Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA Champion
by Mirin Fader
As the face of the NBA’s new world order, Giannis Antetokounmpo has overcome unfathomable obstacles to become a symbol of hope for people all over the world; the personification of the American Dream. But his backstory remains largely untold. Fader unearths new information about the childhood that shaped “The Greek Freak”—from sleeping side by side with his brothers to selling trinkets on the street with his family to the racism he experienced. Antetokounmpo grew up in an era when Golden Dawn, Greece’s far-right, anti-immigrant party, patrolled his neighborhood, and his status as an illegal immigrant largely prevented him from playing for the country’s top clubs, making his NBA rise all the more improbable. Fader tells a deeply human story of how an unknown, skinny, Black Greek teen, who played in the country’s lowest pro division and was seen as a draft gamble, transformed his body and his game into MVP material.
Antetokounmpo’s story has been framed as a feel-good narrative in which everyone has embraced him—watching him grow up, sign a five-year supermax contract extension worth $228 million, and lead the underdog Bucks to the NBA Championship in 2021. Giannis reveals a more nuanced story: how lonely and isolated he felt, adjusting to America and the NBA early in his career; the complexity of grappling with his Black and Greek identities; how he is so hard on himself and his shortcomings—a drive that fuels him every day; and the responsibility he feels to be a nurturing role model for his younger brothers. Fader illustrates a more vulnerable star than most people know, a person who has evolved triumphantly into all of his roles: father, brother, son, teammate, and global icon.