You want to know one of the major reasons why Giannis Antetokounmpo is so good — and will get even better? Attitude.
It was on display not long ago after a Bucks practice in Milwaukee. Former Hellenic College star and 1982 Celtic draftee Panagiotis Giannakis was in town to check in on his countryman, and as Antetokounmpo walked away from his media interview, Bucks TV man Jim Paschke sidled over and said, “So we’ve got the two best Greek players in history here today, right?”
“No,” said Antetokounmpo, nodding toward Giannakis some 50 feet away, “the best one player.”
“Well, then you’ve got to be second then,” Paschke said.
Antetokounmpo shook his head again.
“Nick Galis and him (Giannakis) are the two best,” he said.
Antetokounmpo then told Paschke, “I’ll let you know if I get there.”
Here’s a guy who’s in the middle of the conversation for NBA Most Valuable Player, and he still wants to — and needs to — improve.
Contrast that with a lot of what you hear from other players around the league, and you’ll understand why Giannis is so revered by basketball people.
Galis, by the way, was also drafted by the Celtics. He was taken in the fourth round out of Seton Hall in 1979 and went on to a career in Greece that landed him in the Basketball Hall of Fame here in Springfield two years ago.
Giannakis was the Celts’ ninth round selection in 1982 (the draft was 10 rounds then; only three of those taken before him, ever played in an NBA regular season game — Darren Tillis, Perry Moss, John Schweitz). Pano went to camp with the C’s and did well, but he wound up going home to Greece, where he cemented his legend as both a player and coach.
But nearly 40 years later, he’s still known, too, for his ties to the Celtics, who had a line on him because they practiced at his school, Hellenic College, in Brookline.
“I was the ninth pick, because nobody knew about me,” Giannakis told the Herald. “No one else had any reason to choose me. But I had worked out a lot with Robert Parish and Gerald Henderson. We’d play one-on-one and then pick-up games with other players. It was good practice for me.
“It was an unbelievable experience for me. After I got drafted, I remember I went to Red Auerbach‘s camp [in Marshfield], and people asked me what I was going to do here. I said to them ‘I’m a basketball player. I came overseas from Greece.’ They said, ‘They play basketball there? How you gonna play with these guys?’ ‘Ah, I’m gonna try.’
“It was tough. You’d practice and then you’d play, and it was full court press. I was tired, but it was great for me, because everybody understood then that I could play. At the night practices, Danny Ainge played. That was unbelievable for me. They kept me into the veterans camp, and I went to Hellenic, but they brought in Quinn Buckner, and he was one of the best defenders, so that hurt my chances. They kept me until five days before the start of the season, so I didn’t have an opportunity to go to another NBA team. It was difficult for me to find something else here.”
So Giannakis went home.
“When I got back to Greece, basketball was getting better and better,” he said. “I ended up going from my town team to ARIS Thessaloniki and making a tandem with Nick Galis. A couple of years later, I got a call from the Houston Rockets. Why? Because coach (Bill) Fitch was there, and he was with the Celtics when I tried out. I thought about it, but in Greece and Europe at that time, the teams were spending money. And they would make money when they made trades, but not to an NBA team. I felt bad, so I stayed and didn’t miss much. I lived the unbelievable win against the Soviet Union for the European Championship. Everybody in Greece played basketball after that. It was a huge honor for me.”
Giannakis went on to become a coach, leading the Greek national team to a semifinal victory over the United States in the 2006 FIBA World Championship before falling to Spain in the title game.
He’s now deciding on his next coaching opportunity, while still doing what he can to support basketball in his home country. His pride over Antetokounmpo is evident.
“Giannis is a great player and a tremendous person,” Giannakis said. “He loves every day to get better and better. This is a difficult period, because the kids don’t want to work so hard if they’re talented, but you can see Giannis is very talented and a great worker and great person. That’s difficult to find all together.”
Someday it may be enough to even make Antetokounmpo believe he’s worthy of joining Giannakis and Galis in the Greek basketball pantheon.
Al Horford is still hoping for a return to full throttle for former teammate Isaiah Thomas, and he smiled when he spoke of IT’s improvement as a passer.
“The thing was that I think teams initially were playing him regular, and when he just started lighting everybody up and scoring, then they realized, ‘Well, shoot, we have to start doubling him,’” Horford said. “Then he figured out how to play that other way, too, how to pass. And even when teams doubled him, he was still going around the double-team actually and still scoring at a pretty good clip. So, I mean, he would pass it sometimes, but most of the times it was impressive how he managed, even though he knew the double was coming, to still get around it and be efficient scoring.”
In other words, Isaiah really liked to shoot — but fortunately he was good at it.
Sunday vs. Orlando, 7:30 p.m. — The Magic have taken a giant step up from 25 wins last season and have been battling for their first playoff berth since 2012. Orlando is 2-0 against the Celtics this season, winning those games by a combined five points. After the latter, a 105-103 decision in Orlando in January in which the Celts blew a 12-point lead, Irving was upset that he didn’t get the last shot and noted afterward how the young players on the club maybe didn’t understand what it takes to be successful.
Tuesday at Washington, 7 p.m. — The Celtics’ last regular season game. The Wizards have fallen off the Washington Monument since battling the C’s for seven games in the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals. They got knocked out in the first round of the 2018 playoffs and fell off the pace early this season. And it’s hard to pin this on the late December loss of John Wall with an Achilles’ tendon issue. They were 13-22 with him, and have actually had a bit better record since Wall was declared out for the rest of the season. As usual, however, the Wiz have had some interesting games against the Celts, including Boston’s 130-125 overtime win in DC back on Dec. 12.