NBA All-Star player Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis appeared on the stage of the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens on Saturday in front of thousands of people. The Antetokounmpo brothers did not talk much about Basketball but they recalled the painful struggle in their early days in Greece where their parents had migrated from Lagos, Nigeria to Athens, Greece.
They discussed the difficulties they encountered during their early beginning, the many obstacles, their achievements, and the opportunities they had.
It is all about the importance of the journey, about what it means to be “Greek”, and about all that it takes in order to succeed, host Onassis Cultural Center wrote in the event announcement..
The Antetokounpro brothers spoke about their Nigerian origins and of eking out a living trading on the Athens streets long before his $100 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We are the products of two cultures, Greek and Nigerian, and we took the best of both worlds,” Giannis said.
One of the most touching moments at the event was when organizers displayed a Greek folk song sang by a woman with a light foreign accent.
Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo stunned. “It’s mama! It’s the mother!” Thanasis told Giannis and the two could not hold back their tears. “it’s unbelievable! Honestly unbelievable! We started small and we are now here..” Giannis says and his voice breaks. “Wait!” They both cry and sweep their tears, and Giannis adds “We never cried like that when we lost in the playoff!”
Their mother used to sing this song to wake them up in the morning, they said.
“We are here, who would believe we are here and we give opportunities to children, to Greek and migrant children” Giannis continued and Thanasis added “You are not born Greek, you become a Greek!” as the audience applauded.
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“There are many people who have gone through tough times, but you still have to look for the light. Our parents taught us not to be selfish, to be honest and sincere,” Thanasis added.
The sons of Nigerian immigrant parents, who came to Greece for a better life, Giannis and Thanasis were born in Athens and grew up selling merchandise in the streets of the capital in order to help their poor family.
But basketball changed their lives and last year Giannis signed a $100 million four-year contract with the Bucks. Thanasis also tried his luck in the NBA before joining Spanish club MoraBanc Andorra.
“I started out playing football as my father was a football player back in Nigeria. But basketball was my life and I worked hard. Now that I’ve made it in the NBA it is hard to stay on top so you have to work harder,” Giannis said.
He continued: “You have to test your limits and I believe I want to be the best player of all time and I know I can get there.”
The 22-year-old added he was determined to help other young people in both Greece and in Africa to get ahead.
“I would like to do everything I can to help them have a better life. The Americans gave me a chance to fulfil my dream. If you work hard and believe in your dream you will succeed,” he said.
The Antetokounmpo brothers are very popular in Greece and earlier this month drew a standing-room-only crowd of 5,000 spectators during an exhibition game they organized in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
“Greece loves us because we are good guys. We promote Greece wherever we go,” Giannis said.
They have never been to Nigeria, the brother said.
Another game by the brothers, who play for the Greek national team, is set for Sunday in Athens and a sell-out crowd of 18,000 is expected.
— Onassis Center NY (@OCCNY) June 24, 2017
The event called “Antetokounbros” was a hit for baseball and sports fan in Athens. 10,000 free passes ‘disappeared’ within hours, another 8,000 were expected to be given on Saturday. The event was live on Facebook too.