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NBA Star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Greatest Gift Was Family, Not Athleticism

In the new documentary ‘Giannis: The Marvelous Journey,’ the NBA star is refreshingly likable, grounded, and humble.

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There are two ways to view the new documentary “Giannis: The Marvelous Journey,” which tells the story of Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek-Nigerian basketball player who came from nothing to become one of the greatest players in the NBA. One could see it as the story of a young man overcoming the unjust trials placed on nonwhite immigrants in the West. However, another (more accurate) way to see it is as the story of an incredibly lucky young man who was wise enough to make the most of his opportunities and value his family.

Giannis’ story begins with his parents looking to leave Nigeria because of the lack of job prospects as well as the poisoned water supply. They eventually decide to live in Greece. While the parents are both working hard to put food on the table, the four brothers including Giannis grow up in an apparently hostile environment that treats them like outsiders.

Of all the segments of the documentary, this first one prompts the most questions. How exactly did the Antetokounmpos make it to Greece? Were they documented and legal residents? What jobs did Giannis’ parents do? Did the boys attend school? If they were so poor, how did their father buy them a special edition PlayStation 2? If Greeks were so xenophobic and racist, how did the family not get deported or become victims of persecution?

Instead of answering these questions, much of the commentary focuses its attention on a particular nationalist anti-immigration party in Greece, the “Golden Dawn,” and how Greeks are generally intolerant people.

Fortunately, the Antetokounmpo boys, particularly Giannis, all grew up to be tall, athletic young men ideally suited for basketball. By the time they were teenagers, they were all playing in competitive youth basketball leagues. At 6’11″ with a 7’3” wingspan, Giannis quickly attracted the attention of European league and NBA scouts who came to Greece to watch him work out. And in Cinderella-like fashion, Giannis went from being a poor immigrant selling trinkets on the streets of Athens to being a professional basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Missing Details

Again, more questions go unanswered. Who taught Giannis how to play basketball? How was he discovered? How quickly did he transition into the NBA? It’s unclear, but Giannis and his brothers mention how they would hang out at the internet cafe to watch highlight reels of famous basketball players.

After sending remittances to his family for a few years, Giannis manages to have his family come join him in Milwaukee. This requires the intervention of high-level politicians who have to pull some strings to help his parents and brothers have their visas approved. Even though this illustrates the dysfunctional U.S. immigration system, for anyone familiar with the immigration process, it also indicates some serious issues with his family’s documentation and legal status in Greece.

The rest of the film plays out like most other stories of superstar athletes. Giannis trains and competes for a few years, gaining over 50 pounds in muscle and becoming the team’s star. By 2020, he led his team into playoffs and won back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards. All that was left was winning the championship. After mourning the sudden death of his father, and seeking mental health treatment (affirming the fashionable trend of superstar athletes being victims), and even coming off a serious injury in less than a week, he and his team finally won the championship in 2021.

Gratitude and Family

In the film’s conclusion, Giannis is shown returning to Greece, setting up a foundation to help young immigrants. Unlike his wife and some of the commentators, Giannis has nothing but gratitude for his home country and Milwaukee. As well he should. He was granted citizenship and paid millions for playing basketball. Had his family stayed in Nigeria, he would likely be unemployed and sick from contaminated water.

That said, what really makes Giannis admirable is his devotion to his family. Despite the poverty and discrimination they faced, they stuck together and supported one another. Of the many lucky breaks Giannis had in his life, the film makes clear his family was the greatest of them.

Overall, “Giannis: The Marvelous Journey” is uplifting and well-intended. The only two weaknesses are its awkward pro-immigration agenda and excessive runtime (almost two hours). In a world of narcissistic NBA players (see: LeBron James) Giannis Antetokounmpo is refreshingly likable, grounded, and humble. The NBA and other sports venues would do well to celebrate athletes like him and promote the culture of family he comes from.


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