Against all odds, Giannis Antetokounmpo, an NBA wunderkind, was slated to play with the Greek national basketball team at EuroBasket 2017 this summer. EuroBasket has essentially become an exhibition tournament played for pride: It no longer figures in qualification for the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup. EuroBasket simply crowns the champions of Europe every couple of years.
That Giannis would participate in that exercise given where his career sits was a coup. It was too good to be true, though: Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks decided that due to knee pain, he would not participate after all.
Antetokounmpo had been fighting through a knee injury while training with the Greek team; when he attended to NBA functions in China, the Bucks administered a physical and determined — apparently in partnership with Giannis and his camp — that playing in EuroBasket starting Aug. 31 would be a bad idea.
The Instagram post has now been deleted, but here is the English translation of his message: pic.twitter.com/GqF4z2IHGZ— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) August 19, 2017
“My will influenced my judgment, but the test I did here in China with the Bucks was eye-opening. I failed to successfully perform the exercises they submitted to me and the pain stopped me from the first few seconds. I have to accept the truth and face it ripe.”
The Greek federation did not handle the news well. They alleged a conspiracy by the Bucks (with complicity from the NBA) to keep Giannis out of the tournament and threatened to release the receipts proving as much.
The Greek Basketball Federation has released a strongly worded statement regarding Antetokounmpo. Here is the English translation: pic.twitter.com/TPhQGFcNrz— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) August 19, 2017
“A series of indications, which worried us since Giannis arrived in Greence, and following through the group’s preparation, led us to susepect an organized and well-prepared plan by the NBA team for which Giannis plays, with the complete awareness — if not endorsement — of the NBA, that put the player in a tough spot and forced him to announce that, as of this day, he will not be participating in the Men’s National Team.”
The NBA released a statement claiming that the league and the Bucks did everything by the book.
That’s all beside the point. What in Hades are the Greeks doing by lashing out at Giannis’ decision?
Why would you risk alienating the single most important figure in Greek basketball in generations, or perhaps in history? And all for a continental tournament with no further ramifications?
We don’t yet know how Antetokounmpo will react to the Greek federation’s quick backlash to his decision. In translations of his announcement that he cannot participate, his disappointment in not being able to represent Greece is palpable. He really wanted to do this! One presumes that means he will want to participate in the future, as well, perhaps in bigger tournaments, should Greece qualify.
Giannis did play — sparingly — in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He saw all of 14 minutes in the knockout round, where the Greeks were quickly dispatched by Serbia. Greece didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics despite Antetokounmpo’s good work in the 2015 EuroBasket tournament — the Olympics only take 12 teams, and it’s tough to win a spot.
The Greeks want renewed glory in Europe, and they are upset Giannis can’t lead them to it in 2017. But he can lead Greece back to global prominence in 2019 or 2020 ... if the federation doesn’t alienate him, the Bucks, or the NBA.
This is a case of some official or officials at Greek Basketball headquarters failing to see the forest for the trees. Antetokounmpo’s presence in 2014 and 2015 and his attempt to play this summer shows his commitment to the national team.
Why would you now question it when injury forces him to bow out of a low-stakes tournament? Why would you drive a wedge given that in two years’ time you’ll be asking him to join up again, and you’ll need the Bucks’ cooperation to make it happen?
This type of reaction is like sticking a lit flare in your sneaker.
If you think the Bucks and NBA aren’t acting in good faith, approach the appropriate officials at FIBA to request a quiet investigation. Don’t hang your brightest Greek star out to dry, not when he has been so accommodating and committed to date.
Perhaps this won’t change Giannis’ affectations for the Greek national team in 2019 and beyond. Perhaps it will.
It’s not a risk worth taking for the federation. There’s no upside.