He is considered the best basketball player of the world. And he calls Milwaukee home.
Milwaukee Bucks forward and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending a lot more time at home, as are we all, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has given him pause for “being in the moment” more with his family instead of so much of his time being devoted to the moments on a basketball court during a now-interrupted 2019-20 season.
As part of Capture Sports Marketing’s Athletes Doing Good Radiothon with Pat Connaughton on ESPN Milwaukee, he sat down for a 15-minute exclusive interview with Connaughton, his Bucks teammate, and discussed numerous subjects about his life, his upbringing in basketball, his family life today as a new father, and even his team post-season vacation plans.
About his nickname, “The Greek Freak” (invented by WTMJ Bucks voice Ted Davis?)
“The nickname is really good. I don’t remember the first time I heard about it. It was probably my rookie year. I don’t know who came up with it. I ran on the court one day. I had a crazy dunk, a crazy block, and afterward people started calling me the Greek Freak. It stuck. I love it.”
About weight training, which transformed his body and his game over the last few years
“With my body type, you cannot lift a lot of weights. You have to be really careful.”
“When I was 17, 18 coming into the league, I never thought I’m going to be this strong. Obviously, I had the skinny frame. I thought my body type was going to look more like (Kevin Durant), guys with a skinny frame. As I got older, as I took my diet, as I started to lift more weights, I started putting some muscle on me. If you asked me if I was a 16, 17 that I would be this strong, this big, 240, I’d say you would be out of your mind.”
About his focus in weightlifting, which has become such a key part of his training
“I prioritize more my upper body. A lot of people think about the weight room, they think about getting stronger. You go in there, you lift a lot of weights, you get stronger, and then you go out there and play. I lift weights so I can take care of my body. We play 82 games in the regular season, and we can play 20 more if you make it to the end. You’ve got to be ready to have your body take all that pounding. You cannot have basketball without the weight room…they go together. We joke around. Obviously, I lift more weights in the summer to make my muscles look good for my significant other, but in the season, playing games, I just try to limit my lifting a little bit…work on my fundamentals, my skills more.”
About how basketball wasn’t his first perceived calling, but how it became a way for him to make it in the world
“I didn’t want to be an NBA player. I wanted to be a soccer player.”
“My dad used to be a professional soccer player in Germany…our goal (was) to be professional soccer players one day.”
“Then I started playing basketball when I was 12. I just wanted to have a better life for my family. That’s what inspired me. It’s not that I loved the game at first. I thought ‘This was a way up.’ “
“But as I started playing, year after year, I started to fall in love with the game. I fell in love with the results I was getting. I was getting better. I was getting faster. I was getting stronger. I was like, ‘I can be good at this.’ I started taking it serious, and here I am today.’ “
About how the game and his family are so intertwined in their journey
“It’s amazing. We’ve come really far. Having my older brother on the same team, seeing him every day, going to work together, that’s amazing. I’d think anybody would want to have that. I’m proud of my family, especially my brothers. They’re chasing the dream. They’re trying to accomplish their dreams, also.”
“I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we’ve got way, way more to accomplish. We’re just trying to be the best versions of ourselves. So far, we’re working hard and it’s working for us.”
About the Bucks’ meteoric rise from having the NBA’s worst record to its best in a few short years
“The biggest difference is the organization, building a winning culture. When we came in, the organization was amazing then, too, but we were losing games and not a lot of people cared about it. I feel like we’ve created an organization that plays with a winning mentality. When we don’t win, it hurts everybody. It hurts the players. It hurts the coaches, the front office. That’s what I wanted to be a part of day one. When I came into the league, it wasn’t as good. We were the worst team in the NBA. I knew what I wanted to be a part of. I worked my butt off. Khris (Middleton) has been here from the beginning. He worked his butt off, also. The coaching staff came in. We changed ownership. The front office changed. Everybody who came in was on the same page. We’ve got to make this team and this organization a winning-mentality team with a winning culture. That was the change from the day that I came until now.”
On how the COVID-19 pandemic is leading him to have so much more time at home to cherish his family
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing to take time, spend time with your family. Obviously, we travel so much. We play so many games. We don’t get the opportunity to sit down, relax, enjoy the moment and enjoy time with our family. I’m definitely not taking this for granted. Obviously, I’m sad we cannot play games. I’m sad we can’t go out there and compete as a team. The other side of things is that we can spend time as a family. I’ve been alive for 25 years. I don’t remember a time when I’ve been in the same spot for two months. I’m trying to take this opportunity to get to know my son, my significant other, spend time with my brothers and my family.”
On keeping a sense of your true self while managing the pressures of being the NBA’s MVP
“The most important thing: You cannot lose yourself in it. There is a lot of pressure. There are going to be a lot of things that are going to try to pull you, come this way, do this.”
“There are so many things you’ve got to do, but you’ve got to be able to balance your personal life with the Greek Freak life. Giannis and the Greek Freak are two different people. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but that’s what I think. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family, I can be me. Sometimes when you’re the MVP, you’re the leader of the team, you’ve got to do the photo shoot, all that, you lose yourself. When I’m with my family, I’m myself.
“It’s hard. It’s hard. I’ve asked a lot of veterans in the league, ‘How do you balance that?’ A lot of people have answered me with different answers. You’ve got to find what works for you.”
On future team vacation plans
“Before all this happened, COVID-19, I was thinking about taking the team to a trip in Greece, Mykonos. It’s one of the best islands in Greece. It’s a party island. You cannot go there with your significant other…it’s got to be a boys trip. Obviously, Santorini. It’s really romantic. It has the best sunset and sunrise in the world. You can take your significant other. I had the opportunity to go last year. I went with (Eric) Bledsoe and Brook (Lopez) to Mykonos. I was sad I couldn’t bring the whole team to experience (it). So after we win the championship, hold the trophy, smoke a cigar like ‘MJ,’ we can do that in Mykonos.”