Giannis Antetokounmpo is being marketed to overtake LeBron James as the NBA’s most famous player


Antetokounmpo is so serious about basketball, he didn’t sound entirely thrilled about receiving the most fan votes (more than 5.9 million) among Eastern Conference players. That tally made him team captain for the second straight year, requiring him to draft players.

“If I’m the captain, I’m the captain,” he said. “But by being the captain, you have more things to do and it takes away from the game. I don’t like things that take away from the game.”

And therein lies the conundrum for those pushing Antetokounmpo to overtake LeBron James as the sport’s most famous player: What if he doesn’t want to be the face of the NBA? Or if he’s simply ambivalent?

The Bucks (45-7 heading into Monday night’s game in Sacramento) have lost only once since Jan. 8. They held off the Celtics on a 40-point night by Kemba Walker. They beat the Bulls as Antetokounmpo scored his 10,000th career point and recorded his 18th career triple-double (28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists). They beat the Hornets in Paris.

Seven days later they were back home at Fiserv Forum, the glistening House That Giannis Built, for a special occasion: Greek Night.

The Bucks distributed a bobblehead of Giannis and teammate Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the older brother Giannis hugged moments after the Bucks made him the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Thanasis wears No. 43 to mirror Giannis’ No. 34 jersey.

Coach Mike Budenholzer gave Thanasis his only start of the season on Greek Night, and he scored 62 seconds after the opening tip on a breakaway slam. He laid one in off a feed from Giannis to give the Bucks a 13-4 lead. The team’s bench and the sellout crowd went nuts.

But long story short, the Nuggets shot 22 of 46 (47.8%) on 3-pointers and stunned the Bucks 127-115. It made for a quiet scene in the Bucks locker room, a Friday night that felt more like a Monday morning.

Peppering Antetokounmpo with non-basketball questions seemed even sillier than usual.

Asked how he has adjusted to the spotlight, the NBA’s reigning MVP replied: “To be honest, I try not to think about it. I know my name might be out there, but I’ve never cared about that and don’t now.”

Told of Giannis’ comment that the captain’s duties might detract from his play during the All-Star Game, Thanasis understood. Of course he did.

The brothers are so attached that when Saratsis presented them with two hotel room keys shortly after Giannis was drafted, they looked at him quizzically. They explained that they had never slept in separate rooms. Even adjoining hotel rooms didn’t provide enough closeness.

“(Giannis) is all about the essence,” Thanasis said. “How he practices will translate to the game.”

Though Antetokounmpo doesn’t seek fame, it finds him. He has the NBA’s second most popular jersey after James and ahead of Stephen Curry. He has more than 7.2 million Instagram followers, which ranks 11th in the NBA and first among international players.

Although Antetokounmpo plays in one of the NBA’s five smallest markets, Feigin said he could make the case that the 6-11 forward is actually the league’s most famous player.

Where else other than Greece?

“If you did a survey in Paris,” the Bucks executive replied cleverly, “he might win.”

Because Antetokounmpo’s parents are Nigerian, Saratsis said, he “touches two continents.”

“Europe has a massive immigrant population, and his story resonates with so many people,” Saratsis said. “He has blazed a new trail with fans that are immigrants and have multinational parents.”

Antetokounmpo, 25, partnered with Nike in 2017 and last year became the first European-born player to have a signature Nike shoe — the Zoom Freak 1.

Don’t expect to see him doing ads for Binny’s or Majestic Star Casino while he’s in Chicago this weekend.

“We look at it as quality over quantity,” Feigin said. “What are the right spots? We want to market him as a global brand. It’s not ubiquity, it’s not everywhere, anyway, anyhow. How do we make things special?”

Antetokounmpo is scheduled to appear at Water Tower Place at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for a panel discussion with hip-hop artist Swoope, a fellow JBL endorser. They will explore the intersection of basketball and music.

On Sunday he’ll be the focal point of Team Giannis; he selected Walker, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Trae Young to round out his starting five. Last year Team Giannis lost 178-164 despite his game-high 38 points in 27 minutes.

Then he will return to his comfort zone of Milwaukee, a bright light in a city without all that many.

“He really enjoys life here,” veteran wing Kyle Korver said. “I don’t think he’s doing this well because he’s in a small market. He could flourish anywhere. But with his upbringing and how he thinks, he wants to keep the main things the main things — his family and the game.”

Sourced via Chicago Tribune.




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