Greek politicians, sports teams, and citizens have celebrated the NBA Finals victory of national basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo”s Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday to win their first NBA title in fifty years.
The “Greek Freak” finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in the six-game series and became the first player from his country to receive the NBA Finals “Most Valuable Player” (MVP) award.
The victory was celebrated jubilantly in Milwaukee, but equally residents in Athens who first watched Antetokounmpo display his talent on a basketball court.
One of the first to speak out was Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on Twitter, describing the 26-year-old Bucks’ forward performances as “incredible”.
Messages of congratulations were also posted on social media by a number of other senior Greek politicians, including Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
The Greek sporting world also voiced their delight, from the Hellenic Olympic Committee to basketball teams such as Olympiacos Piraeus and PAOK Thessaloniki.
In the northern Athens neighbourhood of Sepolia — where Antetokounmpo and his brothers had grown up — a number of residents had gathered in local bars to watch Game 6 in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Born in Athens in 1994 to a family of Nigerian immigrants, Antetokounmpo spent nearly two decades of his life without Greek citizenship because he did not have papers.
The basketball star and his brothers were forced to work as street vendors to help support the family’s struggling economy.
“From a small flat in Sepolia to the top of the world,” exclaimed Greece’s left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras on Facebook.
“Children of two parents who came to Greece for a better life and raised their family with principles, values and ideals. It is an honour that you are Greeks.”
Thanasis Antetokounmpo now also plays with the Milwaukee Bucks but did not play due to quarantine. Meanwhile, Giannis’ other brother Kostas has just left the Los Angeles Lakers for the French team Asvel, and Alex Antetokounmpo is part of the Catholic University of Murcia in Spain.
“I started playing basketball to help my family,” said Giannis, who hopes to return to Athens this Saturday after winning the title.
“I tried to help them out of the problems and challenges we faced when we were kids.”
Antetokounmpo joked to Greek reporters on Wednesday that if 100,000 Greek citizens are not at the airport to welcome him, he will not be getting on the plane.