The “Greek Freak” may not sound like the most complimentary of nicknames but when you understand that it is referring to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s freakish level of skill and talent rather than his appearance, the epithet makes sense.

The new face of Greek basketball

In a country where legendary basketball player Nikos Galis is still revered as one of their greatest ever athletes, it is to Antetokounmpo’s credit that he is fast becoming Greece’s new poster boy for the sport. Not bad for the son of African immigrants who was subjected to heavy prejudice during his youth due to his Nigerian background.

Galis never made an appearance in the NBA, despite being born in New Jersey, USA. He had the chance to sign for the Boston Celtics and the New Jersey Nets in the 1980s but it would have meant quitting the Greek national team due to FIBA rules that barred pro players at the time. He had been selected by the Boston Celtics in the 4th round of the 1979 NBA Draft but they did not keep him and he headed for Greece.

2020 MVP frontrunner

Antetokounmpo has emerged not just as a contender for the best Greek player of all time but also as one of the best NBA players of all time. The forward is a commanding presence on the court and has been integral in the Milwaukee Bucks’ revival as championship contenders – they made the conference finals last year and are on course to top the Eastern Conference this season where the Bucks are currently priced at +250.00 in the NBA betting for the championship. The 2020 MVP frontrunner has grown to become a role model for African immigrants in his homeland and beyond.

Battle against the odds

It hasn’t been an easy journey. He was not a great player as a teenager and had to work hard to perfect his craft against a background of discrimination. Amongst all the plaudits and adulation, it is easy to forget what he has had to endure to reach the elite level.

Despite being born in Greece, he was not granted full citizenship until he was 18 years of age. By that point, he was already on his way to the NBA and it was his planned trip to the 2013 draft in New York, where he was 15th pick, that prompted the authorities to claim him as their own. Otherwise, he would have touched down in the States as a Nigerian.

The pioneer

After such a turn of events, Antetokounmpo could be forgiven for being a reluctant face of Greek basketball. Suddenly, he is an ambassador and a role model while being fully aware that if it was not for his profession, he might still be struggling to be recognized.

Yet, he has an opportunity to represent others like him who may still feel like invisible citizens on the streets of Athens. And his success may open the door to more black players who have historically found it tough to get a foot in the door of Greek basketball.