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 NBA champion 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 has come to fruition.
Giannis went on to win back-to-back MVPs but his struggles in the Play-Offs became a fodder for critics.
Then at the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, he seized the moment. After hyperextending his knee in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, he wasn’t 100% for Game 1 in Phoenix but still managed 20 points, but from Game 2, there was no stopping him.
He dropped more than 40 points in Games 2 and 3, made an all-time game-saving block at the rim in Game 4.
He is the second player in NBA history to record three games of 40 plus points and 10 plus rebounds in an NBA Finals series, joining Shaquille O’Neal, who did it in 2000.
He is also the seventh player in history to score 50 points in an NBA Finals game.
Giannis was named the Finals MVP to join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to win a regular-season MVP Award, a Finals MVP Award and a Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The Greek Freak has now arguably gotten himself into the 25-list of the GOAT conversation. A dream come true.
It was this dream that spurred his parents Charles and Veronica to leave Lagos, Nigeria to settle in Athens, Greece and while basketball is not the most sought-after sport in Nigeria, Giannis’ success in the NBA is a popular aspiration that is driving thousands of middle-class Nigerians out of the country.
Giannis’ success is a dream that can be actualised in any country where Nigerians believe their children will get access to the best education and structure in every sphere of life. In medicine, sports, arts, thousands of Nigerians are emigrating through a mix of avenues to see their children achieve success.
The success stories are a dime a dozen in sports. Anthony Joshua, the Ogwumike sisters, 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 excelling in sports is higher than that of another kid in Nigeria. There is no denying this.
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 does exist.
In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of footballers born outside the country, in our national team. Four players from the 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 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) continue to hunt for their kinds to improve our national teams.
Giannis’ big moments in the NBA are what middle-class Nigerians are envisioning for their kids, born and unborn. This sentiment is driving thousands of Nigerians to leave this country in search of a better life and the future for their offspring.
Either through skilled worker programs, 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 this has been for Giannis and his family, who could blame them?