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Giannis Soars to the Top, Greek Fans Fly to Watch Him Shine

ATHENS – With his stunning Game 6 performance that led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA championship in 50 years on July 20, Giannis Antetokounmpo thrilled devoted fans all over the world – his team’s home court at the Fiserv Forum in Wisconsin, his family’s native Nigeria, his beloved Greece, where he was born and raised, and Greek-Americans from coast to coast.

In what is already being called “a game for the ages,” Antetokounmpo scored 50 points, shot 16 for 25 from the field, and hit 17 of 19 free throws – he was also brilliant on defense with five blocked shots.

“I’m so blessed to work with Giannis every day … He’s a special human being, he’s an even more amazing human being than he is a player. I’ve learned so much from him and his leadership,” said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer after the game.

SUPERLEAGUE ATHLETICACADEMY LEADS DIASPORA CHEERS

After initial fears that injuries to the African-Greek superstar would prematurely end the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship run, by the Finals crowds were once again serenading him with chants of “MVP, MVP.” Among the choirs of Giannis Faithful are passionate and devoted groups of Greek-Americans – like the participants in the New York-based SuperLeague AthleticAcademy (SLAA).

A group flew to Phoenix, AZ for Game 2 of the NBA finals on July 8 to root for their Hellenic hero and cheer his team to an NBA Finals comeback – it worked like a charm, sparking Gannis to his first of two consecutive 40+ point games, though there was a one-game delay for his team: The Bucks trounced the Suns 120-100 back home in Milwaukee in Game 3.

James (Dimitris) Pristouris is the CEO and Founder and President of the Academy, whose extracurricular activities include the Greek Heritage Nights they organize at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center when Giannis and his brother Thanasi are in town to play the New York Nets.

Pristouris, whose family is from Sparta and his wife’s is from Cephalonia – is as energetic as his hero – his other responsibilities include being a teacher and serving as the Youth Director of his parish, Kimisis ti Theotokou in Brooklyn.

Through the years Pristouris developed a friendship with the brothers, highlighted by a three-day camp

Giannis and Thanasi did with the children in 2015.

Earlier in the 2021 post season Pristouris brought groups of about 50 to games 1, 2, and 5 when the Bucks played the Nets. He could have brought more – but the Nets did not bend over backwards to bring in more people to boost the brothers’ spirits.

When he spoke to Thanasi, Pristouris told him they were also coming to game 7 – at which point the former said he wanted to pay for all the tickets. Pristouris appreciated that, but he explained free tickets might attract less motivated and passionate fans, so they agreed Thanasi would pay half the cost, and they were able to obtain lower level seats behind the basket.

“I purchased 100 tickets and filled up the section with Greek fans and flags. It was great as they ended up winning,” Pristouris said.

When the Bucks advanced to the finals, Thanasi reached out again to invite them to Game 2 in Phoenix. “There were a bunch of families who were already there on vacations; about 25 people – I flew out there as well. We cheered them on at the game. The brothers came out and greeted the group, and we chanted ‘MVP!’”

SLAA’s website informs that it is “an organization whose objective is to keep our youth engaged and active in a safe, nurturing environment. Super League Athletic Academy camps are focused on sports, including soccer and basketball, which enables participants to learn and enhance skills and techniques to play competitively or simply for recreational purposes.”

SLAA also organizes annual tours of Greece where members participate in the Hellenic American Basketball Tournament and visit Greek landmarks.

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