Athens (AFP) – Under the shadow of Giannis Antetokounmpo, a world basketball star from Athens, the children of African immigrants in Greece see him as a role model, although they doubt that the tour of the Milwaukee Bucks center, who has played for nine years in the NBA, really improve your luck.
His presence is everywhere: in the mouths and heads of the young players, on billboards and in the alleys of central Athens where his number 34 jersey is sold by the thousands.
“I dream of meeting him, learning from him. Giannis has always been my idol,” says Dave Okonkwo, throwing his shoes on a court in central Athens.
The 18-year-old, born in Greece to Nigerian parents like Giannis Antetokounmpo, dreams of following in his idol’s footsteps and also becoming a professional basketball player.
On the asphalt that Okonkwo, Joshua, Benjamin or even David tread on, a fresco with the effigy of Antetokounmpo, whose Milwaukee club is currently second in the Eastern Conference, represents him flying towards the basket, at the height of the clouds and accompanied of a Greek god. The international summit is the place that the 27-year-old Greek athlete, NBA champion in 2021, occupies today.
However, its history began from the lowest strata of society. Without papers or money, the Antetokounmpo family lived in Athens with small jobs and clandestine sales.
It was thanks to basketball that the two oldest, Thanasis and Giannis, came out of the daily precariousness. His efforts and results attracted the attention of recruiters and the young prodigy ended up joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013.
work and perseverance
His sporting success opened the doors of regularization in Greece. He was taking off to the United States, at age 18, when he obtained Greek citizenship.
“He has been successful through hard work and perseverance. Nothing is easy, but you always have to chase your dreams,” says Okonkwo.
The young man began playing basketball at age 11, joining the AntetokounBros Academy, founded by the Antetokounmpo brothers to “provide children from vulnerable social groups with opportunities they lack and discover the power of sport to change lives,” according to the organization.
It was also at the Academy where Benjamin Tangu made his first dribbles. Arriving in Greece when he was 13 years old, the young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola dreams of an identical destiny.
“He has shown that if you work hard enough, you will succeed,” Tangu believes.
Above all, basketball represents the hope of obtaining Greek citizenship and the guarantee of an easier life, because these children of immigrants, who are born or raised in Greece and attend public schools, see their presence questioned.
“They say we all have the same rights, but that’s not the case,” Tangu confesses.
The Nnadi brothers, of Nigerian origin, would also like to continue the path of the Antetokounmpo brothers. David, 17, and Joshua, 15, find their dreams obstructed.
“Every year, the school organizes a trip abroad. Without papers, I can’t leave the country,” laments David.
“I don’t understand, the Antetokounmpo were like us (…) Today they get all the glory, and we get nothing,” the young man is irritated.
For them, obtaining Greek citizenship is not automatic. The criteria vary according to the age depending, in particular, on the situation of the parents and on the level of education, which keeps them in legal uncertainty for a long time, especially when the response times are lengthy.
“The law establishes that the petitions are carried out in six months. In reality, the average exceeds four years and some wait between six and seven years,” explains Nikos Odubitan, founder of Generation 2.0, an organization whose objective is to integrate and Legally support these young people.
This situation deprives them above all of free access to medical care, stresses the organization. “A Giannis does not bring spring,” says Odubitan.
The youth of Athens continue to shoot under the pale lights of the outdoor courts, dreaming of the NBA spotlight.
“We always want to compare ourselves with Giannis, but everyone has their story. He has achieved it. Now it’s our turn to be recognized,” concludes Okonkwo.
© 2022 AFP
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Under Antetokounmpo’s shadow, young Afro-Greek basketball players seek his recognition