The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP


By Mirin Fader

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The story of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s extraordinary rise from poverty in Athens, Greece, to superstardom in America with the Milwaukee Bucks—becoming one of the most transcendent players in history and an NBA Champion—from award-winning basketball reporter and feature writer at The Ringer Mirin Fader.
As the face of the NBA’s new world order, Giannis Antetokounmpo has overcome unfathomable obstacles to become a symbol of hope for people all over the world; the personification of the American Dream. But his backstory remains largely untold. Fader unearths new information about the childhood that shaped “The Greek Freak”—from sleeping side by side with his brothers to selling trinkets on the street with his family to the racism he experienced. Antetokounmpo grew up in an era when Golden Dawn, Greece’s far-right, anti-immigrant party, patrolled his neighborhood, and his status as an illegal immigrant largely prevented him from playing for the country’s top clubs, making his NBA rise all the more improbable. Fader tells a deeply human story of how an unknown, skinny, Black Greek teen, who played in the country’s lowest pro division and was seen as a draft gamble, transformed his body and his game into MVP material.

Antetokounmpo’s story has been framed as a feel-good narrative in which everyone has embraced him—watching him grow up, sign a five-year supermax contract extension worth $228 million, and lead the underdog Bucks to the NBA Championship in 2021. Giannis reveals a more nuanced story: how lonely and isolated he felt, adjusting to America and the NBA early in his career; the complexity of grappling with his Black and Greek identities; how he is so hard on himself and his shortcomings—a drive that fuels him every day; and the responsibility he feels to be a nurturing role model for his younger brothers. Fader illustrates a more vulnerable star than most people know, a person who has evolved triumphantly into all of his roles: father, brother, son, teammate, and global icon.

**Instant New York Times Bestseller, Los Angeles Times Bestseller, Wall Street Journal Bestseller, USA Today Bestseller, Publishers Weekly Bestseller**

**Mirin Fader Selected as the 2021 Sports Media Author of the Year by The Big Lead**

**The Sports Librarian’s Best of 2022 – Sports Books**




Giannis was six years old when he started selling items on the street to help his family. He’d go with Thanasis and his mother. They’d find items for cheap, maybe one or two euros, in poorer neighborhoods and then sell them for more, maybe three or four euros, in better, more suburban neighborhoods.

They’d travel to beaches, especially upscale ones such as Alimos Beach, to pitch their goods, hoping the wealthy visitors would buy something. Giannis would hold Veronica’s hand, dangling an item in the air, hoping someone would find his adorable puffy cheeks endearing, his big sweet smile inviting.

Giannis didn’t understand what they were doing at first. What was really happening. How deeply they were suffering. But he knew things weren’t good. He knew he was hungry. He’d see their pantry, their fridge, bare. Some days they didn’t sell enough to have a meal until late into the night. He saw that being here, convincing someone to buy something from them, was a matter of eating or not eating. Surviving or not surviving.

And he saw the way his mother never slumped her shoulders, never lowered her chin. She kept faith even when she didn’t feel like she could keep going. Even when it didn’t seem possible that she would be able to feed her boys, her husband. “God is good,” she’d remind them. She sold whatever she could find: sunglasses, DVDs, knockoff purses, watches, toys, clothes, beauty products. “Anything,” Veronica says.

Once little Alex was born, she’d take him on trips closer to home, waking up early for the Laikh Market in Sepolia on Wednesdays. The Laikh was an open-air market in the center of town with a bunch of stands. It had everything: produce, herbs, tea, yogurt. Migrants would sell trinkets off to the side, oftentimes not having legal permits to sell goods there.

In later years, Veronica traveled farther and farther to hawk her wares. She didn’t want to leave Alex for extended periods of time, so he became her close companion. “I traveled out of Athens, traveled for three days,” Veronica says. “I couldn’t be by myself. That is my baby.”

Veronica didn’t want this life, to stand on the street corner for hours on end. But her options were limited. As a Black migrant, she struggled to find other steady work, especially in the years following the financial crisis of 2008. It was the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Banks failed. Stocks cratered. Europe fell into a steep recession.

Jobs, especially the ones Charles and Veronica and other migrants were searching for, were scarce. Even Greek citizens couldn’t find work. About 21.5 million citizens of the European Union were out of work, and as many as two-fifths of Greek youths were unemployed. Many lost their homes, lost family members to sickness, and were unable to afford medical expenses, let alone rent in the already-crowded housing districts.

It was hard enough for white Greek citizens to survive, but for a migrant woman from Nigeria? Difficult beyond measure. Though she raised her kids in Greece, walked the sidewalks in Greece, and went to church in Greece, she was not considered Greek. To many Greeks, she simply was a Black woman raising Black children. They didn’t respect her employment history, her accomplishments from back home in Nigeria.

“When I was in Nigeria, I’ve been a secretary, I’ve worked in offices. I walked in very big places, but when you go to Greece, they don’t recognize,” Veronica says. “They don’t want that.”

* * *

Back in early 1991, Charles and Veronica were living in Lagos, Nigeria, with their eldest son, Francis, who was born in 1988. They were trying to figure out where to go. What to do. The country was growing more unstable by the day. Nigeria had endured six coups and three presidential assassinations since its independence in 1960, as well as the 1967–1970 Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafra war, which had claimed the lives of an estimated one to three million people.

The Nigerian economy had plummeted by the late 1980s. The country prided itself on its oil, with oil accounting for 95 percent of Nigeria’s exports. But when energy prices and oil revenues crashed, the country found itself with $21 billion in foreign debt. And by the time General Ibrahim Babangida had taken power in a coup in 1985, Nigeria was, as a Ministry of Finance report at the time put it, “on the verge of external bankruptcy.”

Charles, from the Yoruba tribe, and Veronica, from the Igbo tribe, felt more and more uncertain about a future there. It seemed impossible to find work. Veronica always loved to sing and was even a background singer for an album recorded in Nigeria, singing traditional songs with a few in English. She loved Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and reggae too, but there didn’t seem to be much opportunity in Nigeria. Charles was a talented soccer player who played professionally in Nigeria. He had natural speed, athleticism, and mental toughness, but opportunities were dwindling in sports as well.

It was difficult, staring down the unknown. Contemplating leaving for someplace where neither knew anyone. Neither knew what to expect. Nigeria was home. But in the summer of ’91, they took a leap of faith, setting off for Germany. Francis remained in Nigeria, in the care of his grandparents.

Charles had the opportunity to play professional soccer in Germany, and that’s where the two thought they’d stay. Greece wasn’t originally part of the plan. But when the family arrived in Germany, Charles suffered a career-ending injury. They didn’t think there would be an opportunity to stay, as two Black migrants, so they were on the move.


They decided to go to Greece, a destination that many migrants either passed through for more prosperous destinations in Europe or stayed to see if they might be granted asylum. It was there in Greece, in Sepolia, a city north of the center of Athens, where Veronica gave birth to Thanasis, whose full name is Athanasios, in 1992. Thanasis’s name was inspired by Charles’s love of the Greek word for immortality: Athanasia (αθανασία). Giannis was born in ’94, Kostas (Konstantinos) in ’97, and Alex (Alexandros) in ’01. Four Black children in a predominantly white country.

“We’ve always been outsiders,” Alex says.

Veronica and Charles gave them Greek first names to help them assimilate into their adopted country, given that they, as well as their parents, were considered illegal immigrants. Unlike in America, there is no birthright citizenship; being born in Greece does not automatically confer citizenship.

But the meaning of their African name is something they continued to hold dear: Adetokunbo means “crown that came from faraway seas” in Charles’s Yoruba tongue (ade means “king”). Giannis’s middle name, Ugo, means “the crown of God” in Veronica’s Igbo tongue.

Sepolia was a crowded, bustling place, predominantly occupied by immigrants. Not just African immigrants but Albanians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis—all trying to find shelter, find work. Like Charles and Veronica, many had emigrated in hopes of starting over. They soon found there was little opportunity to do so.

“They were staying there because the rents are low,” says Notis A. Mitarachi, Greece’s minister of migration and asylum, “and because they can exercise their occupation—most of them are street merchants—in the same area and the neighboring streets.”

The dense neighborhood was full of midrise apartment buildings, some stacked five or six stories high, with open balconies on each floor. The Metro Line 1 train (the “electric train” or ilektriko) ran in a stone-clad open cut in the street, a level below the adjacent sidewalk.

There were many small cafés and coffee shops but fewer green spaces and sports facilities than in other areas of the capital. Parking was tight, especially for bigger cars, because the area was so dense. Housing was difficult to secure without citizenship papers because one needed a tax number, which is provided only to those with legal status or asylum applicants. But everything was in walking distance, Alex remembers. “Everybody knows each other,” he says. “Everybody was just close.”

Veronica mostly babysat and cleaned homes. At one point, she worked as a cleaner at the train station in Sepolia. She’d get home aching, tired. But she remained upbeat. She kept working. “It’s on me. I’m the mom,” Veronica says. “I will give my kids everything. I have to work.”

Charles became a handyman of sorts, an electrician at one point. Alex remembers him working as a valet at another point, constantly battling periods of unemployment.

Giannis saw how his parents would stiffen after a long day’s work, try to mask their pain. “We saw them work every day to provide for us,” Giannis says. He’d watch his dad sit at the table, not eating. Trying to smile through it. Charles would always tell the kids, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not eating. I have to make sure my kids eat.”

And then they’d be told they had to leave. They’d gather their things again. On to the next place, a place that was just as cramped. They typically had just enough money to keep the lights on, but sometimes the family was forced to make difficult choices.

“Giannis told me that his mother had to sell her wedding ring just to have them have food,” says Michael Carter-Williams, close friend and former Bucks teammate from 2015 to 2016. “He really came from nothing.”

* * *

Giannis learned to be a persuasive street vendor. He knew how to turn on his charm—how to get people to like him, to buy something from him. He learned that from his mom. She didn’t want him to go with her at first, but he would insist: “No, I’m coming with you.”

He was stubborn, convincing people that they needed items they hadn’t considered essential. He’d keep asking question after question. He felt he was the best salesman in the family, besides his mom, of course. He wouldn’t give up, peppering prospective buyers with questions.

“You want this glass,” he’d say.


“Oh, they’re really nice; they’re going to help you do this.”

“Ah, no. We good.”

“But why?”

He was persistent, refusing to take no for an answer. He didn’t have a choice. His family needed him. Sometimes Giannis would be sitting on a bench by himself. He looked lonely, introspective. Sometimes people would leave food items, clothes, even money, for him to buy something. But most of the time, he was with his family. At first they worked close to their neighborhood. Later they would travel together for extended periods, sometimes seven days in a row, maybe two weeks in a row, to other areas, mainly suburban areas, all over Greece.

They’d drive for five hours, ten hours, during summers. Giannis would look out the window, see areas he had never heard of. Then they’d spot a beach. For an afternoon, they’d sit on the sand under the sun. Just get to relax for a few hours. Not worry about money for a few hours. Feel their toes in the sand, jump into the cool blue water. They swam and laughed, and the water glittered a deep blue green. They were able to have fun. Let go.

Then they’d go to the next village, sell, sleep. Travel, sell, sleep. Miles and miles away. Travel, sell, sleep. But even through these struggles, they found joy.

They always found joy in each other.

* * *

Giannis wanted to be a professional soccer player at age eleven, just like one of his idols, Thierry Henry, the legendary French striker. Giannis also wanted to emulate his dad. Dribble like him. Score like him. Move like him. Giannis was as focused, as intense, as his dad was, approaching pickup games as if they were real matches.

That’s how Charles operated. He would teach the kids about maximizing time, maximizing every minute. “Make sure what you give your time to is worth it,” Charles would tell them. “You shouldn’t wait one more day than what’s necessary. If you could accomplish something today, why wait until tomorrow? Go get it today!”

Charles pushed the brothers into sports not just because of his own career but because he wanted them to avoid drugs and other negative influences. Charles had his own soccer career cut short by injury, but Giannis was determined to have a different outcome. Charles had hoped so too. “I’m pretty sure he was hoping we’d all become soccer players,” Alex says.

He’d tell them physical injuries were part of competing. Part of giving your everything on the field. “Take care of your body,” he would tell them. One day, Thanasis bruised his finger on the field and didn’t know what to do. Charles came with a hot towel, massaged the spot over and over, the finger, the hand, until the swelling went down. He used juju medicine, a traditional West African spiritual practice that involves amulets and spells. “Don’t worry,” Charles told Thanasis. “It’s happened to me too.”

But the boys were kicked off their first soccer team because the coaches said they were too skinny and didn’t have enough muscles—or skills—to play. But they kept playing on their own, challenging each other.

The only time they weren’t playing soccer was when they were playing Ping-Pong. Games were intense. Each brother out for blood. Or they’d be running relay races at a nearby track, timing each other to see who would win.

But Giannis still loved soccer. He started dreaming. Hoping he could make it big. He found the sport to be exciting. Fast paced. After school, he and his brothers would head to a small field close to home and play. On the weekends, sometimes Charles would come along. Charles was in his forties at the time, but he was still tall and athletic. Fast. The family would spot some eighteen-year-olds playing and ask them to play pickup. “They’d be like, ‘Man, these kids are scoring on us!’” Kostas says. “We’d kill them.”

Sometimes even Veronica would play, filling in at goalie. Giannis and Thanasis were strikers. Kostas played defense and midfield. Alex was too young to take it seriously enough to have a position, but he’d come with them to the field, trailing behind. “We were all really good,” Kostas says.

The men and women in the earlier generations of the family were all tall, long, and athletic, as was Veronica. Track was her sport. She loved running. Loved competing. Her favorite events were the high jump, the long jump, and the two-hundred-meter sprint. She and Kostas used to play-fight when they’d get mad at each other, and he could see why she was so competitive in sports back then. “She’s strong as hell,” Kostas says, laughing.

Charles and Veronica wanted their kids to exhibit good sportsmanship. But also to be competitive. They’d have competitions to see which boy could clean up his room or complete chores the best, and Giannis would often win—he always took it seriously. They taught their boys to show respect to others. Especially to their elders and to family, referencing the common Nigerian proverb “If you love your father, if you love your mother, you’ll live long.”

Giannis remembered his dad teaching him about Nelson Mandela and the things that he could learn from such a selfless person who’d sacrificed his own well-being for the good of other people. That left a lasting impression on Giannis. He saw that his own dad modeled those characteristics too. Saw how, if Charles made a big bowl of spaghetti for the family that was to last the whole day, he barely ate any, instead waiting for his boys to eat.

Charles was Giannis’s role model. He seemed to always have a smile on his face despite enormous pressures at home. He always said “Hello” and “How are you?” to strangers. You would never know he was suffering. On the brink of not making it. “He was a kind soul,” Veronica says. “Very kind. Very kind husband, very kind daddy. Very kind human being.”

Veronica smiles, thinking of the biggest lesson he taught the kids: “He teach them how to love,” she says.

The boys knew they were loved. But they also kept praying, believing that God was watching them. Looking out for them. They prayed for some kind of relief. For the day when Veronica did not have to come home from a long day of selling, back aching, mind racing, figuring out how to find the next meal.

* * *

They found refuge in Agios Meletios Church, a beautiful Greek Orthodox church in Sepolia. The church, built in 1872, was a simple structure with narrow roundheaded windows trimmed in a burnt-sienna tone. Inside was a tall space with arched openings and elaborate chandeliers, with ecclesiastical icons high on the archway piers. The place was dim, smelling of beeswax candles and incense.

The Antetokounmpos were one of the few Black families, standing out among the congregation, but they would go to services often, with the boys attending Sunday school. They developed a close relationship with Father Evangelos Ganas. All the boys would be baptized there, Giannis and Alex in 2012 on a special day in Greece: October 28, which is Oxi Day, commemorating October 28, 1940, when former Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas denied Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s request to allow Italian troops to cross the border into Greece.

Sometimes church leaders gave the family food and other items, helping out when they could. Ganas accepted the boys as they were: Greek children who were also Black. He remembers Giannis’s eyes: always looking around, always curious. A little bit shy but always polite. His spirit just seemed buoyed—and Ganas knew Giannis had every reason to feel defeated. He saw innocence and hope in all the brothers, and in Veronica a kindhearted person trying her best.

Within the walls of the church, the Antetokounmpos were insulated, at least for a few hours, from the burdens of life on the outside. They made friends, too, with neighbors. Neighbors who saw how well mannered the boys were, how humble.

Ganas remembers these moments fondly, but he doesn’t ask for any credit for helping Giannis. Giving him food. Lending an ear. It was not nearly enough to feed four boys, he insists, but it helped. Over the years, local Greek journalists have posited him as the “Greek Priest Who Saved Giannis.” That label bothers Ganas. He rejects it. “I have not saved anyone. Only Christ saves,” Ganas says. “I love Giannis and his family, and the fact that he was raised in our neighborhood and was baptized in our parish and has pleasant memories from Sepolia makes me happy.”

Ganas still thinks about Giannis often. “I still pray for him,” he says.

His mind returns to Giannis’s eyes. Those innocent eyes. Praying, never expecting. Asking, never taking. Just trying to survive.

* * *

Spiros Velliniatis swears he heard God talking to him. Moving him. Steering him toward three young Black boys running around. He didn’t yet know their names, Giannis, Kostas, and Alex (Thanasis wasn’t there that day), or that they were future basketball stars. They were just kids playing tag. But Velliniatis, a local coach in Athens, looked closer at thirteen-year-old Giannis, and he felt something, he recalls. Something divine.

This is not possible, he thought to himself. God is talking to me.

What he saw was Giannis’s long limbs, his Gumby-like arms. What he noticed was that Giannis never seemed to tire, running, running, running. He was just having fun, but there seemed to be a seriousness about him, a focus to him.

All my life, I am trying to find this.

Velliniatis likened seeing a young Giannis to stumbling on a young Mozart, even though that sounds absurd. It was absurd. Giannis hadn’t yet grown into his body, let alone morphed into a basketball prodigy or genius. When Velliniatis speaks, he tends to embellish, as if he were reliving the story rather than merely presenting it. He is a storyteller at heart, and this is a great one: failed coach discovers impoverished kid who transcends poverty to become a global basketball icon.

Velliniatis walked over to the boys. “Where are you from?” he asked Giannis, who seemed quiet, shy.

“Nigeria,” Velliniatis remembers Giannis telling him.

“Do you do any sports?”


“What jobs do your parents do?”

“My mom takes care of people. My dad is working in a garage.”

Velliniatis sensed that the boys’ parents did not have stable work. He knew there was little opportunity for Black people in Sepolia. “If I find work for your parents—it would be five hundred euros a month—will you play basketball for me?”

Giannis paused. Looked at his brothers. They fell silent, confused by what they were hearing. Who is this man? What does he want from us? After a few minutes, though, and with some hesitation, Giannis half-heartedly agreed, and Velliniatis told him to bring his parents to the playground so they could have a conversation.

“In this moment,” Velliniatis says, “Giannis made the decision of his lifetime.”

Velliniatis thought this moment was some kind of cosmic miracle. Some kind of sign from above after years of his own tumult, of failure. His own hoop dreams had fallen apart. He wanted to play in the NBA but didn’t make it. As he recalls, he felt unloved after a woman he loved broke his heart and left him in his youth. He felt aimless, just floating. No dreams, no plans. Nowhere to go.

OK, life is like this. You tried your best. You didn’t make it.

But finding Giannis felt like a new beginning to him. He saw something special in Giannis.

God is talking to me.

Velliniatis’s story sounds amazing. It is amazing. But few genuinely thought Giannis was amazing back then. Giannis was scrawny, thin as a rail, and helpless on the court: he committed travel violation after travel violation with the ball.

And the way Velliniatis has framed his relationship with Giannis in recent years has caused a rift with the family, a rift that continues to widen. They do not speak nowadays. Velliniatis professes to be hurt, feels like he is owed something, some compensation—“seven percent,” he mentions specifically—since he gave the family money, food, opportunity, hope. Something when they had nothing.

And he did “discover” Giannis, after all. Handed Giannis an orange leather ball and said, “Why don’t you try it? See if you like it?”

* * *

Velliniatis was drawn to Giannis in some way because he himself felt like an outsider all his life. Velliniatis was from a “mixed background,” as he puts it, half Greek and half German, growing up in Greece. “It was a difficult way to grow up, not fitting in to either society,” he says.

He felt a certain connection to the immigrant community. Connected to their plight, somehow, even though he was white and they were Black—and he never faced, and would never know what it felt like to face, the kind of discrimination and inequities they did. Still, in hopes of helping them gain access to Greek clubs, he continued to find talented Black migrants, including Michalis Afolanio, who would go on to become the first African Greek to ever speak before the Hellenic parliament, as well as Greek rapper MC Yinka, whose real name is Emmanuel Olayinka Afolayan.

“We were the first generation, the children of immigrants. The first Afro-Greeks,” says Afolayan, who was born in 1981 in Greece to Nigerian parents who had migrated in the ’70s. He lived most of his life without papers. Afolayan loved basketball but didn’t have many opportunities to play. He made friends, including Thanasis (Thanasis would come over to his home in Attika Square to hang out with Afolayan’s younger sister, Victoria), and felt accepted, especially since he quickly learned Greek. But classmates lobbed racist slurs at him as well.

“The way they treated immigrants was a bit fucked up,” Afolayan says. “Being Afro-Greek in the eighties, I was like an alien.”

Velliniatis mentored him and helped him play for his team, Pegasus United, in Kato Patisia. “Spiros saw that the African community has talented people, and maybe he admired them,” Afolayan says. “He wanted to help because there was a lot of wasted talent, people that didn’t have access to certain rights.” Meaning they could not get citizenship and therefore, in some cases, could not join sports teams. Greek law at the time prohibited undocumented immigrants over the age of fifteen from playing organized sports without a sponsor, according to Velliniatis. “We were not people, in this society,” Afolayan says.

Velliniatis became a respected coach in Athens, known for bringing in top-tier talent from poor neighborhoods. “He was trying to find diamonds in the rough,” says Harris Stavrou, a Greek sports journalist. Diamonds that wanted to be coached. “His main job was to find playground talents,” says Stefanos Dedas, a Greek coach who now coaches Hapoel Holon in Israel. “Not skilled guys, not talented guys, not shooters. Physical guys. Maybe taller, maybe longer.”

Velliniatis joined Filathlitikos B.C., a club in the city of Zografou, becoming coach Takis Zivas’s assistant. Zivas needed talent—quickly. Filathlitikos wasn’t exactly a small club or a big club. It was, however, a mediocre club. In need of something unexpected.

So when Velliniatis found Giannis and his brothers on the playground in Sepolia, he thought, I’m going to help them. He was excited, thinking how the brothers could potentially bring Filathlitikos out of mediocrity.

Problem was, Giannis didn’t want anything to do with basketball. He hated it.

* * *

Giannis’s heart was still in soccer, given that his dad was such a fantastic player. The thirteen-year-old still wanted to somehow turn pro in soccer. He had zero interest in basketball. Though basketball seemed like it could help pay the bills—given Velliniatis and the club’s offer—he couldn’t see dedicating himself fully to the sport, focusing on the more immediate task of street-corner salesmanship.

Velliniatis pleaded. He wouldn’t give up. “Give it a chance,” Velliniatis remembers telling Giannis. “For your family.”

Family was the only reason Giannis was open to listening to this strange man who wouldn’t leave him and his brothers alone. Giannis wanted to be just like Thanasis, so when basketball meant hanging out with Thanasis more, Giannis decided to give it a try. Velliniatis made a deal: try it out for fun, play for one month, and the team, Filathlitikos, would help out financially.

Thanasis loved basketball, but Giannis kept pleading with his older brother to play soccer with him. Still, Giannis couldn’t pass up the money. They needed to eat.

There were a couple of problems, though.

First, the club was farther away, in a completely different neighborhood. Zografou, where the gym is located, was ten miles away. They’d have to leave school, walk twenty minutes to the train station, hop on a train, then hop on another train, the Metro Line 2 (the Red Line), then walk twenty minutes, then hop on bus 230, just to get to their team’s gym for practice. It was about a fifty-minute trip.


  • Giannis…captures an endearing portrait of Antetokounmpo by using his family as its primary through-line as he made his way to the N.B.A. and the United States. The framing makes for a more compelling journey than what would normally be expected of a parade of tough coaches, on-court rivals and personal uncertainty.”—The New York Times Book Review
  • “Mirin Fader gives readers a gorgeous portrayal of one of the most unique talents to ever play professional basketball. But Giannis is more than just the comprehensive story of a once-in-a-generation athlete. It is the story of how American promise intersects with iron will, and heartwarming vulnerability.”—Jemele Hill, host of "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered"
  • “For years, I have admired Mirin Fader’s ability to tell a long-form journalism story. I’m happy (and unsurprised) to say her skillset has translated over perfectly to books. This book is engaging, smart, and unputdownable.”—Shea Serrano
  • “Around the time that the Greek Freak was busting out in the NBA, Mirin Fader was doing the same thing in her line of work. In a journalism world that had become more and more about opinions, Fader decided that she would be a storyteller, and she invariably spins her tales with vividness and clarity, fueled by endless curiosity.”—Jack McCallum, author of Dream Team
  • “Mirin Fader traces an upbringing marked by deep family ties, extreme poverty, racism, and xenophobia. Like its subject, this biography is serious, engaging, and, more than anything, inspiring.”—Ben Golliver, author of Bubbleball
  • “Giannis the basketball player is almost too good to be true—and so is his story, told here with vivid writing and meticulous reporting. Mirin Fader’s portrait of the young superstar is as graceful, understated, and powerful as Giannis himself. A superb biography.”—Jonathan Eig, author of Ali and Luckiest Man
  • “We think we know everything about modern-day superstars. We’re sure we know everything about modern-day superstars. Then along comes Mirin Fader with this nuanced, detailed, revealing portrait of a man who has lived one hundred lives in twenty-six years. A fantastic read that proves most dreams go unaccomplished without toil, despair, grit, and an unyielding quest to soar.”—Jeff Pearlman, author of Three Ring Circus and Showtime
  • “The stories. My goodness, the stories. Mirin Fader’s ability to find and tell the most illustrative and humanizing tales really shines through. A player this great deserves his story to be told like this."—Marcus Thompson, author of Golden and KD
  • “[Mirin Fader] wrote the book on Giannis… at the moment that he is transmogrifying into an all-time great.”—David Shoemaker, The Press Box
  • “[Fader’s] biggest skill is her accumulation of details through deep reporting — that’s when she’s in her bag, as basketball fans like to say. Some of these details might seem trivial (the smell in an intern’s car after a trip to upstate Wisconsin to fetch a goldendoodle puppy for Giannis’s girlfriend), but they transport the reader to a place and time. The vividness of the stories she tells, the memories she’s able to pull out of people, unmask facets of Giannis’s playful and endearing personality. Though we see him on television as the king of the court, the book reveals a humble soul shaped by his upbringing.”—Washington Post
  • “Fader is a gifted writer who shares vivid details about Antetokounmpo…the book is dotted with the Greek star’s humility and good humor that has made him one of the NBA’s most endearing stars.”—The Los Angeles Times
  • “Eye-opening….Over the course of 400 pages, Fader manages to pull at the threads of Antetokounmpo’s Horatio Alger-esque tale to reveal a deeply human story that is as forged by politics as it is by sport….Fader has done something pretty remarkable….The depth of Fader’s Giannis – using basketball as just one of many lenses to view its subject – [creates] a work that feels complete, even while only being the beginning of the story.”—Milwaukee Mag
  • “A new name must be entered into the conversation of the great sports biographers…there’s enough detail, stories, and nuance to make these pages breeze by without wondering ‘When are we getting to the good stuff?’ It's all good stuff….The book is simply terrific, and it’s one that readers don’t have to be fans of basketball to enjoy."—Plainview Herald
  • “[A] masterpiece...the epitome of great sportswriting....Fader’s book is reminiscent of a David Halberstam masterpiece, as she uses her hundreds of interviews to paint as complete a picture of Antetokounmpo’s still young life as there is.”—The Chattanoogan

On Sale
Aug 10, 2021
Page Count
400 pages
Hachette Books

Mirin Fader

About the Author

Mirin Fader is a senior staff writer for The Ringer. She wrote for Bleacher Report from 2017 to 2020. Her work has been honored by the Pro Writers Basketball Association, the Associated Press Sports Editors, the U.S. Writers Basketball Association, the Football Writers Association of America, and the Los Angeles Press Club. She was named a Top Women in Media in the "Up and Comer" category in 2019, and her work has been featured in the "Best American Sports Writing" series. Fader has profiled some of the NBA's biggest stars, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant, Brandon Ingram, and LaMelo Ball, but she focuses more on the person rather than the player. Her approach is that she writes about people who happen to play sports, telling the backstories that shape some of our most complex, most dominant, heroes.

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