Everybody sees Giannis as the MVP of the league, the most unguardable player in the league, the “Greek Freak” and even the new face of the NBA. However, not many realize that Giannis came from poverty and was living in a rather bad state and literally gave “everything” he had and made many sacrifices for the game of basketball! Ironically, he even almost gave up playing in the NBA for his family!
In Athens Greece, Giannis grew up and was raised here by his family. Due to the state and economic status of Greece, his family was not very well to do and due to this, his family was unable to support his passion for basketball. Giannis and his 3 other brothers, Thanasis (Giannis’s current teammate in the NBA), Kostas (currently playing for the LA Lakers in the NBA) and Alex had to work with their parents at a young age by selling handbags, sunglasses and other sorts of apparels on the streets to support their family.
Due to their financial status, Giannis and his oldest brother, Thanasis, were unable to be given the nicest pair of shoes, the best basketball gear, or even any sort of support for the sport from their family. Giannis and Thanasis had to share the same pair of shoes to play basketball. There had even been times when they had training sessions or matches happening at the same time and one of them would use the shoe for the first half and the other would stop playing so that they can use the shoe to play as a fair trade.
Luckily, they played and trained at the same gym in Athens called “Filathlitikos Gym”. Thanasis being the oldest brother, had his training sessions in the morning while Giannis had his in the evening. Some Days they even trained twice a day. Giannis would follow his brother early in the morning and sleep in the gym as he waited for his turn to train. He even said there was no reason for him to head home as he would rather spend his time at the gym training whenever he could. They spent hours in that gym training even after they were done with their actual workouts with their team and coaches.
Giannis and his brother called their neighborhood basketball court their “second home”. Every day after school, Giannis and Thanasis would rush over to the basketball court and play basketball for hours nonstop. No matter what their family was going through, their passion for the game never died!
Giannis was lucky enough to find a coach who also was his agent in Greece, Giorgos Panou, who was able to develop Giannis further and help him find a way to the NBA. The situation in which Giannis was in was so bad that he was dangerously skinny and Giorgous felt Giannis should be eating way more than he currently is.
This meant Giannis had to eat more and different from his family. However, Giannis did not want only him to be given this extra help and he said his family has to be given the same treatment. Therefore, his family was taken care of for food as they all ate the same and was supported with food whenever they needed it.
His “ROCKY” journey to the NBA
Giannis did not have an easy and straight-forward route to the NBA like many other NBA players out there. Typically, players from Europe get scouted into the NBA by playing in FIBA tournaments or even joining the NBA combine camps such as the Nike Hoop Summit.
However, for Giannis, he was not blessed with any of these opportunities as NBA scouts rarely go to the 2nd division league and moreover, all the way in Greece. This made it extremely challenging for NBA scouts to find him and give him a chance to make it to the NBA. Luckily for Giannis, an ESPN Draft Analyst, Jonathan Givony, had gone down all the way to Greece to take a look at Giannis play and talk to him about the scouting process.
Giannis’s journey to the NBA may have seemed like it got clearer. However, the biggest worry for Giannis was his family. Giannis has made it very clear to the world that his family means the world to him. He has always mentioned, “My family is everything to me”. As Giannis himself did not even have a passport to fly overseas for the NBA scouting process, his family had to deal with the same situation as they did not have passports or a VISA.
Giannis was successfully able to get his passport and VISA to travel as he went for the 2013 NBA Draft. Giannis was so nervous and worried to travel alone that he made a deal with his agent to bring his oldest brother, Thanasis, along with him. However, the situation with his family was still worried about him. Giannis had no idea if his family would even be able to move to the USA with him.
Giannis was starting to get worried as in Greece, once your VISA application gets denied three times, it meant that you would not be able to leave the country for good. Giannis felt lonely and vulnerable all alone for several weeks in the USA to the point he would sleep in the Milwaukee Bucks gym and facility as he had no reason to go home.
Once Giannis found out that his family’s American VISA application got rejected twice, he told his agent that if his family does get rejected for god once again, he would leave the NBA and make his way back to Greece to be with his family. Just as Giannis was reaching his breaking point of missing his family, they got accepted for their American Visa and were able to make their way to the USA to be with Giannis and start a new life there.
A skinny Greek kid, to the MVP of the league
Once Giannis successfully got into the NBA and had his family with him, everything was taken care of. Now, all Giannis had to do was to train hard and give everything he had for the sport. Many people and even his very own team general manager doubted whether Giannis would become a good basketball player due to many limitations in his game. “The sky may be the limit for him” is a statement that was made about him by many.
However, one thing that may separate Giannis from everyone else in the NBA would be his work ethic. Basketball would be the reason why his family now is living a great life. Giannis worked tremendously to improve and prove everyone wrong. There have been multiple instances where Giannis would sleep, train, and eat in the facilities without going home as he felt that he always had something to work and improve on. Giannis had to work harder than everyone else as he was never seen as a shooter, a good passer, or a player with a good basketball IQ.
He started off in the NBA as a skinny eighteen-year-old teenager who could barely speak English well. With the help of his teammates and the Milwaukee Bucks Association, they never gave up on him and always pushed him to the limit, and now, he carries the name, “MVP” with him wherever he goes. For someone who came into the NBA looking weak and skinny, to now looking like an unguardable powerhouse on the court shows how much effort, dedication, and discipline it took for him to achieve his goals.