That the cover of 2K Games’ NBA franchise has been solely dominated by American stars for the last 19 years should come as no surprise, even with the success of the likes of Gasol brothers Pau and Marc, as well as the recently retired San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili. The front covers of the NBA’s video game has been the domain of the domestic superstar ala Shaq, Iverson, LeBron and Steph.
Until now, that is.
In two days time, NBA 2K19 will hit shelves and the baller adorning the cover will be a multiple time All Star, but one from European shores, rather than American.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will make history on Friday, when he becomes the first international star to be featured on the cover of a NBA 2K game.
The news was announced (officially at least. There was, as there so often is nowadays, a leak days before the fact) at a lavish ceremony in Antetokounmpo’s hometown of Athens, Greece, at the beginning of July. Flanked by his mother, ‘The Greek Freak’ returned home to the city where he and his older brother Thanasis once sold watches and other goods to help make ends meet for their struggling Nigerian immigrant parents.
The flashbulbs and fawning onlookers that greeted Giannis at the palatial Hilton Hotel in the Greek capital were a far cry from his upbringing as a teenager who, until the age of 18, didn’t even qualify for Greek citizenship, so was left without papers from his home country or Nigeria – the homeland of his parents.
Giannis’ fresh faced exuberance, coupled with his 6’11 frame and SEVEN FOOT THREE wingspan, may make him look like the world’s oldest 10-year-old, but his rapid rise to prominence in the NBA is testament to a maturity beyond his years.
Growing up in an immigrant family with not a lot of money and four brothers, the usual outcome for someone in Giannis’ position would have been a lifetime of poverty, turmoil and fighting a series of losing battles, especially in the current political and economic climate, with far right politicians intent on making the lives of refugees and immigrants increasingly more uncomfortable.
However, for anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing ‘The Greek Freak’ in action, you will know that ‘the usual outcome’ is not even in the same stratosphere as to what Antetokounmpo makes a reality on a regular basis. Watch any of his innumerable dunk compilations on Youtube and you’ll soon be picking your jaw up off the floor when the 23-year-old marauds down the court and trampolines through the air, playing Space Jam in real life, to crash home another two points.
Already a two time All Star (2017 and 2018), Antetokounmpo also became the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, during the 2015-16 campaign. It is these sorts of stats, coupled with his logic defying athleticism that made the 23-year-old the ideal cover star for the latest instalment of 2K’s behemoth of a franchise.
Like watching any great player, witnessing Giannis is like seeing a video game brought to life, with the impossible always seeming possible. The Bucks quickly realised this, too and, after just three years in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo was rewarded with a new four-year, $100 million contract extension, at just 21 years of age.
After a trailer is played for the new game, lovingly narrated by Giannis’ mother, Veronica, the Bucks forward explained how he reacted to hearing the news that he was to be this year’s cover star, while also predicting a bright future for more international stars who can follow in his path.
I was really excited. At first I did not believe it. My agent told me 2K wanted me on the cover. I told my friends and I told my family and I couldn’t wait for the moment where people would find out about the cover.
It’s such a great honour and I’m so happy to be the first international cover star. I just hope it can show a path for other international players, whether they’re from Europe, Africa, Asia, all over the world. It can be done. Hopefully there can be other kids that can follow my lead and do it as well.
The future of European basketball is so exciting. There’s a lot of talent coming out of Europe, as we’ve seen from this year. The EuroLeague MVP and Euro Champion Luka Doncic is one of the great talents coming out of Europe and a lot are going to follow just like we followed guys who cleared the path for us, like Dirk Nowitzki. But not just players from Europe, but from Africa and Asia and all over, they’re going to start believing more in themselves and they’re going to work even harder because they can see it can be done and they will achieve their hopes and dreams.
Among said international stars of the future could very well be members of Giannis’ own family, with younger brother Kostas recently being drafted to the Dallas Mavericks and another brother, Alex also playing college ball in the US.
So perhaps, a few years from now, we’ll be looking back at NBA 2K19 as the beginning of an Antetokounmpo cover star dynasty.
Special thanks to 2K Games. NBA 2K19 is available Friday 7th September on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.