate gratitude.
During his first season (also known as rookie season) with the Milwaukee Bucks, he averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. With every passing season, Giannis continuously improved his skills and evidently his stats. His determination to excel in his trade every season is clearly shown in his statistics. Now on his sixth season, Giannis averages at 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. His improvement lead him from a backup player to a starter in NBA All-Stars. Giannis is currently an MVP candidate who is looking for his first championship this season–and could likely obtain it.
Giannis recently partnered with an organization called Pick’n Save to help communities in Milwaukee who are living in poverty. His humble beginnings shaped him to be a compassionate and giving person. His dedication and commitment to be the best in his trade was because his family gave him inspiration. From sleeping in the Filathlitikos gym in Greece to running to the Bradley Center (Milwaukee) on a cold night to make it to his game. He once was a boy who was selling watches in the streets of Greece and now he is one of the best players in the 2013 NBA draft. Giannis had beat all the odds. He exceeded more than what he imagined.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Notke