Giannis Antetokounmpo on Overcoming Fears Around ‘Marvelous Journey’ Doc – The Hollywood Reporter

Like with every decision Giannis Antetokounmpo has made concerning his career, when the Milwaukee Bucks power forward was approached about doing a documentary on his life, he first consulted his family.

“My mom, Alex and my other brothers, we talked about it. And they said, ‘This is what the real play is, this might be a good time to do it,’” he told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere of his film, which was held at The Foot Locker Home Court Space in Circle Centre Mall during All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis. “And, we did it.”

Giannis: The Marvelous Journey, currently streaming on Prime Video, documents a series of sacrifices the Antetokounmpo family has made in search of a better life. From Giannis’ parents, Charles and Veronica’s, decision to migrate from Lagos, Nigeria, to Athens, Greece, leaving behind their firstborn son, Francis; to the struggles Giannis and his three other brothers, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex, experienced as undocumented African immigrants in an unwelcoming Greek society who had to rely on work as street vendors to survive. All of which laid the foundation for Giannis’ decision to join the Bucks and move to the United States when he was drafted into the NBA in 2013, not knowing if or when his family would be able to join him.

“When a family has had such a challenging and then inspiring story like this, you want to make sure that you get all of it right,” says director Kristen Lappas. “It was super, super important to me to make sure that I captured the struggles of their upbringing, the complicated relationship that they have with the country of Greece, which is really nuanced and hard to just encapsulate in a sentence, and I wanted to make sure that I captured Giannis as a special spirit. He’s such a philosophical, joyful person, but he also has such wisdom for a 29-year-old guy.”

The Marvelous Journey is produced by Words + Pictures and has been in the works for two years. The documentary’s name takes from a line in the well-known Greek poem Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy, which is of particular significance to the Antetokounmpo family.

“The whole thing is about how the journey is more important than the actual destination and when you get to the destination, don’t be disappointed because the real learning experiences are because of the marvelous journey,” explains Lappas. “The poem really speaks to Giannis and his family’s experiences and they’ve kind of held it close to them.”

Lappas hopes her film will have that same effect in terms of broadening people’s understanding of the immigrant journey and the role a society plays in making the experience a positive one or one riddled with prejudices.

“I hope that people see that when you’re accepting of immigrants that are hard workers and just want to achieve in life, look at what can happen. Giannis is the face of that country. It didn’t make the film, but we interviewed a guy who said he’s the most famous Greek besides Socrates and Plato, and I loved that,” says Lappas. “The country’s folks have pride in him now, but they should think about how the Antetokounmpos were treated and the next young kid that’s a nobody right now and how they’re being treated. I hope that people come away from the film with that.”

Below, Giannis talks with THR about his family’s difficult voyage and choosing to tell their story in documentary form.


In the film you talk a lot about relinquishing fearfulness, but did you have any fears or hesitations about doing this documentary?

Yes. When I mentioned not having fear, that was more so on the court. Going out there, not feeling the pressure, not thinking about expectations. When I started this documentary, I would always question: Is it the right time to put it out there? People put out their documentaries when they retire, not in the middle of their journey. A lot of people might want to share their story, but for me the concern was, “Now everybody’s going to know the majority of my story, are they going to understand it? Are they going to relate to me? Should I do this? Maybe I don’t have to do this. Maybe I just have to keep on playing basketball, doing what I do in the court, maybe I’ll do this down the road.” It was a hesitation for sure. But my mom, Alex, and my other brothers, we talked about it, and they said, “This is what the real play is, this might be a good time to do it.” And we did it.

The documentary begins with life in Athens and the discrimination your family faced as immigrants, and the lengths you went to to protect your brothers. Are those memories that stay with you on a daily basis or did some things come up as you started this project?

There’s some things that live with me every single day, and some that, as I sat down and went back, kind of hit a weak spot. But it’s who I am. All of the things that I’ve been through have made me who I am today, so I try to kind of embrace all of the good and bad. When people didn’t treat me as well and when they treated me great. I try to embrace all of it and keep on going forward.

So much so that you want to win the FIBA Basketball World Cup for Greece despite your experiences growing up there. Why is that important to you?

It’s my goal. I want to represent them in the best way possible. I know that people might not like me. Some people have said some horrible things about me. I will not focus on that 1, 2, 3 percent of people. There are so many people who were on the journey with me that I have before me. I’m going to try to represent those people in the best way possible. And obviously, when we win that medal, the 2 or 3 percent who don’t like me will also get recognition. Hopefully they can be happy.

Your mom and brothers are featured in the film along with your wife, Mariah, and your children. How does your family handle being in the public eye? Have you gotten used to the attention that’s on you?

No. Obviously, I understand what my profession entails, but that doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable with it. One of the best things is that being perfect is being yourself. So I try to be as authentic as I can. I think my mom always wanted to be a star. She’s the bigger star, and my brother Thanasis (laughs). Some people can handle it better than me.

You opened up about your father Charles, who died suddenly from a heart attack in 2017, in this film, which you haven’t done before. What did you most want people to know about him?

I don’t know if it was the right time for me to do it, but Kristen made me feel comfortable. She made my family feel comfortable. He was the foundation for what we did. So it felt to me like it was the right time to kind of open up and mention my dad.

Can you talk about the work you’re doing with the Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation?

The foundation is named after my father and we are trying to help the communities that I have been a part of, Milwaukee, Greece, and then getting back to Africa. I went to Nigeria last year and we are going to expand there. As I said, it’s all about communities and trying to close the gaps as much as we can, so we’re trying to build a center there as a place where people can go and eat a hot meal, get clothes, get health insurance, get legal advice, because a lot of immigrants pay large lawyer fees, and they are scared. I’m still working on it, but I have this thing in me. I want to help people. I want to be remembered for more than just basketball. I want it to be remembered that Giannis, he was a great player, but he used his platform too.

There’s a scene in the film where former sportscaster Jim Paschke talks about the period before you re-signed with the Bucks and people were worried you might leave the team for a bigger market. A Greek man came up to him and told him not to worry, you have Philotimo. What does that word mean to you?

It means a lot. It means appreciating where you came from. Appreciating what people have done for you. Appreciating your environment. Philotimo might be one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses too. When I’m loyal to somebody, I’m loyal to people even if they don’ believe in me. Even if they do me right or do me wrong, I’m always there with them.

Is it your dream to be a career-long Milwaukee Buck?

Yes, that’s the goal.

How does it feel for you now to be in a country and in a city where you are loved and embraced?

When I came, there weren’t a lot of people who loved me. When I came, there was a small group of people in Milwaukee that were there for me. Now, way more people believe in me. But the city of Milwaukee allows me to be me and I love that.

How do you handle the pressure to bring home another NBA Championship now versus the weight that was on your shoulders ahead of the Championship you won in 2021 when you had contemplated quitting basketball?

I try not to fall into narratives. I try to live my life humbly. I try to live my life to the fullest. I refuse to get into this big bubble of all-stars, MVPs, my shit don’t stink, and I’m the coolest kid in the class. That’s not the real me. I try to be the best partner I can be. I try to be the best father I can be. I try to take care of my family and support them. That’s real stuff and that has allowed me to live my life better.

Giannis: The Marvelous Journey is now streaming on Prime Video.

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