I traveled all the way from Greece to Houston, then drove to San Antonio, to do the authoritative interview with Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo for gazzetta.gr.
Here is a version translated into English for readers of SheridanHoops.com.
After all the incidents that occurred during summer, you feel like you grew up… five years into five months?
“Yes, it feels somehow like that. All this time I feel like I grew up in terms of basketball, as well as I matured as a personality and it ended like that! Member of the starting 5, the trust of the coach, everything…”
But the dream you are living right now it tended to have some bad moments. Until now you are experiencing this unprecedented change in your life completely alone and you have to manage the feeling of nostalgia about your family…
“That’s true! I would like to have my family and my brothers with me so as we could live it all together, but for now (the interview was conducted on Jan. 18) we can’t do something about it. I hope they will come soon, so as we can share the experience I am living”.
Are you familiar with all that “panic” that’s going on in Greece around your name?
“Not really! If I am connected to Facebook and I notice a relevant news feed, or if a friend sends me an article, then I read the titles”.
The fact that you had difficult childhood helped you to withstand all this loneliness in a fully demanding professional environment?
“Sure, that counts too. It counts that I have a strong character, patience and persistence. I trained very hard alone, some weeks more than the others and when the pre-season started, I was really into team training, in order to prove to my coach that I can be in the same level with my teammates. I had to do things that demand a strong character and I made it to the starting eleven”.
Your teammates know the difficulties that you faced while growing up?
“No, I haven’t tell anybody. Now If the know, I am not sure. They don’t have too. What’s done is done”.
How do you communicate with Greece? You talk to your people everyday via Skype?
“Exactly! I am talking with my parents on telephone and with my brothers via Skype”
Last year your schedule was different. Training, home, cinema, souvlaki and ice cream with your pals and PlayStation with your brothers, having to choose while playing an NBA star that you are now facing in real life. This year, how do you feel that a lot of young children in Greece are choosing Antetokounmpo in order to play their favorite video game?
“To be honest it’s a nice feeling. I also bought the 2k14 in PlayStation 4, to play a bit with myself!”.
So, how is yourself in PlayStation?
“(smiling) He is nice! I am looking like a handsome one, in basketball terms I am good enough, so everything is fine!”.
What are your discussing with your brother, the few times that you are meeting each other, since he is also in USA? Last year you were teammates in the second division of Greece and now you are playing in the best league of the world…
“We talk a lot about basketball, because he is also having the same issues I have, he is also alone. He is older, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel loneliness. We are exchanging stories about our experiences in our teams, the relations with our coaches and our teammates. Whichever is our main topic of conversation, we end up in basketball”.
Which Greek food you are missing the most?
“Souvlaki! I haven’t eaten it for four months”.
How do you eat it?
“With chicken, a lot of sauce and everything else inside in terms of ingredients!”
That’s what you are missing the most? The good food and your people?
“Ok, I also miss my friends, the fact that I used to walk from home to training and back, the weather for sure, my coaches in Filathlitikos and my old team in general”.
What reactions do you see from the Greeks of Milwaukee? Because there are many of them in the city…
“They have normal reactions. They support me a lot, they are coming to games, holding the Greek flag in the stands and that’s a beautiful feeling”.
Has anyone stopped you in the middle of the street and talk to you in Greek?
“Yes, a lot of times!”.
What are they saying to you? They are different from the native Greeks?
“They are a little bit! They are like Americans, but they speak in Greek. They maybe love Greece more than us, because when I meet them they keep talking about Greece, about their efforts to come back… It seems like they feel a lot of nostalgia”.
How do you spend your time in Milwaukee, when your are not traveling?
“I spend a lot of time in my home, with Ross, a friend of mine that works in the team. We are playing billiard, video games and watching a lot of movies. Winter is severe in Milwaukee and outside it’s very cold. Furthermore, I am trying to rest and I am communicate with my family. When we are in other cities and there is a good weather I am going out. I am walking a lot, in order to feel the atmosphere, to meet the city, to monitor the people. In general, I miss that thing I used have in Greece. The fact that we can go out whenever we want”.
After all, are you now sure about what is better of you in terms of basketball? What fits you the most? Greece and A1 league, Spain and ACB or the NBA? For example, would you like to play in Olympiakos? (The reds have tried to sign him from Filathlitikos).
“My dream was to play in NBA! I made it happen and that’s what I like the most”.
From your travels for the away games, which cities have impressed you the most?
“Houston, Miami and Los Angeles! Yesterday, I went for a walk in Houston, in an area with fountains. Then we went for pizza with some guys from the team. It was nice…”.
Who is the NBA star that have impressed you the most? Durant, LeBron, Carmelo or Kobe?
“I think Durant! I haven’t played against Kobe, because he was injured and I really hope he will play when Lakers will come to Milwaukee. Ok, LeBron is the best player of the league, but when we played in Miami he didn’t have his best game”.
In that match I remember you had your first good performance in NBA. How was it to score against the world champions and listen to the speaker announcing your name?
“A very nice feeling!”.
What is the relation with money in a community like the NBA, when there is plenty of it?
“I am not involving a lot in money. I have assigned a few people to manage it and I just monitor what is in and out from my bank account! Actually, I monitor what’s coming in, because it never comes out…”.
Are there traps in NBA? Are there dexterous people aiming to extract money from you?
How do you encounter them?
“I am not paying attention and I am not entitling anyone I don’t know. In general, I am trying to be the old Giannis. Giannis from last year, that he had difficulties in his life, he didn’t own a lot of things. It’s better this way!”.
Lets talk about the Greek National Team. Information from FIBA said that one of the reasons that Greece will get the wild card to participate in the World Championship, is your impressive progress in the NBA.
“Great news. I am really looking forward to play, if the head coach is going to give me the opportunity to be part of the team, of course! We do not know who will be the coach of the National Team, but whoever he is, if they call me, I’ll be there ! I’ll try to be there! ”
How do you feel that you are so young, but you are already a significant player for the Greek basketball? You are promoting the Greek basketball in NBA, you are the centre of the discussion in the international basketball community and your country will organize the European Youth Championship for your age in Crete. All that noise is adding more pressure on you?
“There is no pressure. Everything I do, I do it for me and believe me, I am having fun. That’s the most important thing. I do not feel any pressure, neither from my team in the NBA , neither from the Greek National Team, neither from what is written and said in Greece. The same happens with my parents, with my manager or anyone ! Whatever I do, I do it for me and I am so glad”!
Regarding the Greek National Team of men, do you really want to play with them in an international tournament? I am asking this because you have a huge sensitivity to the fact that you were born in Greece. You are carrying the Greek flag and you are constantly repeating your desire to play with the National Team…
“I wanna surely join with the National Team of men in a big event like the World Championship , but I do not want to miss the European Championship Under 20, which will take place this summer in Crete.”
You are gonna participate in both tournaments? That means that you will spend all the summer playing basketball.
“If I get a call in the Men’s Team, I will definitely go. But at that moment, the only thing for sure, is that I am going to play in the European U-20 Championship”
How is possible to play almost 25 minutes per game in NBA, to be in the starting 5 in almost the 50% of Bucks games and not being called in the Greek National Team?
“I don’t know that and I don’t want to talk about it. The only thing I can say right now is that there is no way I won’t be part οf the U-20 team, because I want to take the gold medal”.
Because of your friendship with the other players of the last years’ team and the special bond that was created through the European Championship in Estonia?
“This is not the most important. For sure I like a lot all the lads and they are my friends, but I want so much to play in that team because it is my repressed feeling. I want a gold medal with the lads of my age!”.
A few things that are not relevant to basketball… You are playing nonstop for a year and a half. Are you thinking the summer vacations? Do you want to run away from this panic that is being created about your career and your evolution? Are you talking to your teammates about Greece? Are they asking you about our islands?
“Yes, this year I will come for vacation in Greece and some of my teammates will follow me. I have talked to them about the beauty of our island and I want to find out about it myself, having them with me. They will come to Athens first, we will go sightseeing and have fun and then I am thinking to go to Mykonos and Santorini, that are well known destinations”.
All this time that you are playing in NBA, are you looking back at the time that you struggled to earn some money for your home?
“It hasn’t been a long time… It happened last year and two years ago, so it’s impossible not to remember it. I remember everything and to be honest, I don’t have problem with that. It makes me stronger. I always want to remember who I was and who I am evolving to. It’s nice to remember the bad experiences, mostly if they belong to the past. Because my story has a happy end!”
The fact that you are talking about happy end is meaning that you didn’t enjoy the route?
“I know I didn’t have a good time, but I think most of the people know that I had difficult childhood. I don’t like to talk a lot about this, especially now that I am in NBA and I have fun, my family is fine, so everything is perfect”.
Do you believe in Santa Claus? Not literally… Did you send presents to your beloved ones for Christmas?
“(He smiles and beckons negatively). Surely I sent. clothes, video games and money in order to spend them the way they like!”.
Which is the best present you got, not including the pair of shoes that (Larry) Sanders bought you?
“Seriously now, it was a cold night in Milwaukee when someone rang my bell. I opened and I was astonished! The owner of team, senator Herb Kohl, had sent me a huge box full of chocolates! I loved it!”.
Which present did you expect and you still don’t have it?
“My parents and my brothers! I can’t wait to meet them!” (They reached Milwaukee on Feb. 3).
In terms of basketball?
“Everyone says that they will call me in the rising stars challenge that is going to be played under the All Star Game. I wish. I am looking forward to live this and be part of a team with so many star players! (his wish became true 10 days after the interview).”
In the end, I would like to ask you what you don’t like in the NBA.
“I don’t like that we keep losing! That before the game begins almost nobody thinks that we are going to win. I like winning and this is an extra reason that I play with so much energy. On the other hand, there is a benefit in losses. They are keeping us down to earth and help us to be focused on training. When you lose with a big point difference, then you don’t have other choice, rather than work your socks off in training and becoming better and better, until you start winning. I am trying to think this way and that’s why I am working hard in every training session”.
Tony Kalkavouras is one of the best known sportswriters and broadcasters in Greece. He is a longtime colleague and friend of Chris Sheridan.