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WSJ Interview Reveals the Human Side of Giannis Antetokounmpo

February 20, 2024

NEW YORK – Fame and fortune usually accompany greatness, but maintaining one’s humanity can be hard indeed. Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to have added that achievement to his NBA championship and MVP awards, as was most recently revealed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Reporter Lane Florsheim introduces eight-time All-Star 29-year old Antetokounmpo, nicknamed the Greek Freak, by writing that that “fans also know Antetokounmpo for his unabashed enthusiasm for American snacks – his fiancée, Mariah Riddlesprigger, once posted a video of him methodically layering Oreos in a large glass jar the night before a playoff game – and dad jokes. He’s more than once brought a book of them to post-game press conferences. ‘The one that makes me laugh the most lately is not PG-13, so I cannot say it,’ he said.

Beginning her conversation with the young man already crowned with glory by touching on the mundane, Florsheim asked him:  “What time do you get up on Mondays, and what’s the first thing you do after waking up?”

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo controls the ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The man beloved of millions said: “If it’s a practice day, I get up a little later, maybe 9:30 AM I get in the shower, then I go to practice, take care of my body. We do our recovery, get some treatment, and after that we lift some weights. Then we get on the court. If practice ends a little bit earlier, I’m able to pick my son up from school. If we played on Sunday, usually Monday is a day off. I try to get up a little bit early to take my son to school. Then I’m going to look through the calendar at activities my kids have throughout the day. Sometimes they have soccer, swimming lessons, Greek lessons or spending time with grandma – then I just try to be their private chauffeur.”

Greek lessons! Yes, the multimillionaire superstar has not forgotten his roots – “the son of Nigerian immigrants…was born and raised in Athens, where he played for youth teams before being drafted 15th overall by the Bucks in 2013” the article noted.

His response to the question “How do you like your coffee and breakfast” might shock his fellow Greeks: “I’m not a coffee guy. I usually drink a smoothie. My smoothie usually has pineapple, mango and some coconut water. My eggs are usually sunny-side up with two pancakes.”

Surely what he eats and drinks is all about health, and is connected to his response to the question about his exercise and training routine: “When you play a season of 82 games, you have to be able to stay consistent because your body’s breaking down. The secret in the NBA is that you have to be able to create a routine that allows you to recover. I sleep a lot. I get treatments.”

From left, brothers Kostas, Alex, Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo pose together at the premiere of the Disney+ film “Rise,” Wednesday, June 22, 2022, at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. The film is based on the story of the Antetokounmpo family, who emigrated from Nigeria to Greece before Giannis, Kostas and Thanasis found success in the National Basketball Association. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

It is a rare athlete who doesn’t have pregame routines, rituals, and superstitions. Asked about them, Antetokounmpo said: “I try to spend time with kids before I go to the arena. I take a nap. I make sure when I wake up from my nap that I eat. Then I get to the arena, I prep my body to the best of my ability. I shoot some shots, then I go back to the locker room, try to slow down my mind and heart rate, calm down as much as I can. When I go out there again to warm up with the team, I see my kids – my two sons and my daughter. I kiss them. I kiss my [fiancée]. Then I’m ready to go out there and compete. No matter what the outcome is, I feel ready, well prepared, and I feel loved.”

Top row, from left, brothers Giannis, Alex, Kostas and Thasis Antetokounmpo pose alongside the actors who portray them, bottom row from left, McColm Celphas Jr., Jahleel Kamara, Aaron Kingsley Adetola and Chinua Baraka Payne at the premiere of the Disney+ film “Rise,” Wednesday, June 22, 2022, at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. The film is based on the story of the Antetokounmpo family, who emigrated from Nigeria to Greece before Giannis, Thanasis and Kostas found success in the National Basketball Association. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Asked about his WhatsApp documentary, ‘Ugo: A Homecoming Story’, and about what he learned from his first trip to Nigeria, he said, “I grew up in a Nigerian household. We had Nigerian food, my mom played Nigerian music, we had Nigerian news on. When I left home, I went to Greek school. My friends were Greek. Now going back, I understand why I am the way I am. People there operate and go about their day in the same rhythm that I go about my day. I felt like I fit in immediately… There were two favorite moments from the trip for me. One was when I saw [my mom’s] sister, her brother, my cousins. There was no awkwardness, it was just a moment of joy. We embraced one another. We were competing with one another. We were saying, ‘No, I was faster than you.’ My mom was like, ‘I was a better dancer than you. And when I was in high school, I was cuter than you.’ I saw why I am the way I am with my brothers. Six, seven months during the season, we don’t see one another. When the off-season comes, boom, we can’t leave one another’s hip.”

NBA champion and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is on digital billboards in Times Square and by Madison Square Garden in an ad campaign for the limited-edition headphones he and JBL have teamed up to create and which launched on December 20. Photo: TNH/ Anna Sarigianni

He then revealed what millions of immigrant children around the world may intuit but never hear: “When we got to the airport, my mom told me, ‘Thirty-four years ago, I left everything. I left all those people you met, the people that I loved, your grandparents, to take a trip because I knew that I wanted to create something for you guys.’”

In this photo provided by the Presidency of Hellenic Republic Press Office, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou,second right, poses for a photo with NBA Champion of the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, his mother Veronica, second left, and his brother Alex Emeka, at the Presidential palace in Athens, Greece, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (Theodore Manolopoulos/Presidency of Hellenic Republic via AP)
In this photo provided by the Presidency of Hellenic Republic Press Office, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou,second right, poses for a photo with NBA Champion of the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, his mother Veronica, second left, and his brother Alex Emeka, at the Presidential palace in Athens, Greece, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (Theodore Manolopoulos/Presidency of Hellenic Republic via AP)

The big man’s response: “I’m like, man, that’s deep.”

(Material from the Wall Street Journal was used in this report)

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