NBA feature: The ‘Greek Freak’ of Nigerian heritage

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epa08583954 Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks the ball during the second quarter of the NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, USA, 04 August 2020. The NBA season has restarted at the Walt Disney World sports complex outside Orlando, Florida. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

Viewers on DStv can look forward to thrills and spills from the world’s best basketball league, as ESPN 2 brings live action from the 2019-20 National Basketball Association (NBA season) this coming week, Friday 7 to Thursday 13 August 2020.

One of the top performers of the NBA’s restart thus far, and a man who has surely caught the attention of viewers, is the ‘Greek Freak’: Milwaukee Bucks’ number 34, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Though the 25-year-old, who stands at an imposing 6ft11in (2.11m), was born in Athens, Greece, he is also very much a son of Africa, with his Nigerian parents having emigrated to the European country just three years before he was born.

epa08581280 Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (L) of Greece in action against Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (R) during the second half of the NBA basketball game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, USA, 02 August 2020. The NBA season has restarted at the Walt Disney World sports complex outside Orlando, Florida. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

Antetokounmpo made his name in Greek basketball before being a first-round (15th overall) draft pick in 2013, going on to make his NBA debut with the Bucks that same year, aged just 18 – making him one of the youngest NBA players ever (in history, only 15 were younger when they first debuted).

Victoria University

The ‘Greek Freak’ grew from strength to strength through the years (including a touching appearance for Team Africa in the 2015 NBA Africa Exhibition Game in Johannesburg, South Africa), becoming an All Star team member every season since 2017 and claiming the holy grail individual prize, NBA Most Valuable Player, in 2019.

This season he is again very much in the running for the MVP prize, though he faces stiff competition from LA Lakers star and all-time great LeBron James. If Antetokounmpo can lead Milwaukee to just their second NBA Championship (and a first since 1971, back when they boasted the era-defining talent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) then surely he will become just the 12th man to win back-to-back MVP titles.

The ‘Greek Freak’ will be particularly motivated to prove Scottie Pippen wrong, with the former Chicago Bulls legend recently saying that he doesn’t believe Antetokounmpo has yet reached the level where he can drag the Bucks to glory.

epa08581211 Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece during the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, USA, 02 August 2020. The NBA season has restarted at the Walt Disney World sports complex outside Orlando, Florida. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

“I don’t think he is really there yet,” said Pippen. “You’re talking about winning a title. You’re talking about playing in the NBA finals. You’re talking about making big shots. Being able to take those shots with great confidence. I just don’t see him being ready right now for that.”

However, Antetokounmpo’s credentials as MVP winner are enough to sway even Dwayne Wade – the best friend of LeBron James!

For me Giannis came back this season as the reigning MVP, he didn’t do anything to lose that. LeBron was catching him, he was really picking up steam before the season ended [was suspended],” said Wade.

epa08583830 Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (L) keeps the ball away from Brooklyn Nets guard Tyler Johnson (L) during the first quarter in the NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, USA, 04 August 2020. The NBA season has restarted at the Walt Disney World sports complex outside Orlando, Florida. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

“I felt that the last 20 games was going to really determine who was going to be MVP. We did not have that, Giannis did not lose MVP, I felt he’s been the front runner. But LeBron is the best player in the game right now and what he’s doing in his 17th year. If there was an award for that, he’ll get that award. But overall Giannis has been the MVP all season.”

Which player is your pick for MVP? See both Antetokounmpo and James in action in the NBA, exclusively on ESPN.

Visit www.dstv.com to subscribe or upgrade, and join in on the excitement. And while you’re on the move, you can stream the action on DStv Now.

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