Giannis Antetokounmpo proving he’s as much of a leader off the court

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 28: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 28: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

As Giannis Antetokounmpo proved to be a visual and vocal presence at Milwaukee protests against police brutality and racial injustice on Saturday, as evidence of his off-court leadership continues to grow.

In the days before what proved to be one of the most thrilling All-Star games in recent memory back in February, Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Chris Paul and Kevin Love for a sitdown conversation with former President Barack Obama.

The panel discussion hosted by the Obama Foundation proved to be an open and honest dialog including three of the NBA’s most notable leaders, but at the the time there’s no doubting that Antetokounmpo was a little different to his two peers in that regard.

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Chris Paul’s position as one of the most vocal players in the NBA is cemented by his role as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, dating all the way back to 2017. While Kevin Love has been searingly honest in driving forward conversation around mental health, not just in the NBA but in society more generally.

As a younger player, and someone who was most likely still finding his way as a person as much as anything else, Antetokounmpo’s good nature and character already spoke for themselves, but that came in part because the MVP didn’t seem quite as forward when it came to publicizing his good deeds or lending his voice to causes he believed in. Antetokounmpo would frequently show generosity in his time and gestures with fans, but there was undoubtedly still room for him to turn his attention to even larger acts of good. Or more specifically to share details of the great work he had already done in Milwaukee, Greece, and Africa.

It was that detail that led Obama to reveal to the Milwaukee Bucks superstar:

"“I want you to be a little more public, Giannis, because I think you have something to give in terms of giving back. And you can set an example for the people.”"

In response, Giannis explained that he feels his private nature is largely tied to his background, and the challenges he and his family have faced over the years:

"“I’ve tried to be private with whatever I do. I was scared to open up to the public about what I do, because my whole life, I saw my parents hiding, basically. They were immigrants, they were illegal. So that stuck with me my whole life. … I was scared to be out there. I was scared to share other people’s opinions about what I do.”"

Almost four months on from that conversation, not just the U.S. but the entire world is in a very different place. And based on his actions in supporting people throughout that period, it’d be hard to imagine that the aforementioned interaction had anything but a profound impact on the 25-year-old superstar.

Along with Khris Middleton, Giannis led the way in making the first donation of $100,000 toward covering the salaries of Fiserv Forum workers when the coronavirus pandemic first brought the NBA season to a halt.

Antetokounmpo and his family also donated 10,000 surgical masks to the Athens suburb of Zografou, where they lived before making the move to Milwaukee.

Even more recently, after investing in Ready Nutrition, Antetokounmpo has donated 34,000 bottles of protein water to Milwaukee healthcare workers, along with 34,000 bottles and 34,000 protein bars to the Milwaukee Public School students’ daily meal program.

On Saturday, Antetokounmpo was joined by Bucks teammates Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Frank Mason III, and Cameron Reynolds at a Black Lives Matter protest in Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo and Co. marched with protestors and handed out water and food supplies. Milwaukee activist Frank Nitty made it clear that there was nothing organized or contrived about the players’ appearance at Saturday’s peaceful protest, with their presence instead being something entirely organic and authentic initiated by Giannis and Brook.

"“This isn’t the Bucks, it’s actually Giannis and Brook as individuals. It’s not a Bucks event. It’s not a photo op. They reached out and they wanted to march with us.”"

Not just letting his presence speak for itself, Giannis also directly addressed his fellow protestors with a powerful statement:

"“We want change. We want justice. And that’s why we’re out here, that’s what we’re going to do today, and that’s why we’re going to march with you guys. I want my kid to grow up here in Milwaukee, and not to be scared to walk in the streets. I don’t want my kid to have hate in his heart. I was talking to my teammates and my brothers yesterday…when my kid sees these clips of what happened to these people that passed away, that got killed…how the hell am I going to explain that to my kid? He’s going to have hate in his heart, and I don’t want that…It doesn’t matter the color, we’re all human beings.”"

With the Bucks holding their own public protest outside of Fiserv Forum on Sunday, it would be no surprise to again see Antetokounmpo lend his voice and considerable profile to the vital cause, showing his decency and compassion, appreciation of community, and love for the city and people of Milwaukee.

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Bucks fans have long been proud of what Antetokounmpo does on the court, but as he continues to blossom as a leader, it may yet be his off court actions that provide even more reason to respect him for the man he’s become.