Giannis Antetokounmpo and family’s charity inspired by his late father — Andscape
SAN FRANCISCO – There was a festive atmosphere around Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks outside their visitors locker room at Chase Center on March 11 despite a tough loss in overtime. The two-time NBA MVP’s two young sons provided entertainment by joyously running around. Sensing a need for preventative maintenance for his beloved boys, Antetokounmpo moved a heavy-duty rolling cart out of harm’s way.
Antetokounmpo’s instinctive fatherly action was learned from his father Charles. Now the Antetokounmpo family is helping those in need in Greece, Nigeria and the United States with a charity named in their father’s honor. On Sept. 29, 2017, Charles Antetokounmpo died of a heart attack in Milwaukee at the age of 54.
“When my dad passed away, I created that charity because obviously he’s your dad and he’s your protector,” Antetokounmpo told Andscape in March. “He’s been there since the beginning. It’s hard. So, that was not one of the very good moments in my life. So, I created it [the charity], came to my family and talked about it …
“We wanted to give back in a way to use our platform for more. And we did it.”
The Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation, a charitable nonprofit organization, was launched on June 24, 2022. The foundation operates in “places central to the Antetokounmpo family journey” — Charles Antetokounmpo’s native Nigeria, Greece and in the U.S., where three of his five sons play for the Bucks organization. The foundation invests in local nonprofits and change-makers in those three countries with hopes of making a “a global movement for sustainable social change.” The foundation offers aid to widows, disaster victims, refugees, immigrants, as well as those who need education, shelter, food and mental health assistance.
The foundation raised $1.5 million at its first fundraising event in New York City in February. The foundation also donated $1 million to Antidote Health, which is offering free mental telehealth services to Milwaukee residents.
“We did it as a tribute to our father, but not just as a tribute to him,” Bucks reserve forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo said to Andscape. “I know it sounds childish saying we wanted to change the world. But we really wanted to inspire people in every way you can. Obviously, we do it on and off the court. But this is big …
“We’re talking about in Nigeria, Greece, Milwaukee and the U.S., the places that have helped us grow. Being born and raised in Europe, being of African descent and travel[ing] to a better life in the U.S., it’s on a global level.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo expects the foundation to have a very long-term impact. He also hopes the charity gives benefactors the “opportunity to be great in whatever they choose to be.”
“It’s our duty to give back,” Antetokounmpo said. “If people didn’t help me and my parents along the way, I wouldn’t be here. Literally helping them with the rent, giving me a ride to school, and then with groceries, some of the most simple things in life. It’s something me and my family want to do. It’s something that is important to my mom. It’s going good. It’s going to be a thing that will be here after me, my brothers and my mother are gone …
“It’s our duty to give back. Anyone who doesn’t give back and has this much in life, what are you going to do? You can’t take it with you. You hope they give you a suit and a nice box. That’s all you can take with you and maybe some gifts from you kids. It’s our duty.”
Struggles to find employment caused Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo to leave Lagos, Nigeria, for Greece in 1991 in hopes for a better life. Francis, the eldest son, was left behind and raised by his grandparents. The Antetokounmpos had four more sons in Greece — Thanasis, Giannis, Kostas and Alex.
To make ends meet, Charles Antetokounmpo worked as a handyman, his wife Veronica was a babysitter and their sons sold sunglasses in the street. They were poor and challenged because they were the only Black family in their neighborhood in Greece. Antetokounmpo also became Giannis’ surname and eventually the entire family’s after it was misspelled on his Greek passport instead of his birth name of Adetokunbo.
The Antetokounmpo boys used basketball as a path to success. Giannis is a seven-time NBA All-Star with the Bucks, Thanasis has played for the Bucks and New York Knicks, Kostas plays for Turkey’s Fenerbahçe and Alex plays for the Bucks’ G League Wisconsin Herd. Thanasis, Giannis and Kostas have all won an NBA championship. The Antetokounmpo family story was documented in the Disney+ movie Rise.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo says people regularly come up to him asking him about the movie. He added that Rise also explains why their family is so close-knit.
“We wanted to do a movie about our mom and dad with what they went through,” Thanasis Antetokounmpo said. “There is a lot that every hardworking couple goes through to leave their country to another country for a better life. We’re a product of this.”
Said Giannis Antetokounmpo: “I hope my kids can be the same [close] way as we are. If I can accomplish that, that will be one of the best things I accomplish in life.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer won a 2021 NBA championship with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. Budenholzer views the Antetokounmpo family as champions off the court, too.
“Anybody that works with Giannis, Thanasis, Alex, Kostas, Francis and Veronica, they know they have to be thoughtful, inspirational and powerful,” Budenholzer said. “To see it for 4½ years for me inspires me to be better with my family. Everybody talks about being committed to family and family first. Most of us do a pretty good job, but [Giannis] does it at a higher level than I ever thought possible. When people walk the walk after they talk the talk, it’s impressive.”
Charles Antetokounmpo preached to his sons to remain close always and have each other’s back. Giannis Antetokounmpo said his brothers grew up in a “military”-type household where they were taught to always share. Thanasis Antetokounmpo says their father also taught his sons how to set goals in life, be disciplined and to see the bigger picture.
Giannis Antetokounmpo once told Afroballers that “you can take everything back” if it meant his father came back to life. The NBA star also once told GQ magazine he took time to reflect on his father’s influence after winning an NBA title.
“It’s hard. He’s around me, my brothers and my family,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “He’s proud of us and who we have become as men, fathers and people. I am proud of the people he raised and my mom. I see my brothers every day and they’re good human beings. We are tight as a family. We check on one another every day. I definitely miss that guy.”
Said Thanasis Antetokounmpo: “He knows he [Charles] did a good job. It’s just unfortunate that it happened this way. He’s had a tough life as well. Anyone I meet I tell them — and my brothers are the same — whoever I meet, ‘Guys, take care of your health, because you really want to be there for loved ones and see them grow and accomplish things.’
“I’m not going to say he didn’t get to live. Trust me, he lived at least four lifetimes.”
The Bucks entered this postseason poised to make another championship run with the NBA’s best regular-season record and the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Milwaukee, however, is in jeopardy of elimination, trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven series against the eighth-seed Miami Heat. Forward Jimmy Butler scored a Heat playoff record 56 points during a 119–114 win over the Bucks in Game 4 on Monday in Miami. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a triple-double of 26 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in his return to action after missing the previous two playoff games with a lower back contusion.
A team has come back from a 3-1 deficit a mere 13 times in NBA history. Budenholzer told his Bucks players after the loss that “we got to go to Milwaukee and win a game. Life is not complicated. That’s what we got to go do.” And if the Bucks are to win three consecutive games to snatch the series win away from Miami, Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely have to offer the heroics.
“He’s our best player. We always know he’s going to fight and try to do what he can to go get us a win. We know he’ll put his body on the line,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said after Game 4.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family have already overcome bigger challenges.