Why Nigeria Should Celebrate Giannis Adetokunbo’s Championship at the NBA

By: Deji Yesufu

Those who know something of playing basketball in the National Basketball Association (NBA) know two things: that because of the resources the Americans put into the game, the best basketballers come to the NBA from all around the world. The second thing they know is that to win a Championship in the NBA, there is always that huddle to cross. For Giannis Adetokunbo and the Milwaukee Bucks (the team he plays for), that huddle was the Brooklyn Nets. The reason was because Brooklyn had acquired the services of James Harden, a former MVP, and one of the greatest guards the game had ever seen.  Hadden was frustrated that despite his individual brilliance at the Houston Rockets, he still had not won a championship. So he came to Brooklyn when the season begun, to win. During the 2020/21 regular season, the Nets did very well and came second in the Eastern Conference listing. Bucks were third. Along with Kevin Durant the Nets were running all over everyone. The Bucks met the Nets in the Eastern Conference semi finals and everyone knew there was going to be fireworks.

Nets had game 7 advantage (this means that three games will be played at Bucks and 4 at Nets). When the series started, Bucks went down by two games (0-2). Everyone thought it was over for Giannis and his team mates. Bucks still had the opportunity to play three games at home. Bucks fought back and won their first two games at home. In game 5, playing away at Brooklyn, Bucks went up by 16 points in the second half. Brooklyn erased that massive lead and won game 5 at home. Bucks returned to Milwaukee and clinched a win. The series were tied at 3-3. Then the finale was to be at Brooklyn, since they had the advantage. Bucks gave it all that they got and clinched a vital away win to win the series (4-3). After that win, most basketball pundits tipped Bucks to win the NBA finals. They simply had beaten the best team in the league. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks walloped the Atlanta Hawks (4-2). Giannis was injured in game 4 but his team mates saw the series through. He returned for game 1 of the NBA finals itself, which was going to be against the Phoenix Suns. You will appreciate the Sun’s better when you discover that the Sun’s had beaten the defending Champions, LA Lakers, with Lebron James, at the Quarter Finals of the Western Conference. This morning, the Buck beat the Suns (4-2) to clinch the 2020/21 NBA Championship. Bucks had gone two games down at first but returned to win four  games in a row. Their game 5 away win at Phoenix being the most pivotal. Giannis Adetokunbo scores 50 points in game 6 this morning, becoming the only player to score that high in an NBA finals since 1958.

Why then should Nigeria and Nigerians celebrate Giannis Adetokunbo’s win? How does that reduce the cost of Garri in our markets? To answer that question, I’ll humbly request you read my first article on Giannis: The Story of Giannis Adetokunbo. I discovered this phenomenonal person by accident. For those who do not have the patience to read that rather lengthy piece, here is a quick recap.

Giannis Adetokunbo was born in Greece by Nigerian parents. His father had gone to Greece to pursue a career in professional football, like hundreds of other Nigerians were doing in the 1990s. He couldn’t land a club in Athens and he didn’t want to return to Nigeria. So himself and his wife decided to slug it out in Greece. Giannis, the third of their five sons, was born in 1994. Their parent did not have work permits and thus had to work menial jobs to provide for their sons. The Adetokunbo boys however took up their father’s build and athleticism, and after a short stint with football, someone suggested to them to try out Basketball. They never looked back. In 2011/12, scouts began to pay attention to the young and gaggling Giannis. In 2013 the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him into their team. He was the 15th pick. He was only 18 years old. Giannis parents and siblings soon joined him in the USA and their fortune changed. This is where Nigeria lost out. Up till 2013, Greece had still not given the Adetokunbos citizenship. When that country saw Giannis’ potential, they gave the whole family citizenship and then corrupted their name to “Antetokounpo”. In spite of these Giannis has continued to keep his connection with Nigeria – even mentioning our dear country in his post match comments this morning, where he celebrated his championship win at age 26 and his finals MVP status too. Nigeria must learn to celebrate their own or else the world will see the good in them and steal their glories from us. The story of how Greece stole the Adetokunbos from Nigeria remains another sad tale in the annals of our nation.

Here are however a few reasons why Nigeria and Nigerians should celebrate Giannis Adetokunbo’s win.

First, I have long pushed the narrative that it is ordinary Nigerians that will fix this country; not our leaders. For long we have trusted the wrong set of people to save this nation. It is time we begin to look elsewhere. If we examine the Giannis Adetokunbo story you see this reality: that imbedded in all Nigerians are gifts that can not only propel an individual forward but at the same time send his community and nation forward. Nigeria has always had great sport people. Now we are building a community of entertainers. Recently I met a young man who is exporting his expertise in coding and earning foreign exchange into the country. Nigerians have within themselves something they can give the world. We only need to trust ourselves and make the leap. This will not happen overnight but it will happen gradually. The hope of this nation is in a new breed taking over from an old guard that have been worn out by their greed. If you are a Nigerian anywhere in the world doing legitimate work, continue in it. One day you will be found.

Second, few people know something about the blessings that adversities bring. We all seek comfort; we all want things to be easy for us in life. But adversity builds character; it strengthens hope; it builds personal discipline, especially with money; and it trains an individual in obscurity for the time of limelight. The Adetokunbos were sure that remaining in Greece will bring its share of difficulty but they faced it and came out on top. Watching Giannis play, you can see the same determination to overcome adversity in him. Giannis was ridiculed for his inability to shoot free throws. For this his opponents fouled him and got away with it. This morning, Giannis scored 12 of the 14 free throws he was given to take. His jump shots were excellent and he characteristic attack on the rim earned him his 50 points – highest score in the finals since 1958. Giannis saw adversity as a stepping stone and we all can. Nigeria is going through difficult days. Our country people can learn a few character and discipline that will help us when this nation’s prosperity comes.

Third. There is a world of diasporan Nigerians that we have simply refused to glean or learn from. Many Nigerians, who once lived in this country, still have their hearts and minds on the shores of this nation. Many of them are willing to help. I was recently acquainted with a medical doctor gentleman working in Canada – a Nigerian, Dr. Motunrayo Adetola. Dr. Adetola was President of Nigerian Physicians in Canada. Besides helping each other, they seek to benefit medical practice in Nigeria. While he was leading the group, they had completed plans to come to Nigeria to equip some of our hospitals and also train our doctors. Unfortunately with the coming of a new government and a new leadership to the Ministry of Health, the whole thing was scuttled. You may read more on the story here. The Giannis Adetokunbo story tells us that there is an army of Nigerians in the diaspora that can help every sector of this country thrive.

Fourth. Nigerians can learn from the American dream. Here is what the American dream is: any person can come to the USA, take advantage of the opportunities there and succeed in life. You don’t have to know anyone. The system there functions on merit. The moment people know you have certain gifts, they can tap into it and develop it for greater productivity. The attitude of knowing somebody before you get a job, or the idea of bribing your way through institutions can cease in Nigeria. We must be able to appreciate our individual humanity and celebrate our gifts, and then channel those gifts to great good. Someone saw Giannis playing in Greece through amateur video footages, then travelled to Greece to bring him to the USA. We all must recognize merit and stop this attitude of competition. Everyone has a gift and a place were he can excel. Find such an individual and promote him. In the process, you also will be promoted and the whole community will benefit from it.

Finally, we cannot loose our hope in God. The blessings of adversity is that it compels people to look up to God in hope. This is the reason atheism does not thrive in Nigeria. We must continue to thrust God both individually and as a community of people. We must continue to look for hope where there seem to be none. We cannot stop praying.

When the final whistle was blown this morning, Giannis went immediately to find his mother and gave her a bear hug. His Dad had Died in 2018 of a massive heart attack. Giannis continues to credit God and his family for his successes. He has been two time MVP (2019, 2020) and is likely to win both the MVP and the most defensive player again this year, 2021.

There are a lot more to learn from Giannis Adetokunbo. Read up on him, beginning with my blog posts, and I’m positive you will gain something from his story.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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