Greek Freak For the past several seasons in the NBA, there has been a bright, blinding and rising star who has continued to awe and engage hearts across the world year after year: Giannis Antetokounmpo. But what makes the “Greek Freak” so incredible is not only what he has been able to do on the court, but also his experience and devotion to those off the court and back in his home country of Greece through the AntetokounBros Academy.

The Antetokounmpos’ History

In 2019, Antetokounmpo and his brothers began this basketball academy to support young adults and children from underprivileged socioeconomic groups. The academy provides its participants with the opportunities to get involved with sports and to sometimes just get a hot meal and some rest. As of 2021, the AntetokounBros Academy has helped several hundred kids get onto the basketball court and impacted many more lives through community outreach.

The Antetokounmpos grew up in difficult circumstances as “stateless” Nigerian immigrants in Greece. Since they were young, Giannis and his older brother Thanassis began hawking things like sunglasses on the streets to help their parents pay for living expenses. The family would often go without meals for several days.

These circumstances are not uncommon in Athens and in Greece as a whole. Since the financial crises of the late 2010s, Greece has struggled to bounce back after major economic hits. This has resulted in Greece experiencing the third-highest poverty rate in the European Union. In 2015, the European Parliament reported 45% of children in Greece were living without basic goods and services.

Addressing the Problems

In the light of this hardship, the brothers have stated that they believe basketball brought them where they are today. The community it gave them and the time they spent at basketball camps –which provided paid meals or free clothes– were incredibly helpful for them as they grew up.

Athens is the largest metropolitan area with the densest concentration of people in Greece. It is also the hometown of the Antetokounmpo brothers. As such, the AntetokounBros Academy is a program that promotes community involvement for the youth of Athens to get involved with sports, specifically basketball. A Eurostat study found that “4 in 10” under the age of 17 are at risk of “poverty or social exclusion,” and the situation for the people of Athens specifically is extremely dire.

Over the years, the academy has also come to serve as a community center and help center; it takes in and develops young players and coaching staff from all around Greece, with a particular interest in people from communities that are struggling socioeconomically.

Considering the Impact

The AntetokounBros Academy has set out to inspire charitable work through basketball and outreach in the local community. The academy does everything from hosting food drives to collecting donations worldwide — with help from the Greek Freak himself of course. It hosts tournaments, provides mentoring workshops and scouts talent.

The AntetokounBros Academy has partnered with the Onassis Foundation, Nike, EuroHoops and the NBA to bring about awareness. The organizations also work to show the world the results that such a program can bring to the members of a community while combatting some of the symptoms of poverty.

As Konstantinos Papaloukas, Managing Partner of EuroHoops, an integral partner and benefactor of the academy, said in a statement, “With the Initiative of AntetokounmBros Academy we give opportunities to children to change their lives and fight for their dreams.”

From sharing a pair of basketball shoes with all four of his brothers to becoming a champion and Finals MVP just this last NBA season, the Greek Freak, together with his brothers, understands more than most about the burdens of circumstance and the incredible impact of help in every person’s life.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

nba players shooting to end poverty

NBA players display their passion and skills on the court. They are recognized for both the number of points they score and shots they block. However, several players display their passions and aspirations off the court through charitable work. They are indeed recognized for both the number of lives they affect and the smiles they paint on the faces of the less fortunate. Here are three NBA players shooting to end poverty.

Buddy Hield

A native Bahamian, Buddy Hield grew up in Freeport, The Bahamas. Excelling in the sport of basketball, the University of Oklahoma recruited him to their team where he became a sensational collegiate player in the United States. His feats in collegiate basketball landed him a spot on the Sacramento Kings basketball team of the NBA. When Hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas on September 9, 2019, Buddy Hield immediately began sending help.

Threatening the lives of 2,000 people and throwing many more under the poverty line, Hurricane Dorian became the worst hurricane in Bahamian history. Hield raised a significant amount for his birthplace and sent needed supplies. Hield has raised about 300,000 dollars in total through the Buddy Hield Foundation and the Kings organization. He also spearheads the donation cause of food and clothing to his people. He even plans to travel to the Bahamas with his mother to cook for the impacted Bahamians.

LeBron James

LeBron James is an extraordinary man on and off the court. Born in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James showed superstar potential as early as high school. Breaking records and winning the NBA Finals is important to James but so is his charity work. In his hometown of Akron—where the poverty rate is approximately 25 percent—James founded his own public elementary school called the I Promise School. He founded this school to improve the well-being of the Akron population, offering education to the less fortunate to help increase living conditions and decrease the poverty line. The school opened with only grades three and four but hopes to be fully functional by 2022, teaching grades one through eight. Amazingly, the school has shown promising results in which 90 percent of students have reached goals in both math and reading. The LeBron James Family Foundation evens covers all schooling expenses in the school’s family resource center where parents are provided with services from work advice to legal services. All of this is in an attempt to increase the living conditions of James’ beloved Akron community.

Pau Gasol

Two-time NBA champion, Pau Gasol epitomizes an outstanding citizen. Born in Barcelona, Spain, the Memphis Grizzlies drafted Gasol in 2001, where he became the first foreign player to win Rookie of the Year. While balancing his basketball career, Gasol became heavily involved in global issues, ranging from AIDS to obesity.

He has been a UNICEF Spanish Ambassador since 2003, tackling childhood obesity and malnutrition to better the lives of children globally. He aims to see that children live their full potential in eating the proper foods. Around the world, 149 million children below the age of 5 are stunted from the effects of malnutrition, and over 40 million are obese. Since 2003, Gasol has dedicated his time, outside of basketball, to advocate UNICEF’s work in nutrition, education and other humanitarian work by traveling to impact children in Iraq, Lebanon, Chad and other needful countries.

In collaboration with his brother, Mark, the two founded the Gasol Foundation to decrease childhood obesity through physical activity and healthy eating habits. Just recently, Gasol was named the Global Champion for Nutrition and Zero Childhood Obesity by UNICEF.

These three NBA players shooting to end poverty demonstrate excellence on and off the court. Their kind hearts and charitable acts deserve as much recognition as their athletic abilities do. From donating clothes to building schools, these NBA players have indeed shot and scored both on the court and in their communities, global or domestic.

– Colin Crawford
Photo: Unsplash

In one of the smallest African countries, Rwanda, the population growth is recovering from the Rwandan genocide. Rwandans who are below the age of 25 represent 67 percent of the population. As the population grows, new support is needed to educate youth in Rwanda.

“This population represents a youth bulge that is hungry for knowledge and success but is being starved of the access and opportunities,” reads the description of the Basketball Health Corps, just one of the programs provided by the nonprofit Shooting Touch.

Shooting Touch is an international development organization that uses the sport of basketball to educate and provides health care to youth in underdeveloped communities. The organization travels all over the world to spread the sport and their message along with it. Basketball can help kids learn about teamwork, sportsmanship and the importance of staying active together. More importantly, Shooting Touch uses basketball as a platform to educate youth in Rwanda on health and happiness.

Erick Niyitanga, a teenage Rwandan coach who has been playing basketball for years with the Basketball Health Corps, says that the sport has taught him how to carry himself “on the court and in real life.”

Board member of the organization and ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan took a trip to Rwanda to report on the outcomes that their nonprofit produces.

The 25 local full-time and volunteer coaches organize the children into teams, where the children get to pick their own teammates and are educated on consent. Health screening is provided in conjunction with the Boston-based nonprofit Partners In Health.

In the country of Rwanda, many of the communities are economically undernourished — the average monthly salary of citizens living in the impoverished city of Rwinkwavu is just $20 a month. Since Rwandans have little to spend on healthcare, Shooting Touch offers free healthcare to anyone who joins their program. In this way, the organization is not only advocating for healthcare; they are sponsoring it as well. The program also educates youth in Rwanda, with hands-on education.

“When we are on the court together, we are free,” says the mother of one of the players during a basketball tournament sponsored by Shooting Touch. Each player is provided a hot meal, and celebration ensues as the tournament ends. There is not a loss for one team, but rather a huge win for both sides, as all of the players walk away with free food and healthcare.

To educate youth in Rwanda and all over the world is essential to aid the growth of countries and is the first step to bringing families out of poverty. All of this is courtesy of one organization’s passion for lifting the spirits of struggling youth with the universal language of sports.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Triqui Tribe
The consequences of poverty are many: some impoverished people go hungry, others become ill and others are forced to take on informal jobs that rob them of dignity or safety. Yet, a widespread effect of poverty is the loss of hope due to a lack of resources, social status and opportunities. Poverty can be difficult to escape; accordingly, those who experience it often feel it will define the rest of their lives.

Basketball programs for children of the Mexican Triqui tribe have made the news in the last year – the chance to play the sport that’s become wildly popular throughout the Oaxaca region of Mexico is giving boys and girls alike hope that they may avoid the poverty and violence that plagues much of their tribe.

Despite the fact that many families are too poor to purchase shoes for their young basketball stars, these children remain committed to honing their skills on the court and many aspire to become local coaches or international athletes. In fact, some of their dreams are already coming true; last fall, a team of Triqui boys traveled to Argentina to compete in an international basketball festival and beat more than 50 other teams (while playing barefoot) to become festival champions.

Basketball isn’t just giving these children hope, it’s giving them opportunities. Triqui basketball players have the chance to travel outside of Oaxaca and learn about options for their futures. League rules require that players maintain certain grades, so the love of the game keeps kids in school as well.

Furthermore, girls participating in basketball programs are changing the ways that women are treated in their traditional communities. Though Triqui girls are often discouraged from pursuing education and are encouraged to marry young, the opportunities that basketball provides them pave the way for gender equality. When girls can hold their own against boys on the court, people – including the girls – see them as equals.

Basketball may not be the most customary method of eliminating poverty, but it’s one that may work in the long run for the Triqui people of Mexico. In the meantime, it’s giving the community hope for the future.

-Elise L. Riley

Sources: The Guardian, CNN
Photo: The Guardian

Dikembe Mutombo may be best remembered as one of the most prolific shot-blockers and defensive players in NBA history.  With 3,289 blocks and over 12,000 rebounds in his 18-year career, Mutombo built an incredible legacy on the court.

His basketball career began at Georgetown University, where he played for renowned coach John Thompson.  At 7 feet 2 inches tall, one might expect that Mutombo attended Georgetown on an athletic scholarship, as he was seemingly built for basketball.  However, Mutombo immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo thanks to a USAID scholarship and a dream of becoming a doctor.

While it may be true that Mutomobo’s basketball legacy began at Georgetown, it was also the place where he cultivated his ideals of philanthropy.  Mutombo graduated with double majors in Linguistics and Diplomacy, and entered the NBA following his graduation.

Highlights of Mutombo’s philanthropic ventures during his basketball career include being a spokesperson for the international relief agency CARE, traveling to Somali refugee camps in Kenya during the Somali Civil War, and funding the Congolese track and basketball teams’ travel and expenses during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

In 2007, Mutombo opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital near Kinshasa in his native Congo.  The hospital boasts many accomplishments, including partnering with USAID for a community-based initiative to treat HIV/AIDS in the region.  More than anything, the hospital provides a much-needed advanced health center offering care for those who would elsewhere be denied access.

Mutombo retired from the NBA in 2009.  But his efforts to promote global development have only grown.  Mutombo is the founder and chairman of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, the organization that oversees all of his charitable ventures.

Mutombo also currently sits on the boards of Opportunity International, Special Olympics International, and UNICEF.  A future endeavor for Mutombo is to build a state-of-the-art science and technology high school in Kinshasa.  For his tireless efforts, on December 1, Forbes announced Mutombo as one of America’s “Top 50 Givers.”

Mutombo’s 18 years in the NBA are a testament to his talent and perseverance as an athlete, but it pales in comparison to his continuing fight to promote global health and development.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: ESPN, Forbes
Photo: The Tallest Man

Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol donated $24,000 for victims of Typhoon Haiyan after scoring 24 points during the match against the Golden State Warriors November 22.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in early November, killing more than 5,000 people and displacing millions of Filipinos, particularly in the central Leyte province of the Visayan Islands.

For his part, Gasol pledged to donate $1,000 for every point he scored. With a Laker victory of 102-96, Gasol’s contributions will go towards the U.S. Fund for UNICEF relief efforts.

The Friday night match at the L.A. Lakers’ home turf, the Staples Center, did not include Warrior and Lakers stars Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers proved more than capable with Gasol scoring 16 points during the first half of the match.

Gasol promoted the cause via his Twitter account, which has 2.3 million followers as well as on the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Additionally, Gasol encouraged others to pledge any amount from $1 to $20 to match his donations and scores during the game. To this date, according to the U.S. for UNICEF website, $13,476 were donated.

As reported by ESPN, Gasol commented, “That’s what I was hoping to accomplish, to get people to also pledge and contribute and donate along with me so that we could have a bigger impact.”

In the past, Gasol made a similar pledge for the 2011 Haiti relief fund and for the victims of the Japanese 2011 earthquake and Pacific tsunami. Gasol donated $20,000 to the former and $26,000 to the latter.

Gasol joins the industry in providing aid as the L.A. Lakers previously donated $150,000 towards Haiyan relief efforts through the Philippine Red Cross. Moreover, the NBA and the NBA Players Association donated $250,000 to the same UNICEF fund.

Miles Abadilla 

Sources: CrowdRise, NBC, ESPN, Huffington Post, LA Lakers, CBS
Photo: Philstar

dennis and kim

Last month, ex-NBA basketball player, Dennis Rodman, did what many political leaders will never have the opportunity to do. He made the long trip over to North Korea and met with its mysterious and very powerful leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is known for its isolation, yet, recently, has begun to make huge headlines in the United States. North Korea and the United States have never been allies and tension between the two countries have existed for years. North Korea’s nuclear test last month has only increased this tension, making new threats against American military bases in Japan and in Guam even more pressing and serious. The threat came earlier this month from a spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army, who said “the U.S. should not forget that the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the D.P.R.K.’s precision strike means.” Videos depicting the White House and Congress buildings being blown up have recently come out of North Korea.

Yet, even with all of this, communication between President Obama and Kim Jong Un has been very little. In fact, any communication on the matter, is made through the media. The spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army made his statement to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Pentagon retaliated by making a rare announcement about the missions nucelar-capable B-52 bombers have and will continue to take over South Korea.

Chances of any U.S. political official making his or her way to a police state, such as North Korea is very rare. And, yet, Dennis Rodman recently acted as an ambassador for the Harlem Globetrotters, flying to North Korea to meet and spend two days with Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman has come back with a lot of insight into Kim Jong Un, making it seem as if the North Korean dictator is willing to speak directly with President Obama to meet some sort of peace agreement. He even offered advice to Kim Jong Un in talking to President Obama, saying, “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there.” While President Obama has not made any efforts to talk to Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman has been making his rounds to talk about his trip to North Korea, appearing on many talk and news shows. Recently he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and referred to Kim Jong Un as his friend and a nice guy. In an interview on “This Week,” Dennis Rodman on talking about Kim Jong Un said, “I love him. He’s awesome.”

Whether or not Dennis Rodman’s knowledge of North Korea and Kim Jong Un will be helpful to the United States in its dispute with North Korea is unknown as U.S. State Department officials have no plans to debrief the former basketball star. Former deputy assistant secretary of state, Col. Steve Ganyard, finds this ridiculous as  “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman.”

-Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, NY Times, ABC News
Photo: CBS News