ATHENS (Reuters) – The Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA championship in 50 years on Tuesday and a nation is cheering their success.
In Greece, home of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 50 points to carry the Bucks to the 2021 NBA title, the news dominated social media on Wednesday.
“Incredible @Giannis_An34!,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted. “Greeks everywhere celebrate!”
Born in Greece to Nigerian parents, Antetokounmpo and his brothers sold trinkets on the street of Athens to survive. They grew up fearing deportation and Antetokounmpo was not granted Greek citizenship until age 19.
His incredible rags-to-riches story has moved Greeks who give Antetokounmpo roaring cheers whenever he plays in Greece.
Fans had created a giant mural of Giannis in his Milwaukee Bucks jersey across the court where he and his brothers practiced in their old neighborhood of Sepolia.
The 26-year-old, whose phenomenal rise from a lanky boy in Athens to the NBA has earned him the nickname “Greek Freak”, received the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award after averaging 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns.
The feat produced a rare show of unity across Greece’s fractious political scene.
“Children of immigrants who lived through injustice and racism… it is our honor that you are Greeks,” leftist Syriza leader and former prime minister Alexis Tsipras said, congratulating Giannis and his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who also plays for the Bucks.
“From Sepolia and the hard life of an immigrant family to the top of world basketball, always with the same clear & modest look in their eyes,” Greece’s communist KKE party said.
He is expected to arrive in Athens on Saturday.
“If there aren’t 100,000 people at the airport waiting for me and my family, I’m not flying,” Antetokounmpo joked in comments to Greek website sport24.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Christian Radnedge)