reflections on the triumph of a simpapeles

The cap worn by Giannis Antetokounmpo in celebration of the title he could have been selling it himself, a few years ago in the streets of Athens, to passersby and tourists. From looking for life as a simpapel born in Greece to accessing the sporting Olympus of the NBA champions and being the pride of the country, not a decade has passed.

Born in 1994 in Athens, the son of Nigerian immigrants, who is now known worldwide as ‘Greek Freak’ did not obtain the nationality of the country until a few months before his departure to New York, already 18 years old. His entire childhood was spent as stateless: I didn’t have Nigerian or Greek papers. The decision of the Hellenic country to nationalize was made when the authorities realized that the future star of world basketball would travel, if they did not take action on the matter, to the United States as a Nigerian citizen.


This was then denounced by Generation 2.0, an organization that persecutes the Hellenic government for absolute lack of rights of children of African migrants born in Greece. Neither Giannis nor many others had access to public health, management-driven jobs, and even ability to play in professional sports leagues. The talented player who just won his first NBA ring and was proclaimed Finals MVP with the Milwaukee Bucks began his career in a third division and semi-professional team, the Philathlitikos.

“We have engineers, doctors, all kinds of professionals, but the Greek state does not recognize them,” explained Nikos Odubitan, head of the NGO, to The New York Times after Antetokoumpo was proclaimed MVP of the regular season for the first time in 2019 And he wondered: “Why do you have to be a basketball talent for this to happen? “

This question hides the great lie of Greek pride regarding Antetokounmpo, who only began to count as a citizen of the country when his sporting potential was beyond doubt. The ’34’ of the Bucks, a pipiolo when he landed in Milwaukee, which he now calls his host city, has been assuming a more vocal role about his origins and the injustices that plague others who have not had as much fortune as him in life.

“I represent my country, my two countries, Greece and Nigeria”, he clarified at a press conference after winning the title. In the Hellenic country, the leader of Golden Dawn and some television commentators insulted him in the past. “I know I am a role model, but this should make any person and child in the world believe in their dreams… whatever happens, believe in your dreams and keep working ”.

[+] Giannis’s excitement after winning the title:

Beyond the sugary headline, Anteto also recalled more complicated periods in his career. As a child he was beaten for being who he was: immigrant, black, another without papers knocking on the doors of Europe. “Eight years ago when I came to this league, I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. My mother sold things on the street “recalled the player, very grateful for Milwaukee’s commitment to him and his family.

Giannis’s rise to stardom was also not without racist attacks. “If you give a chimpanzee a banana and a Greek flag at the zoo, does that make him Greek?”declared in 2013 the leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos. Last night, after the achievement of the title, the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis he was among the first to celebrate and congratulate Antetokounmpo.

The fairy tale ending does not mean that it continues to prevail double standards and racism with immigrants in Greece and all over Europe. “In Giannis’s case, we were able to overcome all obstacles: hunger, the law, prejudice, poverty… And still that was not enough for the government, “he reminded VICE. Spiros Velliniatis, the discoverer of Anteto in the streets of Sepolia, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Athens.

Being a basketball star or not, or therefore an athlete with Olympic potential as in our country, should not be the scale for embrace and cheer on the immigrant and the foreigner. Not here or anywhere. The case of Antetokounmpo once again invites reflection.

We speak with Carlos Alcaraz from Umag

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