From an unknown gym in Athens, all the way to the NBA, it has been quite a leap for Giannis Antetokounmpo. A name that took David Stern, the former league President, some rehearsal before pronouncing it correctly. His story from rags to riches is unbelievable and almost mythical.
ESPN found the Greek Freak’s story intriguing enough to launch a flick for detailing ‘The Greatest Draft Story Every Told’. It is, in fact, quite unsettling that 14 franchises passed on and didn’t sign a future 2-time NBA MVP (before turning 26). Perhaps it was the biggest scouting failure that ever took place.
The Greek Freak came from humble beginnings, where he and his brothers had to sell goods door-to-door to help their mother. Basketball was his only getaway from a life of mediocrity, if not exactly poverty. With the NBA dreams in his eyes, Giannis remained off-radar until he was 18.
As per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, “In late June when he was in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, 7 and a half months earlier there wasn’t a team in the NBA who had ever heard of him. He went from being completely off the global map to all of a sudden on the brink of the NBA lottery, and the process leading up in those months was just one of the most unique, mysterious, enigmatic.”
The Milwaukee Bucks were one of the earliest franchises to figure out and acknowledge the talent and work ethic in a young Giannis. The Bucks’ former GM, John Hammond detailed, “I remember the day extremely clearly because at that time Jeff Wolman was working with me in Milwaukee. I remember Jeff say, ‘Hey John, there’s a young player in Athens that is gathering a lot of potential right now. We should probably go see him.”
He obviously created a stir and left his mark on the few scouts who knew him. The wingspan of 7’3″ coupled with big hands and great guarding ability at a young age can be impressive for anyone.
Once the Greek Freak’s discovery took place, the franchises in the knowledge of his potential wanted to keep it a secret. The Atlanta Hawks (who later got Dennis Schroder and Shane Larkin) were one of them. They had picks #17 and #18 to their name. If not for the Bucks, Giannis was Atlanta’s boy. But the Bucks knew that his ceiling was too high to ignore. An NBA Agent recollected, “I got a phone call, and they called me and said, ‘we have the next Magic Johnson’.”
Even today, the Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban believes it was a mistake to have not picked Giannis at #13. That entire draft was disastrous. Only two players, Victor Oladipo (ORL) and CJ McCollum (POR) could reach a level that did some justice to their picks. But leaving a future hall-of-famer kind of player for a 15th pick is just unthinkable.
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