Giannis Antetokounmpo is famous for his last name, which many have trouble pronouncing. Instead, people just refer to him as “Giannis” or “The Greek Freak.” But despite coming to the NBA from his birth country, Greece, Giannis did not have Greek citizenship until after he turned 18.
How did Giannis Antetokounmpo get a Greek passport? Giannis Antetokounmpo was born and raised in Greece, but was not a passport holder due to his parents’ immigrant status. After turning 18, Giannis applied for the Greek passport, which he received on May 9th, 2013, nearly 6 months after his 18th birthday.
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What is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ethnicity?
Both of Giannis’s parents were born and raised in Nigeria. His parents moved from the Nigerian capital Lagos to Athens, Greece in 1991, and Giannis was born three years later in 1994. Giannis has asserted that although people know him as the “Greek Freak”, he is also black and Nigerian. He says that despite living in Greece, his parents raised him the Nigerian way, speaking to him in Igbo (a Nigerian dialect). Despite being ethnically Nigerian, Giannis has never lived in, or even visited, Nigeria in his life. His first trip to continental Africa was in 2015, for the first NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Why was Giannis Antetokounmpo not eligible for a Greek passport?
Giannis was born and raised in Greece but was not automatically eligible for a Greek passport. The Greek nationality law follows a principle named jus sanguinis; in short, because neither of Giannis’s parents were Greek, nor held Greek citizenship, Giannis did not qualify to automatically become a Greek citizen at birth. Giannis was a stateless immigrant, as he did not hold any other passport or citizenship. Giannis became eligible to apply for a Greek passport once he turned 18 in 2012.
Why did Giannis Antetokounmpo get a Greek passport?
Despite his Nigerian roots, Giannis had known Greece his whole life. He was born and raised there, and never left the country, mainly because he did not hold a passport. Without being a passport holder, Giannis’s enormous basketball potential was incredibly limited; he could not play in the first division of the Greek professional basketball league, for one. His ability to play in the NBA also hinged on him being a passport holder. Therefore, it made sense for Giannis to get a passport as quickly as possible to further the chances of his professional career. Luckily, Giannis was able to get his Greek passport fast-tracked just in time for the 2013 NBA Draft.
Why was there controversy surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo applying for & receiving the Greek passport?
During the time when Giannis was applying for his citizenship, the immigration process in Greece had been on hold for a few years, making citizenship a very difficult thing. Giannis’s application for the citizenship was heavily endorsed by the Greek basketball federation, who urged the government to assist Giannis. The prime minister was also a fan of Giannis, and gave him his blessing. However, racist and anti-immigrant sentiments were strong during those years, and Giannis was faced with pushback by the leader of a right-wing political party. Thankfully, that did not stop from Giannis receiving his Greek passport.
What nationality/citizenship does Giannis Antetokounmpo hold?
Giannis is currently a dual passport holder. He holds the Greek passport, after it was issued to him in 2013 after turning 18. Giannis also applied for the Nigerian passport, which he managed to receive in 2015 after he applied for it.
Which national basketball team does Giannis Antetokounmpo play for?
Giannis plays for the Greek national basketball team. He made his first appearance for the junior team in 2013, and then a year later, played for the senior team in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. As of 2019, Giannis has made 49 senior appearances for the Greek national basketball team, with a scoring average of 11.7 points per game.
While Giannis was also eligible to play for the Nigerian national team based on his bloodline, he did not receive his Nigerian passport until 2015, which by then he had already declared for and played for the Greek national basketball team.
What other NBA players hold Greek citizenship?
Two of Giannis’s brothers who have played in the NBA also hold Greek citizenship: Thanasis, Kostas, and Alex Antetokounmpo. Thanasis currently plays alongside Giannis with the Milwaukee Bucks. Kostas was a member of the 2020 NBA championship team, the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming the first Greek-born NBA player to win a championship. Thanasis received his Greek citizenship at the same time as Giannis, while Kostas received his Greek citizenship in 2016.
The most famous former NBA player to hold Greek citizenship was Kurt Rambis, a key player for the 1980s “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers. Rambis was a 4-time NBA champion, but before he played in the NBA, he was a star in the Greek professional basketball league. While he was an American citizen, Rambis applied for and received Greek citizenship, with his Greek name “Kyriakos Rambidis.”
What other NBA players hold Nigerian citizenship?
Current NBA players with Nigerian citizenship include Precious Achiuwa (Toronto Raptors), Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings) and Gabe Vincent (Miami Heat). All 3 are members of the Nigerian national basketball team. Perhaps the most well-known and successful Nigerian player in the NBA is Hakeem Olajuwon, the Hall of Fame center who played for the Houston Rockets in the late 1980s through the 1990s.
Interestingly, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’s younger brother, received his Nigerian passport in 2013, along with some other members of the Antetokounmpo family, before becoming Greek citizens. However, Kostas chose to play for the Greek national basketball team despite holding Nigerian citizenship first.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is undoubtedly the biggest Greek basketball talent there is, and is well on his way to becoming an all-time great. With an opportunity to be a Greek ambassador to the world (his nickname “The Greek Freak” is more than enough), it is sad to hear that Giannis could very well not have received Greek citizenship due to his ethnicity and his parents’ immigrant status. But the Greek government saw sense and endorsed Giannis to be one of Greece’s faces on the world stage, and he is yet to disappoint.