Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken the NBA by storm over the last decade as he realized the potential to be a superstar that people saw in him when the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in 2013. Giannis has grown tremendously in the league and now sits atop the pantheon of players as a champion, 2-time league MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and many other accolades.
With Giannis being one of the best international players in the game, he can single-handedly change the fortunes of the national team he chooses to represent. Being a Greek citizen with Nigerian heritage, Giannis had a choice to pick between the nations but has represented Greece his entire life.
Giannis, along with 3 of his brother (Alex, Thanasis, and Kostas) will represent Greece in EuroBasket 2022, irking the Nigerian national team, who shared an image on Twitter to air their disappointment at the 4 Antetokounmpo brothers in their Greek uniforms.
Giannis and his brothers have represented Greece throughout his junior career up until today and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future. This is a contentious topic, as many believe Giannis should be representing his homeland and making Nigerians proud. The national team even shared a clip of Nigeria beating Greece in Olympic qualifiers in 2012.
Giannis’ loyalty to Greece isn’t surprising considering he got his start as a basketball player in that country. Not only did he grow up there, but he also rose through the basketball circuit there before he was recognized by NBA scouts. The Greek government expedited his transition from being stateless to Greek citizenship in May 2013 after it was feared he wouldn’t be able to travel to the United States for NBA Draft formalities.
His loyalty to Greece doesn’t mean he doesn’t proudly talk about his Nigerian roots as well. In an in-depth feature with Andscape in 2019 (then known as Undefeated), Giannis delved into his Nigerian heritage and how he isn’t just ‘The Greek Freak’ but has deeper roots linking him back to Nigeria.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home,” Antetokounmpo said. “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.”
“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 said.
“It doesn’t matter what people may believe because of my nickname. There were a lot of times when I was in Greece where people said, ‘You’re not Greek. You’re Nigerian because you’re black.’ But then there have been a lot of times where it’s been the opposite, where people say, ‘You’re not African. You’re Greek. You’re ‘The Greek Freak.’ ’ But I don’t really care about that. Deep down, I know who I am and where I am from. That’s all that matters to me.” (h/t Andscape)
Giannis also has a Nigerian passport, so he could have represented D’Tigers internationally and been a part of a more competitive international basketball team in the modern era. Nigeria has qualified for every Olympics since 2012, while Greece hasn’t qualified since 2008.
Under Giannis and his brothers, the Greek national team has come to the precipice of qualifying for the Olympics but saw those dreams dashed in 2016 because of Croatia. In 2019, Giannis was part of the Greek national team that secured 11th place in the FIBA World Cup.
2022 EuroBasket will see many top-tier NBA players compete with their national teams. This will include the likes of Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Rudy Gobert (France), and Nikola Jokic (Serbia), among others.