The Hilton Hotel, Athens, boasts breath-taking views of the world-famous Acropolis citadel, home to the Temple of Nike, a monument in honour of the Ancient Greek Goddess of Victory. Whether it be the will of the ancient Gods or some other beautiful synchronicity, journalists from around the world have all converged on the capital of Hellas to witness a combined homecoming and proclamation from the country’s biggest (both literally and perhaps figuratively) star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The buildup to NBA 2K19’s unveiling was pretty intense – we’d been in Athens a little over 24 hours and everything had been geared towards this. Even setting foot on the plane from Heathrow, we were treated to the sight of our cover star in the form of a commercial plugging Agean Airlines.
Antetokounmpo’s rise to greatness is one of the most fascinating stories you could hear. He grew up in Sepolia, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Athens, as part of a poor migrant family. He sold sunglasses to tourists to help make ends meet. The likelihood of him making the NBA, let alone being in the conversation as the League’s Most Valuable Player award, was slimmer than his 6’11” 100 kg frame was when he was drafted in 2013.
This year’s 2K tag line is “they will know your name”. Somewhat ironic given the trouble commentators, analysts and fans have had with the six vowel and seven consonant (containing a silent D) mouthful by which Giannis is formally known. Nevertheless, there is a resonance of prophecy – a young, growing superstar on the verge of exploding on a global scale. Great timing again, from the 2K team.
Already indisputably the best baller to ever come out of Greece, at just 23 years old, he’s played almost twice as many games in the NBA as the seven other Greek born players to be drafted . And now, in the 20th instalment of NBA 2K, he’s the first European athlete to grace the game’s cover.
The youngster’s stock is rising sharply, with a growing fan base which saw him rank fifth throughout Europe in jersey sales in the 2017-18 season. Trailing only the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook – notably outselling the recently anointed league MVP, James Harden. Is it really that surprising that Ronnie 2K and the gang felt he deserved a 94 rating?
Giannis’s game is a consistent three-pointer from being a human cheat code. The whirling dervish of arms and legs are just the visual constituents of a skill-set that were, until recently, thought of being impossible to be packaged in such a long frame.
2K have a challenge on their hands replicating his reality into their virtual world. Speaking at the unveiling, Giannis said he is expecting 2K19 to be more realistic, despite previous iterations of the title causing the star to exclaim:
“I’m like; oh wow, this is exactly the same, it’s exactly what I do on the court and how I act.”
2K19 is still under development, so whilst anticipation builds to its September 7th release date we get to dissect the cover design instead – which looks remarkably different to anything we’ve seen before.
Surrounding the traditional cover athlete image are a collection of symbols (flags, court diagrams, etc.), as well as 15 (conveniently where he was selected in the 2013 NBA draft) words selected to define a man who, until this point, has set about breaking every mould he’s supposed to be confined by:
- Greek Freak – the perfect nickname for a physical freak of nature whose skill set is unique and trailblazing.
- Father’s legacy – in honour of Charles Antetokounmpo, a former Nigerian football player, who died in September 2017.
- 34 – Giannis’s jersey number.
- 6 steps – the number of steps it takes Giannis to cover the 90 foot length of the court (insert sound of jaw hitting floor).
- Loyalty – to both his family and the Bucks; from needing a lift to a game from a fan because he had sent all his money home to his family, forgetting to save enough for his taxi fare, to reaffirming his commitment to bringing a championship to Milwaukee.
- Wingsssss – his 7-3 wingspan (four inches longer than his height) is one of the most impressive in the entire NBA.
- Γνήσιος (pronounced, gneecios) – meaning authentic/original, he is both whether it’s on or off the court.
- Salesman – a reference to him hawking sunglasses and hats to tourists in Athens, and now repping the world’s biggest basketball game and sneaker brand.
- Family – his love for his family is ever clear, his mother voices the 2K promo video and she was the first person he asked for when he went for photos after the press conference. It’s also evident in the joy he expressed watching his brother Kostas play in this year’s NBA Summer League.
- Sepolia – the Athenian neighbourhood where he grew up and home to a huge mural of the star on the outdoor court on which he developed his love for the game.
- Hellas – Greece, the country he was born and raised in.
- Thanasis, Francis, Alex, Kostas – his four brothers, his Nike deal was a family affair and three of the four Antetokounm’bros have now been drafted into the NBA.
- Athens – the city that raised him.
- Fear The Deer – a mantra adopted by the Bucks in 2016 as both a warning and the reaction of opponents when they realise they have to try and stop one of the league’s most unique skill-sets on a nightly basis.
- Rise – like the acropolis out of the city of Athens, from an unknown, overlooked draftee to one of the league’s most dominating and fascinating superstars, Giannis has risen… and he’s nowhere near finished yet.
Make sure you’re following @doubleclutchuk on all social media platforms to stay up-to-date with the build up to 2K19 on September 7th. Expect some early previews and reviews of the latest iteration of the best NBA game on the market. And, if you can’t wait until September, the new MyCareer prelude will be available to play, for free, from August 31st.
Featured photo – via Visual Concepts