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NBA 75 Series: #20 Giannis Antetokounmpo

At #20 of my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is a 7-foot freak of nature who seems like he was built in a lab with enormous hands, a 7-foot-3 wingspan, can jump out the gym, and is a two-way force of nature who is so physically dominant that he is labeled as “The Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was born on December 6th, 1994, in Athens, Greece, being the son of Nigerian immigrants. Antetokounmpo’s family was extremely poor in his childhood, which caused his older brother, Thanasis and himself to collect watches, handbags, sunglasses, and any other valuable items they could find for money to help take care of the family.

He picked up the game of basketball later than most at the age of 13, but immediately fell in love with the game and saw it as a way to get his family out of poverty. Antetokounmpo’s' younger brothers, Alex and Kostas, as well as Thanasis were all born in Greece but didn’t have citizenship for years due to their parents not being of Greece descent and didn’t have papers for Nigerian citizenship either which prevented Antetokounmpo and his family from being able to travel outside the country and having no state representation.

At the age of 17, Antetokounmpo would join the Filathlitikos senior men's team in 2011, a third division semi-pro Greek B Basket League where he didn’t sniff the court his first season. But, in 2012-13 during the Greek A2 League, Antetokounmpo would get his opportunity to showcase his raw abilities by averaging 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game across 26 games on 46% from the field in 22.5 minutes per game. He would get selected to the 2013 Greek League All-Star Game despite not actually being selected, but was a treat for the fans to see such a scintillating young talent who was only just beginning to see what he was capable of on a basketball court.

Antetokounmpo would go on to enter his name for the 2013 NBA Draft where he would be selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks behind guys like Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter Jr, and others.. Oof that’s got to hurt those franchises' hearts everyday. He would have an unheralded entrance into the NBA, averaging 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and a shade under a steal and block per game in 77 appearances.

“The Greek Freak” has defied all odds since coming into the NBA as a scrawny 6-foot-9 kid with insane long limbs and a wingspan that looks like it could cover the whole court, Antetokounmpo burst onto the scene out of nowhere in 2017 when he became an All-Star for the first time, won Most Improved Player of the Year, and made the All-NBA team for the first time.

His work ethic is impeccable, improving every single season and never being satisfied. He is the reigning Finals MVP (2021), has an NBA title, won back-to-back MVPs (2019, 2020), won DPOY (2020), six-time NBA All-Star, All-Star MVP (2021), six-time All-NBA, won Most Improved as mentioned earlier and is a five time all-defensive selection.

He is only 27 years old and still has another decade plus to add to his resume, which is frightening. He is one of three players to have a Finals MVP, MVP, and DPOY on their resume, the others are Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, some company right? He also joins them as the only three to ever win MVP and DPOY in the same season, Jordan (1987-88), Olajuwon (1993-94), and Giannis (2019-20). He became just the seventh player in NBA history to have 50 points in the Finals, joining Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Jordan, and LeBron James.

Not only that, he became the first player in NBA history with 50 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks in a Finals game, recording 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks in a 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns in a legendary Game 6 performance for the ages. He also silenced critics by shooting 17-of-19 from the foul line, something he has struggled with throughout his career thus far but came up big for his team when it mattered.

Antetokounmpo is the 1st player in NBA Finals history to average 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists on at least 60% shooting and is the most dominant player since Shaq. He now looks like he has an improved jumper, as we’ve seen this past season, and if that isn’t a mirage, the NBA better watch out! Expect him to skyrocket up this list and be top 10 all time if he can capture more championships when it is all said and done.

He is “The Greek Freak!”

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