top of page
  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

Lessons About Humility, Drive, and Resilience from the Remarkable Journey of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Discover how Giannis Antetokounmpo rose from poverty to achieve NBA greatness.

Giannis Antetokounmpo makes remarks during an event with the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, Monday, November 8, 2021, on the South Lawn of the White House.
Giannis Antetokounmpo makes remarks during an event with the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, Monday, November 8, 2021, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the greatest basketball players in the world. He is a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, an NBA champion, and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. But Antetokounmpo's story is more than just about basketball. Antetokounmpo inspires many people, and his story shows that anything is possible if you work hard and never give up.

The following essay explores Antetokounmpo's journey to becoming an NBA superstar. It discusses the factors that contributed to his success, including his humility, determination, and hard work. The essay also highlights the importance of these qualities in achieving one's dreams.

Antetokounmpo was born in Athens, Greece, in 1994 to Nigerian immigrants. His parents were undocumented and struggled to find steady employment. As a result, Antetokounmpo and his three brothers grew up in poverty. They often went to bed hungry and slept in the same bed. To help support his family, Antetokounmpo would sell products on the streets of Athens.

Despite his challenges growing up, Antetokounmpo never gave up on his dreams. He was driven to succeed and worked hard to achieve his goals. This drive helped him become one of the best players in the world.

Antetokounmpo did not start playing basketball until he was 13 years old. Still, he trained multiple times a day for two years before being selected to join Filathlitikos’ youth basketball team in Athens. Antetokounmpo quickly showed promise, and by the time he turned 17, he gained the attention of the NBA scouts.

By 18, Antetokounmpo signed with Spanish club CAI Zaragoza where he began to be followed by scouts across Europe and the United States. He declared for the NBA draft after his lone season with Zaragoza.

In 2013, Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 15th overall pick. He quickly became a fan favorite, and in 2017, he was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. Antetokounmpo was named the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2019 and 2020. (His first Most Valuable Player award acceptance speech, by the way, was truly awesome.) Then, in 2021, he led the Bucks to their first NBA championship in 50 years, where he was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.

Antetokounmpo has collected a lot of trophies in his career for all of his accomplishments, but in an interview with The Athletic, he discussed his drive and why he does not look at his trophies.

And I feel like sometimes looking at (accomplishments from the past) stops you from going out there and chasing and being desperate. Why I’m here is because I’m desperate. I’m not as talented as Steph [Curry]. I’m not as talented as KD [Kevin Durant]. I’m f—— desperate. I’m obsessed. I’m scared to lose what God has gave me and the life that I’ve provided for my kids and my brothers and for my mom, you know? I’m scared. So I f—— work as hard as I can, because I don’t want to lose this s—. And it’s not gonna stop until I’m out of this league.

Antetokounmpo’s statement is a reminder that success is not easy. It requires hard work, dedication, and a never-give-up attitude. It is also a reminder that we should never be satisfied with our current level of success. We should always strive to be better, to do more, and to achieve our full potential.

Although Antetokounmpo’s drive has been essential to his success on the basketball court, which has led him to make millions of dollars, he has remained true to his humble upbringing. In an interview with Chris Haynes for ESPN, he discussed his desire to stay humble.

"So, just growing up and going through life and how tough life was for me and my family, I'm always going to stay humble,” says Antetokounmpo. “Even now, it doesn't really matter if I've got a $100 million contract or a $100 million Nike contract, it's the way I grew up, it's the way I go through life. I'm not changing."

Earlier this year, Antetokounmpo appeared on The Daily Show guest hosted by comedian Hasan Minhaj to promote his foundation and have fun. He was asked to trash-talk his NBA rivals for a roast segment, but he was apprehensive and instead praised them. This made the segment funnier, as it was clear that Antetokounmpo was not comfortable with the task.

After the show aired, Skip Bayless, a provocative sports commentator, was critical of Antetokounmpo’s roast, so Minhaj defended him.

"He's this really beautiful human being," Minhaj said about Antetokounmpo. "He's one of the best basketball players in the world, but he has this 'immigrant dad green-card energy.' He has a supermax contract but he's like, 'Are these Subway napkins, can I take these?' It's that juxtaposition that I love about him. He's got so much humility and grace."

Minhaj, much like others who speak about Antetokounmpo, recognizes how humble he is. Minhaj also highlighted the juxtaposition between Antetokounmpo's unassuming personality and his status as a world-class athlete. Antetokounmpo shows that it is possible to be humble without being arrogant.

One would believe that given Antetokounmpo's successes in life, he would be pleased without any worries, but that is far from true. The pressure of being a superstar, the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent death of his father, social justice protests, the demands of his home country, and endorsement obligations all contributed to his mental health issues. Antetokounmpo even considered retiring from the NBA.

“In 2020, I was ready to walk away from the game,” Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. “I had that conversation – yes – with the front office.

“And, you know, very normally, everybody is looking at me like I was crazy. ‘You just signed the largest contract in NBA history and you want to walk away from the game and all that money…?’

“Mannnnn, you can take that money and shove it into your…”

“...Sorry for my language.

“But I don't care about that. I care about joy. I’m a joyful person. My father didn’t have nothing; he had us. He was the richest person on earth because he had his kids. He had the beautiful family; he had nothing. This – to me – doesn’t mean nothing.”

Antetokounmpo had lost his joy, so he ultimately sought therapy. Fortunately, his therapist helped him to appreciate the things he has, to be okay with himself, and to control his effort and how he makes people feel. Therapy also helped him become a better partner, father, brother, son, and person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 US adults have a diagnosable mental illness. However, Antetokounmpo’s courage to seek therapy and speak about his mental health may help reduce the stigma associated with mental health and encourage others to get help.

It is quite possible that Antetokounmpo leaned on the lessons learned from his mental health experience in 2020 to better handle his disappointing end to the 2023 NBA season.

The Milwaukee Bucks had the NBA's best record in the regular season and were a favorite to win the title. However, they were upset by the Miami Heat losing the series 4-1 in the first round. After the loss, Antetokounmpo was asked if the season was a "failure." Antetokounmpo’s response was one of the most incredible responses that you will have heard.

Oh my god. You asked me the same question last year, Eric ... okay? Do you get a promotion every year? In your job? No, right? So every year you work is a failure? Yes or no? No. Every year you work, you work towards something, towards a goal — which is to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. You work towards a goal — it’s not a failure. It’s steps to success. I don’t want to make it personal. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years was a failure? That’s what you’re telling me. I’m asking you a question, yes or no? Exactly. So why you ask me that question? It’s the wrong question.
There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, so days you are able to be successful — some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win — so other people are going to win, simple as that. We’re going to come back next year, try to be better, try to build good habits , try to play better. Not having 10 days straight of playing bad basketball, and hopefully we can win a championship. So 50 years from 1970-2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No, it was not. It was steps to it. We were able to win one, hopefully we’re able to win another one.

This response from Antetokounmpo was impressive for a couple of reasons. First, he had the emotional intelligence to control his emotions when he realized his answer had become personal. His response was constructive and respectful to the reporter who asked the question.

Second, whether you agree or disagree with his take on failure, it is thought-provoking because it challenges traditional views about failure in sports. Antetokounmpo claims that losing is not a failure but a step toward success. He points out that even the greatest athletes in the world lose and that losing can be a learning experience that helps you improve. His positive and resilient attitude toward his team’s crushing playoff defeat is a lesson everyone can benefit from.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a remarkable athlete and person. He has overcome many challenges in his life, and he has achieved great success in the NBA. Antetokounmpo’s response to failure is a thought-provoking take that can inspire others who encounter setbacks in life. Antetokounmpo inspires many people, showing that it is possible to achieve your dreams if you work hard and never give up.

Thanks for reading. Please support Professional Plus!

1 Comment

Nov 30, 2023

ty forr post

bottom of page