NBA

The Biggest Ways Giannis Antetokounmpo Changed Since Joining the NBA

Giannis Antetokounmpo has found a home in Milwaukee. Before that, he didn’t have a home to call his own in a legal sense. The Greek basketball phenom grew up in a family of undocumented immigrants.

He went from sharing shoes with his brother in youth basketball to becoming the 2019 NBA MVP and leading the 2020 Bucks to the best record in the league. Here’s how Antetokounmpo got here.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tough upbringing in Greece

In the video above, ESPN analyst Maria Taylor showed Antetokounmpo a picture. And the “Greek Freak” immediately smiled with recognition.

It’s a picture of Antetokounmpo with his EFAOZ B.C. youth basketball squad in Greece. He says of those days, “I’m not going to lie to you. I always dreamed of being an NBA player. But at that age, at 16, I was mostly hoping I’d get on the floor.”

The advanced youth basketball league held players to high standards. Each minute of playing time had to be earned. Although Antetokounmpo showed signs of being a special player, he fretted over whether he could make a strong enough case to get more time on the floor.

His undocumented Nigerian family found every possible avenue to make money and support Antetokounmpo and his brothers’ basketball development. By hawking goods on the streets and working odd jobs, they managed to get a pair of quality sneakers for their sons.

One pair is the keyword. They split time wearing the shoes. In these circumstances, Antetokounmpo took just two years to shoot up the ranks in Greek youth ball.

How he became a focused, determined player

When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Antetokounmpo in 2013, the talented Allen Iverson superfan acknowledged that he hadn’t left Greece even once until just three weeks prior.

On October 13, 2013, an 18-year-old Antetokounmpo debuted with the Bucks. He was one of the youngest players in the league. It was an overwhelming experience for the young athlete. But he started strong, recording 61 blocks — the most of any rookie in 2013.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Antetokounmpo really developed. This is when the Greek Freak began focusing on smaller improvements to transition. He wanted to transition from being a great player to the kind of superstar who franchises can build a team around.

Antetokounmpo put on 51 pounds of pure muscle to better handle driving in the paint. Then, he worked with Kyle Korver — before the two were teammates — to develop a three-point shot. He essentially solved his two remaining weaknesses.

Now that Antetokounmpo has found himself…

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks participates in warmups
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks warms up | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Today, Antetokounmpo is a developed player. He knows what he can do (most things) and can’t do (not much). He handles the superstar role well, while still being generous with the ball. The forward still seeks advice from teammates like Korver, who are more accomplished in specific parts of the game.

After winning the 2019 NBA MVP, Antetokounmpo now has a distinct mission: win the NBA Finals with the Bucks. His tear through the league has been met with few interruptions in the 2019-20 season.

The Bucks are 31-5, including an 18-game winning streak. The only major blip on the radar was a 121-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, which turned out to have a lot to do with Antetokounmpo’s ailing back. Now he’s healthy again and returned to his MVP-caliber form.

Antetokounmpo isn’t a work in progress anymore. Ironically, that’s because his entire approach to the game is about seeing himself as a work in progress. It will be a shock if a championship doesn’t come Antetokounmpo’s way in the near future.

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