THE REAL GREEK NBA STAR
Source: Unique Destination
Above all, Giannis is a Greek who adores his country. He can’t stop praising Greece for her beauties and is always taking every opportunity to return back here, at home!
How did you start playing basketball?
Since I was a kid I liked sports and because of my father, who was a footballer, I also started playing soccer along with my older brother, Thanasis. Actually, it was an opportunity to spend more time with my older brother, something I loved to do. So, when Thanasis started playing basketball, I followed him, without even knowing whether I would be really good. I went along just to be with him. When I was at the age of 16.5 -17 years old, teams from Europe, and soon after from the NBA, took an interest. Team scouters started arriving to Greece, followed by general managers, in order to watch, not only our games, but also our training sessions, which were carried out many times in the presence of people from the NBA.
What about that magical night when you came out of the twilight and into the transfer to the NBA?
On June 27, 2013. I was 18.5 years old then. Of course, there was great anticipation for the moment when I would hear my name from the lips of David Stern, the then NBA Commissioner. Next to me was my brother Thanasis, as well as the people who believed in me and managed to turn what seemed an elusive dream, into reality. They were Giorgos Panou and the Greek-American, Alex Saratsis. They are still my managers! All this time, I’ve been experiencing things I had never imagined up to that point in my life, it was all unprecedented for me! I got on a plane for the first time in my life, I left Greece for the first time, and when I arrived in New York I was caught up in a panic and wanted to leave… I was awed by the size, the skyscrapers and the huge motorways.
Fortunately … I stayed and started the most exciting journey. I was selected at No 15 Draft from Milwaukee Bucks and the truth is that over half of the teams wanted me, but I finally got to wear the jockey hat… with the deer! When I finally heard my name, I totally lost it! I didn’t know what to do and what to think, what I felt then, I still can’t describe! For my choice, the Bucks, it was very important that they wanted me to join the team immediately, rather than leave me play in Europe for some time. That’s what my managers wished, and this is what happened. In about a month later, I signed my first professional contract. Within such a short period of time my life transformed completely. I had to leave Greece and my family, who I am so close with, and move permanently to the US.
Adapting in Milwaukee was certainly difficult in the first year. Communicating with my family was my biggest problem, but basketball, and my will to succeed, helped me make it through. Thank God, after a while I brought them all by my side, I set my younger brothers up in school and I was able to reward my father and my mother for everything they did to raise us. I will remember forever the first match they came to see me play live! When I first saw them sitting in the stands, my joy was so big, I even ended up with a career record, that evening!
You’re an All Star player now, one among the most popular. How do you feel?
There is no greater honor for me than to achieve recognition for my efforts by such a big portion of basketball fans, journalists, and more importantly, other players, whom I face on the courts. The fact that I will share the same locker rooms with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Carry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and others, is in itself a unique experience and a childhood dream come true.
How proud do you feel about representing Greece at the top level?
What I am experiencing with the Greeks of the Greek- American community is something unique. I receive their love in whichever court my team is playing, and this fills me with pride and gives me extra motivation to try even more, during training, in each game, just to make them happy.
What are your emotions when you wear the shirt of the Greek national team?
You are not given many opportunities to honor your homeland during your lifetime. When I wear the shirt with the national emblem I feel like I’m part of Greece and I try to give my best. I feel that, maybe in this way I am repaying Greece in gratitude, for what she has offered me during the difficult period of my life… This is one of the reasons why, together with my brother Thanasis, we held the “AntetokounBros” events in the two previous summers. These events aim to bring ourselves close to children and people who love us in general, as a small reward for all this love we receive. With “AntetokounBros” we can also offer something of ourselves to Greece in return for what she had offered us: Free education, a homeland that embraced my family in difficult times… these I will never forget in my life. I will always feel compelled and will try with every opportunity to give back.
Why is Greece your first choice for vacation and how do you feel when you return?
First of all because Greece is home … And I mean my friends, my hangouts and my memories! Yet, I do not think there is a more beautiful country in the world that combines such a harmony of visions, smells and flavors. Greece can offer you all you wish to experience. So what I’m saying to anyone who asks me is that … if they want to truly live their holidays and not just go on vacation, they MUST come to Greece!