Sacred in the NBA, basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo confronts Greece with its contradictions

“Eight and a half years ago, I didn’t know where I would get my next meal. My mother used to sell trinkets on the streets. And today I’m here at the top “, Recalled, with tears in his eyes, Giannis Antetokounmpo, just after winning the NBA title with his team from the Milwaukee Bucks on July 21, being voted best player (MVP) of the final.

The “Greek Freak” (“the Greek monster”, nickname given by the American media) was born in Greece in 1994 of Nigerian parents without papers, raised in the popular district of Sepolia, in Athens, and was not granted the nationality. Greek until after he came of age, in 2013, when the NBA recruited him to join its ranks. “I hope to give everyone hope and allow them to believe in their dreams”, launched Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA cup in hand.

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His career is a success story American style. Netflix plans to turn this modern fairy tale into a movie. As a teenager, Giannis is spotted by trainer Spiros Vellianitis, by chance, on a basketball court. “In the world of Greek sport, nobody was interested in these boys”, the latter will say. To these children of the second generation and of color, one must understand.

“To be black in a white country”

Like them, Giannis has not escaped racism and discrimination. His former training stadium, where his silhouette is now drawn, had been vandalized and covered with xenophobic slogans. In its Sepolia neighborhood, in the 2014 municipal elections, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party came out on top, with 20.7% of the vote.

Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the leader of this organization, sentenced by Greek justice to thirteen years in prison, had called him “Chimpanzee”. A sports commentator called his brother Thanassis, also a basketball player, ” monkey “. Even in the ranks of the current Conservative government, Development Minister and former Nationalist Party Orthodox People’s Alert (LAOS) MP Adonis Giorgiadis made fun of his last name on a television set.

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In an interview with the American site Bleacher Report, the athlete will admit that ” it is difficult and will always be difficult to be black in a white country (…). In many corners (in Greece) you face a lot of negativity, racism ». After his American coronation, political consensus this time is needed. “Incredible Giannis Antetokounmpo! The Greeks celebrate it everywhere! “, exclaimed Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the athlete’s triumph.

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