How Giannis got his Greek citizenship only “because he was going to be an American basketball player”
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How Giannis got his Greek citizenship only “because he was going to be an American basketball player”

Yesterday was a special day in the Antetokounmpo family. Veronica and Alexandros Antetokounmpo officially became Greek citizens, finalizing the process of the entire Antetokounmpo family becoming Greek. The ceremony was held at the Greek Prime Minister’s mansion, where the PM himself handed Veronica and Alex their papers. With Giannis in attendance, the Prime Minister thanked Veronica for “raising amazing children with dignity and ethos.”

After the ceremony, Giannis said the family always felt Greek, “but now that we have Greek citizenship, we’re very happy.” If there was ever a statement that proved how generous Giannis is, it’s this one. While he and his family show nothing but gratitude and respect to Greece, one can hardly say Greece treated the family the same way. As we know, the Antetokounmpos entered Greece illegally. Although Giannis and three of his four brothers were born in Greece, they didn’t get citizenship. 

Greece has a very rigorous citizenship law – it follows the principle of jus sanguinis (Latin for ‘right of blood’), meaning the standard procedure for getting Greek citizenship is by ethnicity, not place of birth. As illegals in the country, work was hard to come by, so Giannis and his brothers had to help out by hawking watches, handbags, and sunglasses in the streets. The best story that paints the picture of Giannis and his family’s struggle is that of his diet once joining the Bucks

The main flag for Giannis approaching the draft was his skinny frame – people questioned his ability to endure the physicality of the NBA. So immediately upon his arrival to Milwaukee, Giannis was assigned a workout program to bulk up. Despite working hard, the coaching staff was surprised Giannis wasn’t putting on weight. Then a staff member noticed Giannis wasn’t eating all his food. He asked Antetokounpo why he was doing this, and Giannis explained he wasn’t sure if the food would keep coming, so he’s saving some for later. 

Keep in mind, as the 15th pick in the Draft, Giannis had a signed contract that said he was going to make $1.7 million that year, and he was still saving food because he wasn’t sure if the food would keep coming. Why? Because he saw his mother sell her wedding ring to feed her kids, and Giannis’ father would regularly not eat so his children would have food. In preparation for the draft, Giannis’ agent took him to a doctor who said his liver was that of a 70-year-old alcoholic due to malnutrition. Giannis’ agent tried to help but didn’t understand that the entire family was basically starving. 

“But we definitely did not eat right… My agent helped me with my food, told me exactly what to eat. But the thing that he didn’t know was, I don’t eat if my brothers don’t. I never told him that. I wasn’t eating the food, I was eating one-fourth of the food. There’s no way, my dad taught me this. To this day, if my brothers don’t eat, I don’t eat. That is how I was raised.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Woj Pod

There were days when Giannis’ first meal was at 11 PM, after a full day of school and practice. So only after the Bucks staff reassured Giannis he will get the $1.7 million and all the food he wants no matter what, he started eating right – that’s probably one of the main reasons Giannis grew so much in his first few years in the league. With that in mind, how hard life was for his family in Greece, and how little support they got from official institutions, Giannis’ gratitude and generosity are impressive. Especially at a citizenship ceremony. Here’s what Mirin Fader, the author of “Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP,” said was the first thing people don’t understand about Giannis.

The first thing that came to mind is a lot of the racism that Giannis has experienced. … So many white Greeks helped him, but there were so many people that did not wish him well. They would shout racist insults during games. I also went really really deep on learning about how much the Greek government dragged its feet on granting him citizenship. I interviewed the Prime Minister of Greece from the time, and just to see how he avoid the question and basically confirmed what I had known. The only reason he got citizenship is because he was going to be an American basketball player.

Mirin Fader, The Press Box

It easily could’ve happened teams decided to pass on Giannis, or that he quit basketball on one of the many days he was hungry and didn’t get to eat. In that case, the Antetokpunmpos would probably still be without citizenship, without access to many public services, trying to make ends meet. Despite their “dignity and ethos.”