NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo - a rags-to-riches tale

Greek basketball players Giannis (right) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo speaking at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens on June 24, 2017.
Greek basketball players Giannis (right) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo speaking at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens on June 24, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP) - Rags-to-riches National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star player Giannis Antetokounmpo spoke openly on Saturday of his Nigerian origins and of eking out a living trading on the streets of Athens long before his US$100 million (S$138 million) deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Giannis appeared on stage at the Onassis Cultural Centre with his 24-year-old brother Thanasis, who plays for Spanish club MoraBanc Andorra, and they talked about their painful struggle growing up in Greece where their parents had arrived as immigrants.

"We are the products of two cultures, Greek and Nigerian, and we took the best of both worlds," Giannis said.

"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 on the streets of the capital in order to help their poor family.

But basketball changed their lives and last year, Giannis signed a US$100 million four-year contract with the Bucks.

Thanasis also tried his luck in the NBA before joining his current club.

"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 crowd of 5,000 spectators during an exhibition game they organised in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

"Greece loves us because we are good guys. We promote Greece wherever we go," Giannis 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.

"I know nothing else but Greece. I have never been to Nigeria. You are not born a Greek, you become a Greek," Giannis said.