TORONTO Hundreds of Greeks – thousands according to the Milwaukee Bucks, 700 according to the local media – with Greek flags in their hands spent New Year’s Day 2018 at Toronto’s Air Canada Center for the Raptors’ NBA game against the Bucks featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Though Giannis’ team was defeated by the Raptors (DeMar DeRozan scored a record 52 points) 131-127, he was the reason for another moving Greek community event where the Greek National Anthem was played in an NBA venue.
The night was also designated as “Greek Heritage Night” by the Raptors.
The members of the Greek community, after the end of the game, filled a whole area and as soon as Antetokounmpo appeared, the crowd went wild. The Greek National Anthem sounded throughout the stadium and the Greek player was visibly moved as well as impressed by the scene.
The Greek community of Toronto and Canada, in general, presented him with some gifts, and even offered a vasilopita for his family. The 23-year-old superstar Bucks player signed all the autographs he could, as his team rushed him out to catch the plane leaving Toronto.
“Thank you for coming to support us. I wish you health, love, and a happy New Year,” said Antetokounmpo.
According to the Thestar.com newspaper, whatever the virtues of Giannis Antetokounmpo, both on and off the court, no one can deny he has a bond with basketball fans, which goes beyond the game of basketball.
Frank Karantonis, a doctor of Greek descent, talks about humility, Raptor’s coach, Dwane Casey talks about “pureness of heart” and the star of the Canadian team, DeMar DeRozan says it can be anything from the greatness of his sports skills to his nice nickname.
“I think the biggest bond is his humility,” said Dr. Karantonis, who was the head of the Greek evening of appreciation for Antetokounmpo at the Air Canada Center on Monday.
“He grew up very poor in Greece, in Athens… (It is) just the bond with his family and his loyalty to his country,” he added, emphasizing that “there is something with his humility that connects us with him and wanting to achieve our dreams some day,” as reported in thestar.com.
Karantonis gathered hundreds of Greek expatriates through the Greek Canadian Games, which organizes various sporting events, in the Olympic model, every summer for Greek youth.
“It’s such a great story and he is a hero to all of us,” he said of Antetokounmpo, as Thestar.com reported.
He is also a nightmare for opponents, in the way he plays at both ends of the court, with passion and athletic abilities that terrorize opponents.
Raptors’ coach Casey said, as reported in Thestar.com, “I think he plays with a pure heart. He’s trying to win. I don’t think there’s a selfish bone in his body. He practices, from my understanding, the way he plays, and you love that. His teammates love that because now he can go to another player and say, ‘Hey, you’re not going hard enough because I do it.’ His freshness, his innocence and he enjoys the game. All of those things rub the players the right way, his teammates the right way.”
Raptors’ President, Masai Ujiri, desperately tried to make exchanges in the draft of 2015 to get Antetokounmpo on the team. The relationship with the Antetokounmpo family goes back many years. Ujiri helped the family, as reported in Thestar.com, to move from Nigeria to Greece.
The fans now cheer for Antetokounmpo everywhere.
“He has so much passion and there is so much thirst for a hero and that’s why this guy is such an exciting person for Greece right now,” said Karantonis, as reported in Thestar.com.