As Greeks celebrate MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in unison with Milwaukee Bucks fans after he secured an NBA title victory, many are not aware of the star's Nigerian roots.
NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo has delivered perhaps the best performance of his career – as yet – and can now add a Finals Most Valuable Player award to his two regular-season MVP trophies.
Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in a series-clinching 105-98 Game 6 victory that ended the Milwaukee Bucks' 50-year title drought on Tuesday night.
He took the moment to ponder his incredible journey from poverty to champion.
"When I came to the league, I didn't know where my next meal will come from. My mom was selling stuff in the street," Antetokounmpo recalled.
"Now I'm here sitting at the top of the top. I'm extremely blessed. I hope this can give everybody around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope it can be done. I want them to believe in their dreams."
Born in poverty in the Athens suburb of Sepolia, the 26-year-old MVP is now sitting on top of the basketball world.
"Incredible Giannis Antetokounmpo! Greeks everywhere celebrate!" wrote Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Twitter.
"Congratulations to Giannis Antetokounmpo for winning the NBA championship with the Bucks and his promotion to MVP. Congrats Giannis!" tweeted Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
However, what many may not know is 'The Greek Freak' was actually born to Nigerian immigrants in Greece.
Antetokounmpo's family, including his oldest brother Francis, immigrated to Greece in 1992, according to FIBA.
Although he and three of his four siblings were born in Greece, none qualified for a national passport until decades later.
By the time Antetokounmpo was 18, he was by all accounts stateless and taking the Greece basketball scene by storm.
Though he was eventually issued a Greek passport after remaining without papers for 18 years, his initial career appeared to be at stake as without a passport he could not attend sports camps outside Greece or make his move to the Spanish CAI Zaragoza that picked him up from a second division Greek team.
He was scouted the same year by the NBA, his rare blend of size and athleticism making him the No 15 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and he made his first All-Star appearance four years later.
"Children of two parents who came to Greece for a better life and raised their family with principles, values and ideals. It is our honour that you are Greeks (including his brother Thanasis who did not play in the final game because of being in quarantine)," main opposition Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras posted on Facebook.
Antetokounmpo's now the only player in NBA history with five NBA All-Star and All-NBA selections, a finals and two season MVP awards and the top defender awards before turning 27.
Altered last name
After he finally gained citizenship in 2013, his last name “Adetokunbo” was altered to the more Greek-sounding version known today as “Antetokounmpo," according to Quartz Africa.
Femi Adefeso, a Nigerian-based NBA reporter who covered the 2017 and 2018 All-Star weekends tells Quartz Africa that Antetokounmpo's last name hides the obvious link to his Nigerian heritage.
FIBA.com reports the basketball star's last name has also been documented with many different spellings including Adetokoumbo, Atentokoumpo, Adetokoubo, Antetokoubo and Adetokubo. Not to mention two alternative spellings of his first name as Yiannis and Ioannis.
Alongside his Greek passport, Antetokounmpo obtained a Nigerian passport in 2015, telling The Undefeated that it was "important" to him because it is "part of who" he is.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home,” Antetokounmpo told the media outlet. “Obviously, I was born in Greece and went to school in Greece. But at the end of the day when I go home, there is no Greek culture. It’s straight-up Nigerian culture. It’s about discipline, it’s about respecting your elders, having morals.”
Antetokounmpo visited Africa in 2015 during the first NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg and said he has future plans to visit Nigeria as well.
“There are a lot of people that I see and I tell them that I am African. I am not just ‘The Greek Freak,’ ” Antetokounmpo told The Undefeated.