NBA Superstar ‘The Greek Freak’ Embraces Nigerian Heritage With Debut Trip

Published 4 months ago
By Forbes Africa | Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
At Rowe Park in Yaba, Nigeria, Photo credit @BballNaija
At Rowe Park in Yaba, Nigeria, Photo credit @BballNaija

Basketball lovers consider Giannis Antetokounmpo’s visit to Nigeria significant, as it reflects a growing interest in Nigerian basketball and the recognition of the country’s athletes on a global stage.

Greek-Nigerian basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo (originally Adetokunbo), a two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player, fulfilled a long-awaited dream as he arrived in Lagos last week, for the first time, a few months after the launch of the Poverty Is No Joke initiative, a concept introduced by the Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation.

Antetokounmpo has always embraced his Nigerian heritage. The initiative, he has previously highlighted, would be focused on three places: Milwaukee, where he plays, currently; Greece, his birthplace; and Nigeria – the country his parents migrated from.


In 2013, after acquiring Greek citizenship, Antetokounmpo’s official surname changed to Αντετοκούνμπο, the Greek transcription of Adetokunbo. This was later transliterated letter-for-letter and officially spelled as Antetokounmpo on his Greek passport. Due to the complexity of his original surname, many NBA fans found it difficult to pronounce, leading him to be affectionately referred to as the ‘Greek Freak’.

Antetokounmpo shared his excitement on social media on his arrival in Nigeria. He tweeted a picture of himself and his mother, Veronica, in Lagos on Saturday night, saying, “Finally made it to Nigeria with Mama the Mama.”

His first stop was at the Youth Alive Basketball Championship held on Friday at Rowe Park in Yaba, a suburb on the mainland of Lagos.

The event host, Abayomi Ajowele, tweeted: “When I announced to the kids that @Giannis_An34 would be at Rowe Park and begged them to wait after the event for another 20 minutes, they thought I was mad and hallucinating. The rest, they say, is history.”


According to Shololo Shuaib, a sports marketing agent, Antetokounmpo played with the under-12 category and spent time talking to them.

Additionally, a Twitter handle dedicated to basketball activities in Nigeria, @BballNaija, noted that Antetokounmpo was in the country briefly “to shoot a documentary and it’s connected to the book about him – The Improbable Rise of an NBA Champion. He leaves tonight (Saturday).”

Mirin Fader’s book tells the remarkable story of Antetokounmpo’s journey from poverty in Athens, Greece, to superstardom in America with the Milwaukee Bucks. It portrays him as one of the most transcendent players in history, ultimately becoming an NBA Champion.

The development comes just a few months after the launch of the Poverty Is No Joke initiative. His ties to Nigeria run deep, with both of his parents hailing from the country.


He proudly revealed their names for the first time in an interview with The Undefeated in 2019. Despite being born in Athens, he emphasized that his home life was steeped in Nigerian culture, with values centered on discipline, respect for elders, and strong moral principles.

His journey to Africa is not entirely new; he had previously represented Team Africa in the first Africa Game in Johannesburg in 2015, scoring a game-high of 22 points. According to his interview with The Undefeated in 2019, he also obtained his Nigerian passport that same year, cementing his connection to his roots.

Basketball lovers consider Antetokounmpo’s visit to Nigeria significant, as it reflects a growing interest in Nigerian basketball and the recognition of the country’s talented athletes on a global stage.

Dayo Mustapha, a basketball enthusiast, praises Antetokounmpo’s gesture, seeing it as a positive development for Nigerian basketball.


Mustapha tells FORBES AFRICA: “With a surge in interest and investment in the sport, Nigeria is becoming a priority destination for talented athletes to showcase their skills.

“Antetokounmpo’s presence in Nigeria marks a momentous occasion for Nigerian basketball, highlighting the potential for growth and inspiring young players to pursue their dreams on and off the court.”

Oluwaseyi Giwa, a devoted fan of Antetokounmpo, shares with FORBES AFRICA: “Giannis, as a person, has shown a deep love for Nigerians and a strong desire to give back to the children in Nigeria through basketball, which I find truly inspiring.

“I have watched documentaries, short films, and full cinematic movies about his life story; through these, you can witness how this young man never forgot his roots, background, real surname, and ancestors. He proudly carries the emblem of his heritage, despite not being born here, all thanks to his parents who instilled in him and his siblings the worth and richness of their culture. I believe many of us resonate with him as he grew up,” says Giwa.