Adetokunbo, the ‘Greek Freak’ wins NBA’s Most Valuable Player award

Remember basketball great, Hakeem Olajuwon, and his exploits with the Houston Rockets? Well, another Nigerian is doing pretty much the same thing with the Milwaukee Bucks.

He is Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo (don’t worry, the name is actually Giannis {pronounced ‘janis’} Ugo Adetokunbo).

A Nigerian youngster, born of Nigerian parents now officially a Greek, was on Tuesday crowned the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the 2019 edition of the prestigious National Basketball Association (NBA) Awards — the third youngest person to have won it in the past 40 years.

They call him the ‘Greek Freak’, and here is why: although nearly seven feet tall, Antetokounmpo is said to possess the “ball-handling skills of a point guard and the battering ram force of an old school centre.”

Born in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 1994, the son of immigrants from Nigeria, Antetokounmpo’s parents had emigrated from Lagos three years earlier.

Though he and three of his four brothers were born in Greece, they did not automatically qualify to receive full Greek citizenship, as Greece does not have birthright citizenship. Antetokounmpo was said to have been stateless for the first 18 years of his life, having no papers from Nigeria or Greece.

The New York Times said of him: “Like many other immigrants to Greece, his parents struggled to find work. Antetokounmpo and his elder brother, Thanasis, helped out by hawking items such as watches, bags and sunglasses.”

When he officially gained Greek citizenship on May 9, 2013, his name was officially romanised as Giannis Antetokounmpo.

His father, Charles a Yoruba man (who died in September 2017 at the age of 54) was a former Nigerian association football player; while his mother, Veronica, an Igbo woman, is a former high jumper.

Veronica gave each of her five sons both Greek and Nigerian names, choosing Ugo (Ugochukwu) for Giannis.

In 2007, Antetokounmpo started playing basketball, and by 2009 he made it to the competitive stage playing for the youth squad of Filathlitikos.

According to Wikipedia, during the 2015–16 season, he became the Bucks’s primary playmaker, and in 2016–17 “he led the team in all five major statistical categories and became the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.”

In 2011, he joined the senior men’s team of Filathlitikos, and played with them in Greece’s third-tier level semi-pro league, the Greek 3rd Division, during the 2011–12 season. He began his professional level career with Filathlitikos, in Greece’s second-tier level basketball league, the Greek A2 League, during the 2012–13 season.

During the 2012–13 Greek A2 League season, Antetokounmpo shot 46.4 per cent from the field (62.1% on two-point field goals), 31.3% from three-point range, and 72.0% from the free throw line, while averaging 22.5 minutes per game. Over 26 games, he averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game.

On April 28, 2013, Antetokounmpo officially made himself eligible for the 2013 NBA draft. He fulfilled his draft projections as a first-round pick by being selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. On July 30, 2013, he signed his rookie scale contract with the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 77 appearances during his rookie season. He scored in double figures 23 times and grabbed 10+ rebounds twice, with both efforts resulting in double-doubles.

On January 19, 2017, Antetokounmpo was named a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game; and on February 10, 2017, he set a new career high with 41 points in a 122–114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. On February 19, 2017, he became the Bucks’ first All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004, and the first starter since Sidney Moncrief in 1986.

At 22 years and 74 days old, he became the youngest player in franchise history to start in an All-Star Game.

On April 10, he recorded his third triple-double of the season with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in an 89–79 win over Charlotte, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career Bucks record.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in every one of the five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) in the 2016–17 regular season, becoming the fifth NBA player to do so after Dave Cowens, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.

He also became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in the league in each of the five major categories in a regular season.

At Tuesday’s NBA’s end-of-season awards night, Antetokounmpo was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the second Bucks player to win MVP, and the third-youngest player to win the prize in the past 40 seasons, behind Derrick Rose and LeBron James.

He also became the fifth player born outside of the United States to win MVP.