How the Greek Freak went from beggar to baller

22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo used to steal, hock, and beg for food. He and his Nigerian-born family were living in Greece, poor and barely scraping by while he and his siblings dreamed of living a different life somewhere far away.

What they didn’t realize as children is that dreams can sometimes turn into reality, and just a year of playing in the Greek second tier basketball league was enough to show some NBA scouts that the dream of being a great basketball player was a reality. The very next season, the “Greek Freak” found himself getting selected in the first round.

“We would be out on the street together, selling a toy, a watch, something, and we raise $10. And that is good, because we didn’t starve today.”

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, on growing up in Greece

Milwaukee noticed right away that what they drafted was more than just an internet sensation.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Image source: Twitter
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Image source: Twitter

Although Giannis’ rise to fame for the first few seasons was widely based on content sharing from the Bucks organization, constantly making plays that only happened seconds ago available on the web, the content was infectious; slowly igniting the flames of fandom until this season, Giannis’ fourth, burst into a caldera of sycophants and adoring fans alike, culminating in his first introduction into superstardom and a spotlight starting role on the 2017 All-Star Team.

“When you have a player with the talent he has, the work ethic he has, when you have his humbleness, then you have the makings of a mega-star.”

Jason Terry

Looking around the league, there is a multitude of talent from LeBron James to Karl-Anthony Townes. But how does Giannis stack up against the rest of the league’s talent? It would be unfair to take his career totals and stack them up against other players since this is his first year of taking on the lead role. Here’s how the numbers look for some of the top tier talents fourth year in the league:

Giannis Antetokounmpo 8.9 5.5 1.8 2 23.5
Kobe Bryant 6.3 4.9 1.6 0.9 22.5
LeBron James 6.7 6 1.6 0.7 27.3
Russel Westbrook 4.6 5.5 1.7 0.3 23.6
Stephen Curry 4 6.9 1.6 0.2 22.9
Kevin Durant 6.8 2.7 1.1 1 27.7
James Harden 4.9 5.8 1.8 0.5 25.9
Kyrie Irving 3.2 5.2 1.5 0.3 21.7
Kawhi Leonard 7.2 2.5 2.3 0.8 16.5
Anthony Davis 10.3 1.9 1.3 2 24.3

*Stats compiled using

Even though Kobe is retired, you’ve got to put him in the mix anyway just to show how eerily similar his numbers are to Kobe’s (in fact, they are slightly better). The season is only half way through and injury could stop the Greek Freak from compiling more numbers like these. Or he could gain a little more confidence and blow these numbers through the roof.

He falls into the top 5 spot in every single category while comparing fourth year statistics. Most of these players went on to improve their stats in the next few seasons. If Giannis does, where will that rank him in the league going forward? LeBron and Melo are ten years older than Giannis. In ten years he’ll still be playing, while LeBron and Melo will most likely be watching from home.

Giannis had his first game winning shot this season. Not only did he look calm as he took that ball, dribbled to wind the clock down, and hit that step back jumper in the face of his defender, but he was cool after the game, letting the smile wash over his face, his exuberance and unabashed wonder exuding like a child – a man-child who loves the game.

But if you watch the play again, and really watch his footwork, paying close attention to where he plants his right foot and then steps back with that left, you will notice that the Greek Freak isn’t just a nickname, it’s a description. He stepped back farther than I have ever seen anyone do it in my life. It looks like it’s about eight feet.

Yes, he’s Greek. And yes, he’s a freak. But you can go ahead and add mega-star and Mister to that, too.


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