He wasn’t able to help the Greek national basketball team even qualify for the 2016 Olympics but now Milwaukee Bucks and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to bring his country the world title at this month’s tourney so bad he said it’s more important to him than being named the league’s best player over a bevy of Americans.
“I would exchange the MVP title for the gold medal in China,” he told FIBA.com, referring to where the Aug. 31-Sept. 16 games are being held this year and he just might have a shot at it with the United States – which has gone 76-0 in world cup and Olympic play since losing to Greece in the 2006 world semi-finals – sending the junior varsity.
American superstars, perhaps weary of the tourney or not caring anymore, backed out of being on Team USA, leading coach Greg Popovich, who has the helm for the San Antonio Spurs, left to give Hoosier-like inspirational speeches to what’s left as he picks a 12-man roster from the likes of Mason Plumlee and Thaddeus Young. Who?
Greece has lost in the round of 16 at the world title at the last two events after winning the silver in 2006, losing to Spain in the final, unable to make the miracle ending after stunning the American star-studded team, which included LeBron James.
Greece has Antetokounmpo and Greek-American Nick Kalathes and a seasoned roster but hasn’t been able to get past Spain and Serbia in European tournaments and in China is in a group with New Zealand, Montenegro, and world power Brazil.
Antetokounmpo may have to do it himself after winning three straight All-Star selections and breaking through with his first MVP award this past season, taking the Bucks to the best record in the NBA and the Eastern Conference finals, taking a lead against the Toronto Raptors before Kawhi Leonard shut him down, taking the Canadian team to the title over the Golden State Warriors.
Antetokounmpo will have his brothers Thanasis and Kostas on the team, giving Greece three citizens who are native Nigerians and he said he’s ready for the world’s best even after the arduous NBA schedule and his celebrated season. There’s also Greek-American Tyler Dorsey – also African-American, as a primo shooting guard, who played at Oregon and for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA off the bench.
Antetokounmpo said, “I always feel something special when playing for the national team. When you are starting the tournament and listening to the national anthem, the emotions can’t be described. After the first basket, the first plays, it is an amazing experience and every time I feel as proud as the first time. The feeling of winning with the national team is incredible, and I have said before that I will always be part of the team, as long as I am healthy like this summer,” he told the sports site.
Whatever happens, you can count on Antetokounmpo giving everything he has for the country he has embraced after it scorned him until he showed he could play basketball and bring some prestige and attention.
The Bucks site Fansided said he’s excited and ready to go and advised betting against him. “As it stands, Antetokounmpo’s singular, force of nature talent certainly makes a medal seem realistic for Greece, although if it’s to be gold he’ll likely require his teammates to produce some of the best performances of their lives, their report said.
It added: “That group coming together to perform is not beyond the realms of possibility, and as Bucks fans already know, it’s foolish to doubt Giannis Antetokounmpo when he puts his mind to something.” Ask NBA players.