Giannis Anteotkounmpo is soaking it all in (Gary Dineen/ Getty).
One of the great joys of this NBA season has been watching Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 19-year-old rookie known as "The Greek Freak" for his incredible athleticism and physical stature. Despite this Bucks' season being almost entirely awful, Antetokounmpo has given reason for hope via his penchant for highlights and the simple joy of watching a talented player finding his way in real time. He's far from a finished product, but that's part of what makes him so fun to watch.
Yet, as a teenage foreign national who only gained attention from the NBA shortly before last June's draft, Antetokounmpo also fascinates for his experiences off the court. In a blog post for the Greek website Sport 24, Antetokounmpo detailed some of the most amazing things that have happened to him this season (translation via Brew Hoop, bolded headings our own):
On gaining trust:
It is a beautiful feeling to enjoy the trust of Coach Drew. I see in his eyes, when he talks to me, how much he trusts me. Everyone in the team trusts me and want me to improve, game by game. I feel I am improving, I have to be more consistent. I try, through the games and the practices, to improve. I realize that game after game my contribution in the team becomes more versatile. I try to do all I can on the floor. Play defense for me and my teammates. Close holes and gaps and, at the same time, to get into plays with determination. I am interested in growing up, game by game, and to continuously learn something new. Learn from my mistakes, but also from the mistakes of others. I feel I am improving, but I have to be more consistent in my production. [...]
For me the best gift is the NBA. What I am going through is amazing. Even now, when I am stepping on the floor, I think it's not real. Until seven months ago I was playing in ESKA and A2 [read: Greek lower divisions] and now I am in the NBA. If this isn't a gift, then what is? [...]
I did, however, receive an expensive gift from my teammate Larry Sanders, who gave me a pair of Gucci shoes. I told him that he shouldn't have given me such an expensive gift. He said: "You are my rookie and I have to take care of you." Maybe he is spoiling me so that I will throw him more lobs! [...]
On playing the Lakers:
One very beautiful moment for me was when we traveled to L.A. to play against the Lakers. Unfortunately, Kobe did not play since he was injured again. From the second I set foot in Staples Center I was looking for him. I wanted to see how he looks like from up close. How tall is he, how he moves. We are talking about one of the best players of all time. When the game started, in a timeout, I saw him on the bench. He had that killer look, even though he was in his 'civilian' clothes on the bench. I also have that look! Nah, kidding!
I did not have time to see someone famous on the side court, but I was almost seriously injured. Not long before the game was over, and when I was in the air for a rebound, Williams footstooled me [Greek expression, you get the point]. I fell on the floor very hard. Everyone was asking me if I was OK. It hurt a lot and I tried not to show it. On the bench, Coach Drew came and asked me: "Are you going to shoot the free throws or should I send someone else?" I told him: "Of course I am, who else?" [...]
On his fame in Greece:
I am impressed by all the fuss around my name in Greece. I did not expect it. I watch, through NBA Greece, all that is written for me, and I also read the comments and messages on my Facebook profile. I feel very nice but also quite uncomfortable, since I am not used to drawing attention. I hope my presence here will motivate more Greek players to come to the NBA. I hope that the next one will be my brother Thanasis and then my younger brothers, Kostas and Aleksandros! It will be fun. I do believe there are youngsters that can play here, like Haralampopoulos. I do believe it.
It's fair to wonder if Antetokounmpo is being too positive over an experience that involves the Bucks playing to an NBA-worst 7-27 record, but it's also a very enjoyable read. His words present his first season as one equal parts exciting and overwhelming, full of new experiences that could qualify as fulfilled dreams. Antetokounmpo has new friends, got expensive shoes as a gift, and saw Kobe Bryant in person. What more could a teenager want?
It stands to reason that, at some point, these events will get more familiar and Antetokounmpo will desire a few more wins. For now, though, his take on NBA life has more than a little common with the experience of watching the exciting rookie play. With Antetokounmpo, everything is new and different. He's amazing to watch in part because we don't know what he'll do next.
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