Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP win is the new Nigerian dream

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was teary during his speech after he was named the 2018/2019 NBA’s Most Valuable Player in June 24, 2019. He tried to stop crying but the stream of tears poured when he paid tribute to his late dad.

Obviously my dad is not here with me…” Antetokounmpo said of his father, Charles, who died in 2017 at the age of 54. “Two years ago I had to go in my head that I’m going to be the best player in the league, that I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and that I’m going to win the MVP and every day that I step on the floor I always think about my dad.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo's parents Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo (Instagram/Giannis Antetokounmpo)
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s parents Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo (Instagram/Giannis Antetokounmpo)

Let’s go back a little bit.

In the search for a better life for him and his family, Charles Adetokunbo and his wife Veronica left Lagos in 1993 to settle in Athens, Greece. Leaving behind their only son at that time, the couple went on to have three more boys including the latest NBA champion in Athens.

It was in the Sepolia neighbourhood of Athens that Giannis grew up with his family and the story of those early days are far from glossy. While his parents struggled to find work in Athens, Giannis and his brothers helped out by hawking on the streets.

Giannis Antetokounmpo with his brothers, mum and girlfriend (USA Today Sports)
Giannis Antetokounmpo with his brothers, mum and girlfriend (USA Today Sports)

Amidst the struggles, Giannis and his brothers found solace in basketball and with the support of their parents, they pursued a dream that has come to fruition.

NBA Finals

Giannis went on to win back-to-back MVPs but his struggles in the Play-Offs became a fodder for critics.

Then at the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, he seized the moment. After hyperextending his knee in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, he wasn’t 100% for Game 1 in Phoenix but still managed 20 points, but from Game 2, there was no stopping him.

He dropped more than 40 points in Games 2 and 3, made an all-time game-saving block at the rim in Game 4.

In Game 5, he made an all-time game-winning alley-oop dunk and then Game 6, where he dominated the entire court to deliver an iconic 50-point game.

He is the second player in NBA history to record three games of 40 plus points and 10 plus rebounds in an NBA Finals series, joining Shaquille O’Neal, who did it in 2000.

He is also the seventh player in history to score 50 points in an NBA Finals game.

Giannis was named the Finals MVP to join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to win a regular-season MVP Award, a Finals MVP Award and a Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Giannis Antetokounmpo won the Finals MVP (Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo won the Finals MVP (Getty Images)

The Greek Freak has now arguably gotten himself into the 25-list of the GOAT conversation. A dream come true.

It was this dream that spurred his parents Charles and Veronica to leave Lagos, Nigeria to settle in Athens, Greece and while basketball is not the most sought-after sport in Nigeria, Giannis’ success in the NBA is a popular aspiration that is driving thousands of middle-class Nigerians out of the country.

Giannis’ success is a dream that can be actualised in any country where Nigerians believe their children will get access to the best education and structure in every sphere of life. In medicine, sports, arts, thousands of Nigerians are emigrating through a mix of avenues to see their children achieve success.

The success stories are a dime a dozen in sports. Anthony Joshua, the Ogwumike sisters, Alex Iwobi, Victor Oladipo, Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman etc. These are examples of kids born to Nigerian parents in other countries that have gone on to excel in various sports.

Anthony Joshua was born to Nigerian parents in the United Kingdom [Reuters]
Anthony Joshua was born to Nigerian parents in the United Kingdom [Reuters]

This is not to say there isn’t hope for kids born in Nigeria, but there is an undeniable disadvantage they face in a country that offers no clear path to success. With the talent and determination, the probability of a child born in the United States excelling in sports is higher than that of another kid in Nigeria. There is no denying this.

Perhaps, this trend could save our sports, at least at the top level in the future, which looks bleak if talent development is left to the thorny ropes in Nigeria’s structure-less production line–that is if a production line does exist.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of footballers born outside the country, in our national team. Four players from the Super Eagles’ 23-man squad to the 2018 FIFA World Cup and three–not including Iwobi who moved to England at a young age–at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) were born outside of the country and this number is expected to increase as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) continue to hunt for their kinds to improve our national teams.

William Troost-Ekong is one of the foreign-born players in the Super Eagles (Instagram/William Troost-Ekong)
William Troost-Ekong is one of the foreign-born players in the Super Eagles (Instagram/William Troost-Ekong)

Giannis’ big moments in the NBA are what middle-class Nigerians are envisioning for their kids, born and unborn. This sentiment is driving thousands of Nigerians to leave this country in search of a better life and the future for their offspring.

Either through skilled worker programs, asylum and refugee protection, illegal crossing from the United States of America to Canada and overstaying on visitors’ visa in countries with thriving economy, Nigerians, like Charles and Veronica did in 1993, are ready to risk everything so their children can get their MVP awards and seeing how satisfying this has been for Giannis and his family, who could blame them?

Source: PulseNG

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