Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has enjoyed a scorching start to the 2017-18 National Basketball Association (NBA) season, averaging 31.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists through his first 10 games and establishing himself as the early favourite for Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Here is more about the 22-year-old, who could be the face of the league for the next decade:
1. More than just a (long) name
Drafted 15th in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Bucks, his first claim to fame was for his tongue-twister of a last name, which tripped up fans, players, and commentators alike. He quickly gained the more easily pronounced nicknames Greek Freak and Alphabet Soup, and is also known in China as Zi Mu Ge, or Letter Bro.
2. He’s a funny guy
Although he was not highly touted even in an extremely thin draft that featured current NBA bust Anthony Bennett as the top pick, he quickly gained a reputation for being an engaging, offbeat character whose antics endeared him to fans.
One of the best stories about Antetokounmpo happened in his rookie year in 2014, when he went to a bank on game day to send money back to his parents in Greece, only to realise that he had no money left to take a cab to the stadium.
He ran for about 10 minutes before a couple in a car stopped by the road to ask if he was the Bucks rookie and then gave him a lift to the arena.
That year, he also discovered what a smoothie was and took to Twitter to express his delight.
3. An unstoppable force
Initially regarded as a little lightweight even though he was 2.11m and had a 2.2m wingspan, Antetokounmpo has blossomed into one of the league’s most devastating two-way players.
Last season, he became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top-20 league-wide in all five major statistics: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He also led his team in all five categories, only the fifth player in NBA history to do so.
One reason for this has been how much stronger he has gotten over the past few years, going from 89kg in his rookie year to 101kg. While he has always been athletic and long-limbed, capable of vaulting past defenders and shooting over them, he now has the strength to shrug off physical contact to finish at the rim, where he prefers to operate.
Warriors superstar Kevin Durant said in October that Antetokounmpo could be the best NBA player ever.
“The Greek Freak, I think, is a force. I’ve never seen anything like him,” said the 2017 NBA Finals MVP. “His ceiling is probably… he could end up being the best player to ever play if he really wanted to. That’s pretty scary to think about. He’s by far my most favourite player to watch.”
4. From a Greek family of sportsmen
Born in Athens, he is the third of five sons of Nigerian immigrants to Greece. His father Charles was a footballer while his mother Veronica was a high jumper. Eldest brother Francis played football professionally in Nigeria while his three other brothers are also basketballers. Second brother Thanasis, the 25-year-old Panathinaikos forward, played in the NBA with the New York Knicks.
Both brothers are now much revered in their home country, despite a difficult childhood lived in constant fear of being deported. Antetokounmpo did not receive full Greek citizenship until May 9, 2013, a month before the NBA Draft.
Said Giannis in June: “I know nothing else but Greece. I have never been to Nigeria. You are not born a Greek, you become a Greek.”
5. Football was his first sport
With a father and brother who both played football professionally, Antetokounmpo is no slouch himself when it comes to manipulating a ball with his feet.
Like former Houston Rockets centre Hakeem Olajuwon, the Bucks star actually started off playing football and showed more interest in that sport initially. He began playing basketball seriously only when he was 13 and is a fan of Greek club Olympiakos.