I have not been to a Bucks game since 2019, but I sure have enjoyed following this team through the playoffs and to its first NBA title in 50 years. Like everyone else, I am particularly enthralled with the story of the series MVP.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the kind of athlete you want little kids to emulate. He elevates his teammates both on the court and in the media. He loves his family. He rises to challenges and still works hard to improve aspects of his game — not for the glory but for the wins.
He’s a gracious champion with an incredible back story.
Four years ago, I was wandering through a market in Greece with my sister Kathy when we saw a vendor wearing an Antetokounmpo Bucks jersey. Kathy, a more avid Bucks fan than I, struck up a conversation with him and they had a great broken-English discussion about Giannis — the boy who sold street trinkets to support his family, who had to share basketball shoes with his brother even though they played on the same team, who was drafted by the Bucks at age 18 and remained loyal to that team and the city of Milwaukee even as his NBA stock ascended and he could have gone anywhere.
I love that nearly the entire Antetokounmpo family moved from Greece to Milwaukee with Giannis when he signed with the Bucks and that his older brother Thanasis now also plays for the team. Last March, when Fiserv Forum shut down due to the pandemic, Giannis and his family donated $100,000 to help Forum staff members. They also sent 20,000 masks to Greece among, I’m sure, many other charitable acts.
Even last night, Giannis, exhausted from his legendary performance throughout the playoffs, complimented his teammates, especially Khris Middleton with whom he has played for his entire eight-year career. Shortly after the win, he connected via Instagram Live with his brother Thanasis, who had been confined to a Milwaukee hotel due to COVID-19 protocol. The two brothers’ joyful conversation and sincere appreciation for the moment offered some great insight into their relationship.
Named MVP of the finals, Giannis also earned back-to-back MVP titles during the regular season in 2018 and 2019 and MVP of the All-Star Game in 2021.
And, he’s only 26.
I read this quote in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last night and I think it sums up what a player like Giannis Antetokounmpo does for a community and the world at large.
“Eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn’t know where my next meal will come from,” said Antetokounmpo, cradling both trophies. “My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I’m here sitting at the top of the top. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams.”