Without a doubt, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best thing to happen to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013 (and probably over a timeframe much longer than that.) He is candid, ever-smiling and engaging. He routinely makes plays that only a handful of NBA players could make because of his stunning combination of size and physical grace.
To wit: the 19-year-old has made 28-of-28 dunk attempts (100%) this season — an average of more than one per game — a number that should only rise now that he is playing starter’s minutes.
Best of all, the Bucks were able to snag him with a middle-of-the-pack first-round pick because other teams questioned his NBA potential due to a brief organized playing history in Greece.
So to this point, the only real hiccup in his rookie season has been when folks have tried to figure out how to pronounce his name (For the record, it’s YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh). And really, it shouldn’t be that hard. As soon as the silent ‘G’ is pointed out, his first name should be a done deal, and his last name isn’t any more complicated than a flight attendant recalling a frequent traveler’s favorite drink: “Tomato juice, no?”.
Ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh, ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh — it’s really not that hard. But Giannis has another name too.
His parents, Charles and Veronica, moved from Nigeria to Athens in 1991, leaving behind their firstborn son with his grandparents. The pair emigrated in search of a better future, but Greece fell on extremely hard times and scraping by in Athens soon became just as hard or harder than making a living in Lagos.
While living as stateless residents in a new homeland, four more sons would follow — Thanasis, Giannis, Kostas, and Alex. To remember their collective past, Veronica gave each son both a Greek and a Nigerian name. The name she chose for Giannis was Ougko (OO-goh).
Every time Giannis arrives in an NBA city for the first time, there’s an overdone fuss about the length of his name. And again, it’s not that hard. Two syllabus: YAHN-iss. Five syllables: ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh. All told, it’s shorter and flows off the tongue easier than ‘Michael Carter-Williams’.
There are contrived attempts at a nickname — e.g., ‘The Greek Freak’ or ‘The Alphabet’ — that are unflattering if they aren’t creeping on dehumanizing.
But he has another name that reflects his beautiful complicated heritage. He even wrote down the Nigerian name in angular letters that look more Greek than anything else.