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Giannis Adetokunbo: From the Streets to the NBA

Giannis Adetokunbo

Giannis Adetokunbo Pictured, Photo Credit: The New York Times.

The bright lights, the camera, the glamour, the fame, the endorsements and celebration affiliated with great athletes do not come cheap or on a platter. There is a story for every successful and great athlete, and for the 18 year old, 6foot, 9inches tall, Giannis Adetokunbo, this is his story.

Giannis was born into the Adetokumbo family; to Nigerian parents Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo, and three brothers; Thanasis 20, Kostas 15 and Alex 11. The Adetokunbos arrived in Greece in 1991 and settled in Sepolia a neighborhood about two miles north of the Acropolis. The parents had to earn a living doing menial jobs, Charles found work as a handy man, and Veronica worked as a baby sitter. Their jobs were not steady, but they had to stamp their feet in Sepolia regardless of the harsh and ugly situations they faced, like low income, eviction and segregation, all to create a level of stability for their children’s education, in order for them not to switch schools.

Giannis was born in Greece, he speaks Greek fluently, he completed Greek schooling, and he recently became a Greek citizen. On the passport, his last name is spelled “Antetokounmpo.” Giannis Adetokunbo’s new passport says he is Greek, but growing up he faced the harshness and fangs of struggles like any other immigrant.  Due to the inconsistent nature of their parents’ jobs, Giannis Adetokunbo and elder brother Thanasis had to hit the street of Greece in order to assist their parents. Immigrants in Greece, particularly dark-skinned ones, have been targets of abuse in recent years by far-right nationalists aggravated by the country’s economic crunch. They sold items like sunglasses, bags and watches; consequenently, they missed their roster spots (playing time) due to their absence at basketball practice.

Other Greek stars worked their way up through youth national teams and joined top professional clubs like Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Adetokunbo, basically stateless before he received his passport in May, has never played above Greece’s second division. He grew up at a miniature club called Filathlitikos, which took him in six years ago. Growing up as a child he was caught between his love for basket ball and soccer, but was persuaded by a coach, Spiros Velliniatis, to give basketball a try. Adetokunbo plays for the senior and junior teams of his club (Filathlitikos) primarily as a small forward for the senior team and a point guard for the club youth team, referred to as the best in Greece.

The Adetokunbos play basketball very well, which is why they’ve been under the spotlight of NBA Scouts who have applauded their abilities, particularly Giannis’ ball-handling, court vision and decision-making skills. Analysts at and, among others, predict that Giannis’ name will be called in the first round of the N.B.A. draft. Kornel David, then the Suns’ director of international scouting, said after watching Adetokunbo play in April, that guys who are 6-9 with that kind of skill set, especially at that age, are not easy to come by. He further said that even if he is drafted, it is possible Adetokunbo will need another season in Europe.

Adetokunbo has signed to play in Spain next season; unless an N.B.A. team comes up with something different for him after the draft. His contract with Zaragoza in Spain’s top league, beginning next season, is worth a total of $325,000 over three years, with a club option for a fourth season, at another $325,000. It includes N.B.A. and Euro league buyouts each season, beginning this summer. Adetokunbo said he was proud that he could support the family, His parents, Veronica and Charles; have struggled to find work in recession-battered Greece.

Hellenic Basketball Federation officials, among others, helped on their behalf, stating that Giannis Adetokunbo is seen as a keystone of future Greece national teams. Thanasis Adetokunbo, who is weighing offers from European clubs and will still be eligible for the N.B.A. draft next year, says he hopes for a national team call-up.

Culled from the New York Times

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Chojare Pamela Agboga is a Legal Practitioner, Writer, Editor, Chartered Secretary and Administrator. She is currently working on her first novel 'Weekends are for Loving' as well as a devotional for women.

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