On Monday, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was revealed as the face of NBA 2K19, the first international player to grace the cover for a standard edition of the popular basketball video game.
The Greek Freak, whose humble, hardscrabble upbringing and inspiring rags-to-riches story are by now well-known, is an excellent global ambassador for a sport – and video game – that’s becoming increasingly popular worldwide. And, given how much people have struggled to pronounce "Antetokounmpo," he’s a fitting choice for this year’s 2K theme, "They Will Know Your Name."
I am honored to be the first international player featured on the cover of @NBA2K. Pre-orders are now available #NBA2K19 https://t.co/4KpjAmy1TO pic.twitter.com/gWZBcCMHVF — Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) July 2, 2018
"I am honored to be the first international player featured on the cover of NBA 2K19," Antetokounmpo said in a statement. "I love playing NBA 2K, so this means a lot to me. I have worked hard to earn recognition in the NBA, and being on the cover of NBA 2K19 is a dream come true."
An announcement event in his native Athens also included the premiere of a poignant video, "A Boy With A Name," which is narrated by Giannis’ mother Veronica.
"Giannis is the future of the NBA and his drive and athleticism have made him an undeniable force in the league," said Alfie Brody, Vice President of Marketing for NBA 2K. "He’s the perfect cover athlete, and we’re excited to feature him as our very first international cover star, as NBA 2K has a strong following with fans all over the world."
Around here, we all love Antetokounmpo, who in 2017-18 was once again named an All-Star starter and All-NBA Second Team, after averaging 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, the best season of his five-year career. And, with LeBron James’ free-agency departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Antetokounmpo could be argued as the best player in the Eastern Conference.
He certainly thinks so, and is out to prove wrong anyone who thinks otherwise.
In a Monday appearance on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd," Antetokounmpo said he believes he is the East's best player now. He also took issue with Cowherd’s ranking him the seventh-best player in the league, asserting that he is, at least, above Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia teammate, Ben Simmons, who the radio show host had ranked sixth.
Antetokounmpo also replied to a question about James leaving Cleveland for a bigger, glitzier city – something Bucks fans fear dearly – with an answer that would make Milwaukee smile.
"Would you ever leave Milwaukee if the Lakers came calling?" Cowherd asked.
"To be honest with you, no. No way. I like finishing the stuff that I have with Milwaukee," Antetokounmpo said. "My goal is to win in Milwaukee, bring a championship to the city and make the team a lot better. So I would never leave for L.A."
"My goal is to win in Milwaukee, bring a Championship to the city... I would never leave for LA." — @Giannis_An34 tells @TheHerd #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/7pOhsjyByz — Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 2, 2018
Antetokounmpo – who has an active, playful, goofy, sometimes bawdy social media presence – was also asked why he isn’t seen at parties, like other NBA players.
"Young players now play for attention, but that's not who I am," said the 23-year-old, who apparently does not consider himself young. "That's why I love Milwaukee. It's a low-profile city and I'm a low-profile guy.
"That's not my personality. I'm not playing for attention; I play because I love basketball and I want to be the best and make my team better."
This is the second straight offseason that the ascendant Antetokounmpo has responded to speculation that he could leave Milwaukee – he becomes a free agent after the 2020-21 season – and he’s done so with class and loyalty.
But if you believe in curses, the concern is even more relevant after Antetokounmpo was announced as the NBA2K cover athlete. In four of the last five years, the video game face has left team for which he played when he was on the cover within two seasons – in 2013, James left the Heat for the Cavs in ‘14; in 2014, Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors in ‘16; in 2016, Paul George left the Pacers for the Thunder in ’17; and last year, Kyrie Irving was traded from Cleveland to the Celtics before 2K18 was even released.
For what it’s worth, we don’t care about curses, and Giannis – whose rise to stardom is the result entirely of his own talent and hard work – surely believes that he alone controls his basketball future. And anyway, the Bucks have proved, especially in their personnel moves over recent years, that they don’t need any help from the supernatural to sabotage potential success.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.