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From Jan Vesely declaring unavailability for his national team’s efforts, to Danilo Gallinari becoming unavailable due to a…self-inflicted…thumb injury, Sergio Llull getting injured in a preparation game, and Milos Teodosic deciding to not risk getting injured too, “uneventful” is one word you wouldn’t use to describe this off-season. The biggest absence of all, however, is going to be an NBA All-Star’s absence: the Greek National Team will miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Two days ago, in what he called “by far the biggest disappointment of my career,” Giannis announced that due to recurring pain in his knee, and after failing to pass team-required tests, he won’t be able to support the Greek National Team in the EuroBasket competition. This announcement triggered a follow-up from the Hellenic Basketball Federation, a response from the NBA and the Bucks, a dozen articles about the whole matter, and finally thousands of comments about it all. In the following text I am going to look at the situation and try to make some sense out of it.

A Timeline of Events as They Unfolded

On Monday (August 21st), Giannis Antetokounmpo visited his national team team-mates and coaches during practice to say goodbye in person. He is going to watch the first game of the “Acropolis” tournament and then leave for Milwaukee.

Giannis Teammates Greece

So, who are the good and who are the bad guys?

To begin with, there are a couple of parties involved in this drama: Antetokounmpo as the protagonist, and then the Greek National Team and the Hellenic Basketball Federation on the one side, and then Milwaukee Bucks and the National Basketball Association on the other side. Oh, and FIBA – but more on them later.

Each party had its own aspirations on this story: The Greek Team and Federation were hoping that Giannis would guide them to their first success in ages. Meanwhile, obviously, the NBA and the Bucks were hoping that Giannis would be back with them as soon as possible. Giannis himself has been left in the middle, wishing for a medal with his country’s team (as he has stated before), but at the same time unable to go the extra mile for it; having recently signed a new contract with his team (which has suffered a lot because of injuries).

If we are to analyse those aspirations more, FIBA (for the uninitiated, the International Basketball Federation – the body that organises the tournament that Giannis is going to miss) is a good place to start from.

Season Calendar Troubles

You can read more about it in one of our very first articles here but, in summary, it all begins with FIBA’s idea to expand the national team schedules by adding World Cup qualification games during the season (in November and February), a move that pretty much everyone was/is against. Željko Obradović, with his latest statements about it, has made it clear that he’s among “everyone” (“everyone” also includes Mark Cuban and Zoran Dragić). If you can’t be bothered to check these links, the general objection is that those tournaments will eventually lose value as star players won’t be able to participate in them due to rest issues. Obradović made those statements before it was announced that Miloš Teodosić, newly of the Los Angeles Clippers, is also dropping out of his national team because of injury concerns.

Miloš was the latest addition of non-participants to a very big list with very big names:

Right or wrong, ethical or unethical, etc etc, it goes without saying that companies worth billions would like to protect their employees/assets from what they find to be an inconvenient schedule. An NBA team pulling its biggest asset back upon development of a tiny suspicion of injury could be a warning signal as to what we are in for in the future, if all parties involved do not reach an agreement that ensures everything runs smoothly.

And for that to happen, FIBA has to understand that it can’t even think about forcing the NBA into anything and that the EuroLeague is growing bigger and bigger and cares less and less about international tournaments. Which means no more “we are adding more international games at will, in the name of the good and the development of the sport everywhere”-type of moves from FIBA.

The Hellenic Basketball Federation

Talking about federations trying to force things and deciding at will in the name of the ‘good of the sport,’ the HBF comes to mind. Presided over, since 1998, by 78-year-old Georgios Vasilakopoulos (he gets elected with dictator-like percentages, in elections that have, multiple times, raised concerns), the federation has a very impressive showcase of handling different situations poorly.

To list some of the most significant stuff:

  • In 1992, the greatest basketball player in the history of the country, Nick Galis, saw his career with the national team come to an end after his request for a longer summer break was turned down and the federation announced that “nobody is above the team”.
  • In 2008, only two years after the triumph of the Greek NT against the USA and after a very successful term as the coach of the team, Panagiotis Giannakis was fired because he had earlier signed to be the coach of Olympiacos BC.
  • In 2007, just before EuroBasket, Antonis Fotsis suffered from an almost- broken finger and was called a “deserter”. In 2010, Theodoris Papaloukas asked for a couple of extra holidays before he joined the team and also saw the end of his career with the team – just like that.
Papadopoulos and Fotsis of Greece

Lazaros Papadopoulos and Antonis Fotsis of Greece NT

Keep in mind that not only are the decisions unfortunate, but characters are left to be assassinated, legends of Greek basketball old-and-new are ridiculed, etc. Then, fast-forward to this summer, the showcase consists of:

  • A team that had no coach until July. In the end, Kostas Missas was hired in a move that disappointed a lot of fans, as he has no significant experience apart from youth and women’s teams.
  • A failure to inform Antetokounmpo’s coach, teammates or anyone, really, that there were said “NBA obligations” in August. It turns out that along with his duties as an NBA Ambassador, Giannis had to attend an event for a company that is sponsoring him and nobody was informed. If that’s the federation’s or Giannis’ fault is unknown to us but it, obviously, created the false idea that “the NBA diva is doing whatever he wants and doesn’t care about his team’s preparation and his teammates”.
  • The “Us against the world and its conspiracies” announcement that not only accuses a team and an organisation of plotting against the federation – and their own player – but also ends with a junior high school level of “we have all the evidence but we are not showing anyone anything until we want to” threat.

In short, the federation failed to make a significant coaching hire, failed to make sure the atmosphere in the team is good and, then, not only failed to protect its biggest star, but also struck a major blow in the relationship it (the federation) maintains with his (Giannis’s) employer. Rumours that the Bucks were also not satisfied because the federation hasn’t been punctual about some insurance payments they should have made are not confirmed but have already started making the rounds.

Antetokounmpo is a blessing for the HBF, but for that blessing to have any positive effect the HBF has to understand the situation: for a player of Giannis’s caliber (franchise player and All-Star, already) to take time and effort off his personal growth and risk any kind of injuries and setbacks, it takes an environment that is secure. And what the HBF has provided so far is one that’s not transparent, not supportive and, worst of all, not professional.

Giannis Greece

Where does Antetokounmpo stand now?

Giannis wanted to play for his country, Giannis wanted to win for his country, and Giannis did all he could to achieve both (if you don’t take my word for it, go watch how he played in that game against Montenegro). As it seems, it was far from enough and chances are that, unless there is some kind of proper coordination between him, the HBF and the Bucks in the future, all this will be decided by how regularly his knee pains crop-up. In either case, there have already been talks about how this incident is a major blow to his relationship with his team and how it might affect his next moves in the NBA once he becomes a free agent.

Other than that, what’s worthy of observation is that this was the first time Giannis had to deal with a situation like this. Not advancing in the later rounds of the NBA playoffs yet is no biggie, especially if you consider all those injuries that Milwaukee suffered from, and then he won the Most Improved Player Award so nobody could really blame him for not contributing or leading or anything. But not being able to even play for your team after you have talked so much about winning, now that’s something you have to cope with. The way he chose to do so was very direct, and that comes along with its own set of problems, especially in a country that’s not actually used to having a player of his status. The federation accused him of not announcing his decision formally, his coach accused him of not letting him know directly, a lot of Greek fans accuse him of doing it from far away (an attempt at “hiding,” supposedly), and he is left trying to explain that “I wanted to announce this myself because nobody can express my feelings better than myself”.

I find that very honest – seemingly the only honest action from any party involved in this, for what it’s worth. But for a large part of the population, the only thing that can convince them of Giannis’s honesty is a shiny medal hanging from his neck.

Preferably golden.

And so it seems that the only way for Giannis to become trusted is similar to the way he got the Greek citizenship a couple of years ago.

Not by earning it – he had done that long ago.

But by winning it.

About The Author

Web Admin & Author

Seb was born and raised in the (dominated by Olympiacos' fans) greek island of Corfu in 1988. His first two memories of basketball are strongly opposing each other: He was feeling completely indifferent in 1997 as David Rivers was repeatedly cruising past the FC Barcelona defence to lead Olympiacos to their first european championship title (and eventually their first - and only - triple crown) thinking "how can it be worth any much if it is that easy?" and then fiercely fanatical as he listened to his father talking to him about basketball (for probably the first time ever in his life) to tell him that "we are almost tied at half time with the referees butchering us, we got them!" (referring to this game here). It was a one-lane way from that moment on.

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One Response

  1. Dimitris

    We love giannis we love Greece 🤗🤗 giannid loves Greece too but now he is all stars player and we are proud of these…..

    Reply

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