Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo knows the ins-and-outs of being a salesman. It wasn’t too long ago that he was on the streets of Greece selling merchandise such as glasses, watches, CDs, and DVDs to help support his family.
While the 23-year-old does not have to peddle on the street anymore, he hasn’t lost his ability to sell. The hunger to provide for his family has drove Antetokounmpo to new heights as he prepares for his biggest season yet in the NBA. He has evolved from a scrawny unknown prospect from Greece to a major MVP candidate.
Not only has Giannis proven to be in the upper echelon of NBA tiers, he has become one of the league’s most marketable stars. The Greek Freak became the first international player to grace the cover of NBA 2K, has a signature sneaker with Nike expected to release soon, and finished only behind LeBron James in last season’s All-Star Game voting. He also just signed a deal with the headphone company, JBL, to become one of its ambassadors alongside Stephen Curry, Andre Drummond and Kristaps Porzingis.
Giannis will be featured in a campaign for JBL called "Sounds of the City" and he is currently developing a track that’s about his love for Milwaukee and the role that music plays in his life. The Crossover chatted with the Greek Freak while on set of his commercial.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)
Jarrel Harris:You have signed on to be a brand ambassador for JBL. What made you want to partner with them?
Giannis Antetokounmpo: I am really excited about the partnership with JBL. Music is a huge part of my life when I am on the road, working out or preparing for a game. It is something I always go back to and it is something that motivates me. It gets me hype before a game. I am glad to be a part of the family and the team. I think with JBL it is a great opportunity to combine sport and music, which is very important for basketball players.
JH:What is currently playing in your headphones right now?
GA: Give me a second, let me go through my phone… A lot of Drake, Meek Mill, J. Cole, I don’t know if you know who Lil Baby is but him, Travis Scott and Mac Miller.
JH: What does it mean to you when people say you are now “The best player in the East?”
GA: There is going to be a lot of people out there that is going to say I am the best in the East and there is going to be some that says that I am not the best in the East, so my mindset is to keep working hard, focus on my game and to continue making my team better. We are trying to get as many wins as possible.
JH: With LeBron out of the East, has your mindset changed? What is your ultimate goal for next season?
GA: The goal is still the same. Of course you have LeBron in the Western Conference. We still have great teams like Boston, Toronto, Philly, Indiana in the East. We just have to continue getting better every day as a team. We have a great team, we have a great coach, and hopefully we will have a great season and take another step forward this year.
JH: You are going to face an immense amount of pressure this season. You are already being a pegged as a favorite to win MVP. What have you been doing to improve your game this summer?
GA: I've been working on a lot of shooting and a lot of post moves, been working on my handle and want to get better at finding the right people when I get double-teamed or sometimes triple-teamed. It is just about getting better as an overall basketball player.
JH: Everyone sees how positive you are off the court. They love your personality. But on the court there is a major difference. Where did you get your killer instinct?
GA: That comes from my family, seeing my parents struggle everyday and working hard for me and my brothers just to provide food on our table. I had to do whatever it takes. Whatever I try to do, I always try to give it my best and try to be a killer, because at the end of the day, if you don’t work hard, you are not going to get food on your table.
JH: Who are some guys prior to playing in the NBA that you watched that had a big effect on your career?
GA: I watched a lot of Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Kevin Durant, and a lot of Paul Pierce. I used to watch Tracy McGrady as well along with Kevin Garnett.
JH: Congrats on being the first international player on the cover of NBA 2K19. What was that experience like?
GA: When I first saw the cover, it was an amazing feeling. You can see on the cover there were a lot of things about where I came from and my family. It’s a great partnership and I am really excited to be on the cover. It was one of the things I always dreamed about but I am hoping more international players follow my lead and do things like that,because for international players and guys overseas they think that it can never be done. But just being able to show them that it can be done—you can be on the cover of 2K, you can have your own signature shoe, you can do all of the things that great players do. That is a great feeling.
JH: You are one of the best stories in basketball. You went from selling goods in the streets of Greece to having video game covers and your own signature shoe. How important is it to you to build a brand?
GA: It is really important. If you are going to do something, you have to do it for yourself and that’s what I try to do. I try to be authentic and try to be original, so that’s what I try to be. A lot of people try to build big brands but have received bad advice and they don’t try to be authentic and real with themselves.
JH: Last year you re-signed with Nike after fielding multiple offers from sneaker brands. How has it been working with Nike on your first signature sneaker?
GA: It has been great. I have a lot of things on the shoe that is going to be really surprising and I think we did a great job. People are going to be excited. The shoe fits into my personality. I am very excited about my signature shoe.
JH: The NBA has lifted the colorway restriction on sneakers. What are you looking forward to the most with that rule being gone?
GA: It is going to be a lot of fun with different colorways. I usually don't go too crazy but with the new year, I am going to try to throw some crazy colorways on. Nike is going to send me some crazy shoes so everyone better be on the watch.
JH: This past summer you partnered with Nike to create a race called ‘Fly 5K With the Bros’. How was that experience?
GA: That was a great experience. It was great to be back in Greece over the summer and try to find a way to give back to the people. Me and my brother had the idea. Usually we play basketball over there and call different players to play in the game, but this year we decided to do something different. It was something everyone can participate in because not everyone plays basketball, so it was fun to see different ages of people running, from five years old to young kids running with us. It was a great experience to run down the streets and have fun and exercise and just be able to do it.