Inspired by the career and the ethos of the Antetokounmpo brothers, the Onassis Foundation establishes “One of a Kind”, a new undergraduate scholarship for young people who were born in Greece but have still to secure Greek nationality or have received it within the last five years.
On Saturday, June 24th, before a packed house at the Onassis Cultural Centre (OCC), Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo discussed with Afroditi Panagiotakou, Director of Culture at the Onassis Foundation. As announced right from the start, their talk, which has already received over 100,000 views on the OCC’s Facebook page, was less about basketball and more about the importance of the journey, about what being ‘Greek’ actually means, and about the virtues that can help you reach the top. This extraordinary collaboration between the Antetokounmpo Brothers and the Onassis Foundation culminated in the announcement made by Afroditi Panagiotakou as the event neared its end: the establishment of the “One of a Kind” undergraduate scholarship for young people who, though born in Greece, have yet to secure Greek nationality or have received it within the past five years.
In recognition of the Antetokounmpo brothers’ contributions to sport and of their successful careers, and in the light of their social starting point, the Onassis Foundation announced that it would be sponsoring a Special Scholarship for undergraduate studies in the Greek Higher Education sector.
Since 1978, the Onassis Foundation has granted 7000 scholarships to students and academics both Greek and non-Greek. The Foundation’s Scholarships Programme approves over 200 scholarships per year, some of which go to Greek students undertaking doctoral and post-graduate studies in Greece and abroad, and some to academics from abroad to help them undertake postgraduate studies and research in Greece. The special “One of a Kind” undergraduate scholarship, and the collaboration with Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo seek to send out a symbolic message: we need to try and change the way we think. Because you do not have to be born Greek—you can become Greek, too.
It wasn’t just the Antetokounmpo brothers’ success that inspired this collaboration, but also the qualities the two Greek athletes embody: modesty, competitiveness, passion, hard work and an intention to help those who, despite their desire to get ahead in life, find themselves held back by social and economic exclusion.
Saturday’s event (24/6) also included the first screening of the video campaign made to mark the Antetokounmpo brothers’ collaboration with the Onassis Foundation. You can view it here: link
Afroditi Panagiotakou, who also curated the event, had this to say about the Antetokounmpo brothers’ collaboration with the Onassis Foundation and the special sponsorship which the Foundation has instituted: “We are here at the Onassis Cultural Centre to talk to two young men the whole country adores: Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. And it’s not just their sporting prowess that has earned them a place in our hearts, it’s also how they’ve got us looking anew at aspects of Greece and of our lives. The Onassis Foundation and the Antetokounmpo brothers want to send out a joint message: “You don’t have to be born Greek. You can become Greek, too”. Which is why we are establishing a new scholarship to allow a youngster without Greek nationality, or a young person who has acquired their Greek nationality within the last five years, to study and claim an opportunity to make their dream come true. Whatever that dream may be. Because, if nothing else, the Antetokounmpo brothers have shown us that you have to actively pursue your dreams, however impossible they may seem at the start of your journey. But they have also shown us that you can have Greece in your heart, whatever the color of your skin. In a society of citizens with open minds, we are all bros”.
For his part, Giannis Antetokounmpo had this to say about their collaboration with the Onassis Foundation: “I would like to thank the Onassis Foundation for providing this opportunity to join forces and send a joint message out to the world. A message to the generations to come, a message for a society that will provide equal opportunities to all children, so they don’t give up, so they keep on pursuing their dreams. The creation of a scholarship inspired by our efforts and careers is a real honor for Thanasis and myself. But while it’s a source of joy, it also brings with it a responsibility—to keep on being a good role model for the kids who come after us. We have to support the kids and get the message across that only hard work can get them where they want to be, and that Greece has to unite, it has to be one”.
Finally, Thanasis Antetokounmpo spoke about their collaboration, noting: “With the Onassis Foundation, we are sharing our vision of a Greece in which people help each other through these difficult times for the nation. We must come together and work hard as one team, as one family, free of segregation and discrimination. That is the message we want to promote, and we are very happy indeed to have gained an ally as important as the Onassis Foundation in getting this message across. Both the event at the OCC and the symbolic scholarship the Foundation has put in place for kids like us, immigrants’ children who were born here and who are Greek—no matter whether they have been granted citizenship yet—are outstanding initiatives which we support with everything we’ve got”.
The terms and conditions of the “One of a Kind” scholarship are posted at http://www.onassis.org/scholarships-one-of-a-kind.php
Key sections from the discussion between Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Afroditi Panagiotakou:
Why do they think people are so fond of them
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Greece loves us because we’re good kids, virtuous kids. Wherever we go, Greece comes with us. We promote Greece a lot, and fame hasn’t changed us. We’re still who we used to be, because we have exceptional parents who raised us right.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: We are here to help each other. We know times are hard for all of us, but that’s the way to survive hard times: by supporting one another.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: We came to talk to you, the Onassis Foundation because we wanted to learn. You have helped so many people, so many children, and I want, one day many years from now, to be able to do the same.
What does ‘getting ahead’ and having faith in yourself mean for Giannis Antetokounmpo
If you want to get ahead, hard work is the key. And now that we’re making it, that we’re getting ahead, it’s even harder to stay there. It takes even more hard work. People say to us “You’ve reached the top, you’ve made it”, but I haven’t accomplished anything. My goal is to be a champion, an MVP (Most Valuable Player), to be one of the fifty best players ever to play basketball. The work is the crucial thing, you have to keep pushing yourself to your limits. Don’t think of yourself as average–you’re not average and don’t ever let that thought into your head. If you think you’re average, that’s exactly what you’ll be: average. And that will be the end of it. Right now, I think—and I’m not bragging here, I’m not being arrogant – that I am the best player of all time and I know that’s what I’ll be. Work, work, work.
The flip side of success—Commenting on a verse in Giannis’ Instagram profile: “It’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success”
Giannis Antetokounmpo: You’ve got to love what you’ve got. I remember us, myself and my family, having a good time even when times were hard. I saw them every day, we spent all day together, laughing. Now that I’m successful, it’s hard to get together. I travel such a lot, it’s really hard to meet up so often. So there’s ‘ugliness’ even in success.
How do you deal with the ‘dark moments’?
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: Everyone has difficulties to face up to. When they tell me “You had it hard”, I always say a lot of people do. Because me not having enough to eat doesn’t mean you don’t have problems of your own too. You might not have been able to pay for extra tuition for your kids, you could have lost your job. It’s something different for everyone. But you need to seek out the light in the darkness.
The song their mother sang to wake them up for school—the moment that brought tears to the Antetokounmpo brothers’ eyes.
The auditorium was awash with emotion when the Greek song The rooster (When, my mistress, I go to the market) was heard — the song the boys’ mother, Veronica Antetokounmpo, used to sing to wake her children up every morning. With tears in his eyes, Giannis Antetokounmpo said: “I didn’t cry when we lost in the playoffs… We started out when we were little and now we’re here. Who would ever have believed it? That me, Thanasis and my family, joining forces with you, could ever provide other children with opportunities!”
On the racism they’ve encountered
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: There’s no racism in Greece, just hypocrisy. Which is worse. In America, there is racism, but you can be anything you set out to be in your life. Here, there’s hypocrisy and that’s worse. I’ve seen negative posts on Facebook about us, posts saying we’re not Greek, and then met the same person who posted it in Glyfada with his kid, only for him to congratulate me and tell me I’m a credit to Greece. I lifted his kid up onto my shoulders for a photograph and I thanked him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: There’s the bad side and there’s the positive side. We had friends who defended us. When someone said something bad, they’d answer back and stop hanging around with them.
On being Greek
Giannis Antetokounmpo: You don’t have to be born Greek. you can become Greek, too. No one can tell me I’m not Greek. The only thing we can do with people who believe that is love Greece more than they do.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: I was without a Greek passport for two and a half years. I played friendlies with the Greek National youth, teenage and children’s teams and our opponents would ask why I never took part in tournaments, and the reason was I didn’t have a Greek passport. And there are a lot of kids like us. Kids who could offer a lot to the country, but who are prevented by the nationality issue. And it shouldn’t be like that. When you go to primary school, high school and senior high in a country, you should automatically be given citizenship. You shouldn’t have to be the Antetokounmpo brothers to get it.
If you could turn the clock back, what would you say to your 10-year-old self?
Giannis Antetokounmpo: If I could go back, I’d tell myself to be patient and to keep on working at it. There were days when I felt disappointed. But I never stopped believing that I’d make it in the end and be able to help my family. I’d tell myself: “Be patient, keep on smiling, and everything will come to you”. If you keep on working hard and believe in your dreams, you can be sure you will get ahead, certain you’ll keep on getting better.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: If I went back, the first thing I’d say would be “Don’t cry. Don’t feel sad”. I grew up feeling sad. People are forever asking why I smile all the time. Well, it’s because I grew up feeling upset and sad. I saw my parents struggling, I saw my brothers and sisters, and when you’re the eldest, you want to help.
You can watch the whole discussion at the OCC, here:
Event curators: Afroditi Panagiotakou, Director of Culture, Onassis Foundation
Project management group: Nikos Athanasopoulos, Demetres Drivas, Alexandros Morellas, Kanella Psychogiou
Direction, Organization & Production: Whatever Productions
Set: Eva Manidaki
Lighting: Eleftheria Deko
Photo Caption: Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo in conversation with the Onassis Foundation’s Director of Culture, Afroditi Panagiotakou
Photo Credit: Stavros Habakis