Giannis Antetokounmpo almost represented Nigeria or Spain / News


The official Nigeria men’s national team Twitter account recalled how one of the best basketball players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was about to appear in different national team colors.

The 2021 NBA champion and Finals MVP once considered applying for a Nigerian passport.

With his status and future in the balance, some people even looked for a way to grant him Spanish citizenship.

How was one of the NBA’s top internationals almost on the way to qualifying for either the Nigeria or Spain national teams, but eventually ended up representing Greece?

Mirin Fader explained these scenarios in her book Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP.

Antetokounmpo was born in Athens in 1994. His parents were of Nigerian descent and moved to Greece illegally from Lagos in 1991.

Although Giannis and his three siblings were born in Greece, none of them qualified for a Greek passport.

Giannis remained officially stateless until he was 19 years old.

That banned him from playing abroad and representing Greek clubs as a local player. It also closed all doors for him to show his skills to NBA people in the camps outside of Greece.

It even jeopardized his NBA future when few thought he could become an NBA player.

When word spread about the Greek mystery ahead of the 2013 NBA draft, Giannis couldn’t even apply for a US visa to draft.

He also had an agreement with Zaragoza club from Spain but was unable to leave the country without a passport.

Essentially, without citizenship papers, Giannis couldn’t turn pro. And the process did not progress in Greece.

At that time nobody in Greece dreamed of his possible success in the NBA.

His agents and trainers did. Or at least they wanted to get him on track to take advantage of whatever opportunities the basketball floor offered him.

Together with the Hellenic Basketball Federation, they had aggressively lobbied local authorities to speed up the naturalization process.

The former famous Greek basketball player and coach Giannis Ioannidis was then Deputy Minister of Culture and responsible for sports.

Antonis Samaras, then Prime Minister of Greece, recalls Ioannidis telling him that Giannis could have an international career with the Zaragoza Treaty in the background. But getting papers took forever.

Samaras hardly knew who Giannis was. It seemed like a Herculean task, although rumors have been heard of an extraordinary boy of Nigerian descent playing basketball somewhere in Greece’s second division and fast rising.

Besides, the timing for such requests was not the best. It was an election year and the country was already having problems dealing with illegal immigrants. In addition, the Greeks suffered greatly from a financial crisis. No one was willing to take risks and make special exceptions.

Initially, the Greek basketball players pushed a lot to get the pass for Giannis’ brother Thanasis so that he could qualify for the Greece U21 team, but they failed.

When things weren’t progressing with Giannis either, Zaragoza’s sporting director Willy Villar, who signed Giannis on a long-term contract in Spain, worked with Giannis’ agent to see if there was a way to get him Spanish citizenship.

According to Mirin Fader, Villar was willing to do anything to bring him to Spain.

Credit Twitter

Giannis even applied for a Nigerian passport in September 2012.

“What was largely underreported was that the Greek government only rushed the process after realizing that not only did Giannis have NBA potential, but that Giannis and his team had reportedly approached the Nigerian embassy, ​​in hoping to gain citizenship here.” Fader wrote in her book, emphasizing that Giannis still prioritized obtaining Greek citizenship.

“The possibility of him playing for the Nigerian national team – and not Greece – and as a Nigerian player for Zaragoza may have added to the pressure,” continued Fader.

“Nevertheless, it was the potential NBA career that was a major motivator for the government to finally accelerate Giannis’ citizenship, as Giannis’ good performances in the NBA could benefit Greece.”

Giannis and his brother Thanasis were granted special permission and received citizenship papers on May 9, 2013. Thirty-nine days before draft.

In the process, Greek officials changed her surname from Adetokunbo to Antetokounmpo, a more traditional Greek-sounding name.

All four Antetokounmpo brothers will now defend the Greek colors in EuroBasket 2022.


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