Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the few players who can claim to be the best in the NBA. Considering his elite talent, it’d be understandable to assume he fell in love with basketball as a kid. But he only played the game on the insistence of one of his brothers. Here’s how Antetokounmpo’s trust in his family changed their lives forever.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s favorite sport growing up
Antetokounmpo’s success isn’t just his own. Every slam dunk, blocked shot, and astounding feat of athleticism is a testament to the foresight and love of his family. The broad strokes of Antetokounmpo’s origin story are a modern piece of Greek mythology.
His parents immigrated to Greece from their native Nigeria and raised their sons with little money. Antetokounmpo, alongside three of his brothers, sold DVDs and sunglasses on the streets of Athens to help make ends meet. They sometimes relied on the empathy of a local café owner for food. Basketball was the Antetokounmpo family’s avenue out of poverty.
But this story would’ve gone differently if the future NBA star didn’t listen to his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The second oldest of the five Antetokounmpo brothers, Thanasis convinced them all that basketball would give them a better life. This was an uphill battle.
The Antetokounmpo family’s first love was soccer. His father, Charles, was a former player and the oldest of the siblings, Francis, was a professional who played in Nigeria and Greece.
But Giannis explained to SLAM Magazine that he thought so highly of his brother that he went along with the idea. “I didn’t choose basketball,” Giannis said. “Thanasis chose basketball. Thanasis, back then, he was the star. A lot of people were talking about Thanasis and obviously I looked up to him. I wanted to be him.”
Giannis was far from a natural. His first coach, Spiros Velliniatis, says he couldn’t even dribble when he first arrived at the gym, according to the New York Times. But Giannis channeled his passion and work ethic to develop his skills. After getting drafted into the NBA in 2013, Giannis was grateful for his brother’s intuition.
How good is his brother Thanasis?
Giannis understandably gets most of the attention for what he does on the court, but Thanasis’ career is worth a discussion on its own. He decided against entering the draft with his brother and spent an extra year with Filathlitikos in the Greek second division.
Then, the Delaware 87ers chose Thanasis with the ninth pick in the NBA D-League Developmental Draft. Averaging 12 points and four rebounds a game, Thanasis was named to the D-League’s all-defensive third team. His performances earned him a selection in the NBA Draft the next year.
Thanasis was selected 51st by the New York Knicks. He was only on the team for a year and spent most of his time with its D-League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks, but he made his NBA debut for the squad against the Phoenix Suns.
The forward returned to Europe after that experience, playing first with MoraBanc Andorra of the Liga ACB league in Spain and then with the Greek giants Panathinaikos a year later. On familiar ground, Thanasis became a star. The team won the Greek Basket League title both years he played, and Thanasis earned the league’s MSP (Most Spectacular Player) two times in a row.
He could’ve stayed there and dominated. But Thanasis chose to return to the NBA and join his superstar brother in Milwaukee. He’s mostly sat the bench this season — only playing in 18 games — but the lack of playing time hasn’t stopped him from adding to his personal highlight reel.
Success hasn’t changed the Antetokounmpo brothers
It’s common for fame and money to change the way a family relates to each other, but the Antetokounmpo brothers are as close as ever. Giannis is obviously the best basketball player in the bunch. But no sense of jealousy has grown between them. All accomplishing things beyond their wildest dreams, they revel in the collective success of the journey.
And the NBA might be welcoming more Antetokounmpo family members into the league soon. Kostas currently plays for the South Bay Lakers in the G-League, and the youngest brother, Alex, is an impressive high school player with his own dreams of NBA stardom.
Whatever the future holds for the rest of the Antetokounmpos, they’ll stick together.