A New Breed of Sports Star
The modern sports star tends to be a fickle one. In elite sport, you rarely see loyalty that can extend beyond the realm of a few years. Inevitably money plays a significant role in the movement of players but at the very top, it remains a cut-throat business that forces players and ownership into difficult decisions. As such, truly elite players loyal to the badge can often be named on fingers for the impact that they had at a ingle club.
Whilst it can be argued that football sees more player movements than any other sport, the salary-capped National Basketball Association has seen a transition in recent times that has transferred power to the players and seen a plethora of movements in which players have dictated their own terms and market their own future as a result.
After being drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Lebron James was seen as the catalyst for player empowerment when he played out his contract and moved to the Miami Heat as a free agent in 2010. Whilst players had always moved between teams, James teaming up with superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super-team in Florida wrestled the power from owners around the league and after 4 consecutive Finals appearances and 2 titles, paved the way for others to follow in pursuit of Championships that would solidify their legacies at the very top of the game.
With his parents having moved to Greece from Nigeria, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family struggled for money in his early years. As a youngster, Giannis and his family found themselves on the streets of Greece, flogging sunglasses and watches to members of the public in the hope of earning some money until he started playing Basketball in 2007. Following a rapid ascension that led to two seasons in the Greek third division.
Following a declaration for the NBA draft in 2013, Giannis was selected as the 15th overall pick, making his debut later that year as an 18-year old.
In the last 15 years of the NBA’s Most Valuable Players, only two had been drafted outside of the top 10 asides from Giannis, this 2021’s MVP Nikola Jokic and the late, great Kobe Bryant who was drafted straight of high school having bypassed his college experience.
Life in the NBA
A salary-capped league applies considerable pressure on team owners to find the right combination of players. Instances of salary demands and contract issues are regular concerns for teams throughout the league and therefore time to improve can be a precious commodity for players throughout a league that hosts just 30 teams of 15 players.
Despite this, the Milwaukee Bucks saw significant improvement in Giannis’ game as he demonstrated a will to learn and develop in his early years, agreeing to a 4-year, $100million contract extension three years after his arrival following a string of notably improved performances.
In 2017, Giannis became the youngest starter in the NBA All-Star game in Milwaukee Bucks history after his breakout 4th season in the league and since then has secured back-to-back league MVP awards including a Defensive Player of the Year award in the same year, becoming only the second player in league history to do so.
After rising to stardom in the league, Giannis built his body to become the dominating force that has taken over the best basketball league in the world. After registering 6’9” and 196lbs (89kg) when entering the league, he piled on the muscle to create a powerful force that now has him registered at 6’9” and 240lbs, earning him the nickname of ‘The Greek Freak’.
A sponsorship with Nike that has now seen 3 editions of the hugely popular Nike Zoom Freak Basketball shoe and an entire range of clothing has left just one glaring omission from the 26-year old’s already glistening resume; an NBA Championship.
With two brothers in the league, one of which on the very same team as him, Giannis had to watch his younger brother Kostas claim a Championship with the LA Lakers last year.
At the age of 20, he was part of a Milwaukee team that had the worst record in the league and tweeted that he never wanted to leave the city until the team had been built to a Championship level in order to pay them back for the faith they had shown in him.
With his team up 3-2 in the best-seven-series, Game 6 saw a 50-point masterpiece from Antetokounmpo where no other teammate could score more than 17 to secure the city’s first NBA title in 50 years. In doing so, the Antetokounmpo brothers became the first trio in the history of the league to all win a title.
The Future of Giannis
With so many individual accolades that now go along the ultimate prize, the 26-year old has already cemented himself as an all-time great in the sport. One of his biggest assets comes in the form of his humility, a principle that was highlighted during this years’ post-season on his mental approach to the game.
Analysts covering the sport have set an exceedingly high bar for the young man that could end up with him being on the short list of one of the best players of all time if he were too live up to those expectations over the next decade. For the immediate future, it looks as though those expectations will be chased in Milwaukee as even after lifting the trophy, the Finals MVP poked a jab at the formation of super-teams in his post-game interview.
Obvious flaws in his game are, at the moment, covered by his overall talents but if he were to improve his jump-shot and free throw percentage to name just two, he will be the dominant force in the league even the very best super-teams will struggle to stop.