Giannis Antetokounmpo was teary during his speech after he was named the 2018/2019 NBA’s Most Valuable Player at the Barker Hanger on Monday, June 24. He tried to stop crying but the stream of tears poured when he paid tribute to his late dad.
“Obviously my dad is not here with me…” Antetokounmpo said of his father, Charles, who died in 2017 at the age of 54. “Two years ago I had to go in my head that I'm going to be the best player in the league, that I'm going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and that I'm going to win the MVP and every day that I step on the floor I always think about my dad.”
Let’s go back a little bit.
In the search for a better life for him and his family, Charles Adetokunbo and his wife Veronica left Lagos in 1993 to settle in Athens, Greece. Leaving behind their only son at that time, the couple went on to have three more boys including the latest MVP in Athens.
It was in the Sepolia neighbourhood of Athens that Giannis grew up with his family and the story of those early days are far from glossy. While his parents struggled to find work in Athens, Giannis and his brothers helped out by hawking on the streets.
Amidst the struggles, Giannis and his brothers found solace in basketball and with the support of their parents, they pursued a dream that came into fruition on Monday night that saw the ‘Greek Freak’ become a bonafide NBA star.
It was this dream that spurred Charles and Veronica to leave Lagos, Nigeria to settle in Athens, Greece and while basketball is not the sought-after sport in Nigeria, Giannis’ big night on Monday is a popular aspiration that is driving thousands of middle-class Nigerians out of the country.
Giannis’ MVP win is a dream that can be actualised in any country where Nigerians believe their children will get access to the best education and structure and in every sphere of life. In medicine, sports, arts, thousands of Nigerians are emigrating through a mix of avenues to see their children get their own MVP awards.
The success stories are a dime a dozen in sports. Anthony Joshua, Alex Iwobi, Victor Oladipo, Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman etc. These are examples of kids born to Nigerian parents in other countries that have gone on to excel in various sports.
This is not to say there isn't hope for kids born in Nigeria, but there is an undeniable disadvantage they face in a country that offers no clear path to success. With the talent and determination, the probability of a child born in the United States to excel in sports is higher than that of another kid in Nigeria. There is no denying this. Even our own Divine Oduduru has had to relocate to the United States where his career has gotten a lift.
Perhaps, this trend could save our sports at least at the top level in the future which looks bleak if talent development is left to the thorny ropes in Nigeria's structure-less production line-that is if a production line do exist.
In recent years, we have seen an increase of footballers born outside the country in our national team. Four players from Super Eagles' 23-man squad to the 2018 FIFA World Cup and three- not including Iwobi who moved to England at a young age- at the ongoing 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) were born outside of the country and this number is expected to increase as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) keep hunting for their kinds to improve our national teams.
Giannis’ big moment on Monday is what middle-class Nigerians are envisioning for their kids, born and unborn. This sentiment is driving thousands of Nigeria to leave this country in search of a better life and future for their offspring. Either through skilled worker programs, applying for asylum and refugee protection, illegal crossing from the United States of America to Canada and overstaying on visitors’ visa in countries with thriving economy, Nigerians, like Charles and Veronica did in 1993 are ready to risk everything so their children can get their MVP awards and seeing how satisfying Monday night was for Giannis and his family, who could blame them?