NBA Impact Review of International Players: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The NBA named its 75th anniversary team in October. Of the 75 players selected, six legendary international players – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Hakeem Olajuwon – etched their names in history, paving the way for hundreds of other players born in the stranger.
In the final part of our series, we take a closer look at the only active player on this list: Nigerian-Greek basketball phenom Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Monster: Giannis Antetokounmpo
In this era of the NBA, hundreds of foreign-born players adorn the hardwood. But Giannis Antetokounmpo stood out among them all, especially after securing his first championship win in 2021.
“It’s because of guys like Dirk Nowitzki,” Antetokounmpo told Sports Illustrated. “Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and those guys. Even older, Drazen Petrovic. They paved the way for us. »
“The Greek Freak” is a nickname to commemorate, representing the bizarre authority that Antetokounmpo has wielded over this generation of basketball. Selected by the Bucks as the 15th overall pick in 2013, Antetokounmpo’s determination to bring a league title to Milwaukee came full circle in 2021, beating the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals.
It’s been a quick but powerful journey since he entered the league at just 18 years old. Antetokounmpo’s early NBA careers were similar to Nowitzki’s, with both making big strides for a shot in the NBA. He came to the United States with two seasons of semi-professional experience with Filathlitikos in Greece where he grew up playing after his Nigerian parents immigrated there.
During his rookie season, he only appeared in a handful of games for the Bucks.
“It was hard [in year one]. Sometimes I felt alone. Thank God I had people around me who helped me on a daily basis. But it was really hard living without my family here,” Giannis told Sports Illustrated.
Over the next five years, Antetokounmpo grew nearly 2 ½ inches and developed a recognizable amount of muscle. His breakout year came in the 2016-17 season, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists, as well as leading Milwaukee to the playoffs where they were. eliminated in the first round.
During that same season, Giannis was named an All-Star for the first time and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Antetokounmpo continued to take the league by storm, earning back-to-back Kia MVP honors in 2019 and 2020. Additionally, he also won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in his second MVP season – l one of only three players in NBA history. winning both awards in the same season.
Recognized as one of the top 75 elite players in the league, Giannis took notice of the company he is a part of and was named the 2019 NBA All-Star Game Legend in Charlotte.
“It’s crazy. Before I got into the league, I was looking to [LeBron James]. Now I’m in the locker room having a meal with the Giannis team. Like, I lead the star team! You know, picking teams with LeBron James! If you told me six years ago, I never, ever, ever thought I would be in this position right now,” Antetokounmpo told The Washington Post.
All of these accomplishments led him straight to center stage, the 2021 NBA Championship. His performance would rock the basketball world, dropping 40 points in Game 2 against the Suns and then a whopping 50 closing performance. points in Game 6 to bring Milwaukee its first NBA title in 50 years. He was crowned Finals MVP after averaging a record 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals. His jersey was ranked the third most popular of the 2021-22 season, according to NBAStore.com.
In August, Antetokounmpo carried the Larry O’Brian Trophy to Athens in August, along with his brother and team-mate Thanasis, and their mother to commemorate his victory on home soil in Greece.
“I know I can dominate the game,” Antetokounmpo told The Washington Post. “I also know that I am far from a finished product.”
International players rise to win
As the reach of the NBA has expanded, international stars have become even more of a vital asset to the winningest franchise as the league continues to invest in opportunities for these athletes.
Last season, a record six foreign players were named to the All-NBA team, including Antetokounmpo, Mavericks star guard Luka Doncic, reigning Kia MVP Nikola Jokić and three-time DPOY award winner Rudy Gobert. .
Fifteen international players from 20 countries have been named to participate in the 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend, with a record number of six international All-Star Game starters.
The 2021-22 season marked the eighth consecutive season to include at least 100 international players across the rosters. There was also a record 35 players this season who have experience in Basketball Without Borders, a program between the NBA and FIBA that began in 2001 to increase global development and awareness of the game. community.
Thunder rookie Josh Giddey also became the first NBA Academy graduate to be drafted in 2021. The Academy is looking for non-American prospects to develop and help maximize their potential.
The league continues to welcome players from around the world, expanding its scope of opportunities. In recent months, Jaime Echenique of the Wizards became the first Colombian-born player to hit hardwood in December 2021 and Neemias Queta of the Kings became the first Portuguese player to score in the NBA in January 2022.
“You see our games everywhere, all the time now. It’s also a great thing. There are so many international players, it doesn’t matter if you are from Senegal or Spain, you know you can make the NBA. No more “Oh, I have to come from Yugoslavia to make it happen.” That mindset is gone,” Buhony said in Coming to America.
The NBA has gone to great lengths to reach players, but so have fans. Since this season, the league has reached fans in 215 countries and territories in more than 50 languages. More than 40% of visitors to NBA.com come from fans outside of North America, and nearly 70% of social media followers come from outside the United States.
It’s safe to say that the NBA is far from done when it comes to generating and connecting global talent.
“International players are just basketball players. But there are a lot of good players abroad, and they will keep coming here,” Antetokounmpo said.