From immigrating to Greece to their four NBA pro sons, here’s what to know about Giannis Antetokounmpo's parents
Giannis Antetokounmpo has always had a close bond with his family — especially his mother, Veronica Antetokounmpo, and his late father, Charles Antetokounmpo.
Charles and Veronica (who also goes by Vera) were both raised in Nigeria and immigrated to Athens, Greece, in 1991. They had five children together; their oldest son, Francis, was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and stayed there with his grandparents after his parents moved to Greece. Their four younger sons — Thanasis, Giannis, Kostas and Alex — were born and raised in Athens. They did not hold citizenship in any country for many years, but Giannis was granted Greek citizenship in May 2013, shortly before being drafted into the NBA. His older brother Thanasis moved to the U.S. to play in the NBA’s D-League that same year, and their parents and youngest brothers, who were 14 and 11 at the time, followed in 2014 after obtaining their visas.
The Antetokounmpos are both talented and tight-knit — so much so that they were the subject of the 2022 Disney+ biopic Rise.
“From the beginning of our time, I’ve trusted my kids of whatever they’re doing, hoping that one day this will work out well and at the same time, watching them playing, coming to NBA, moving all around the world, championship and everything, I was saying, ‘This is going to take us to a greater place in the future,’ ” Veronica told Yahoo! Sports. “Then, this is where we are now today. We are very amazing."
The family is made up of serious athletes, too: Charles and Francis played professional soccer, the other four boys were drafted into the NBA and Veronica was a high jumper. Giannis, affectionately known as the “Greek Freak,” is considered one of the best power forwards in the NBA.
“The journey has been unbelievable,” he told The Red Bulletin. “My parents believed in my dream more than I did.”
Charles died of a heart attack in September 2017 at the age of 54, a few years before Giannis earned NBA MVP Awards in 2019 and 2020 and three of his sons won NBA championships. (Giannis and Thanasis won with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021 and Kostas won with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.)
“It’s tough. Losing someone you love is tough,” Giannis told NBA.com two weeks after his father's death. “Losing someone who’s been there since Day 1. Especially for our family, because we’re so close.”
Veronica has remained close with her sons and is a mainstay at NBA games. In 2017, Giannis told TIME, “She’s been a colleague right next to me.”
Who are Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo? Here's everything to know about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s parents and their relationship with the NBA star.
They share five sons
In addition to Giannis, Charles and Veronica have four other sons: Francis, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex.
Of the Antetokounmpo boys, all but Francis were drafted into the NBA. Francis, however, played professional soccer in Greece. Three have NBA Championship titles, too — Kostas with the L.A. Lakers in 2020 and Thanasis and Giannis both with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021. The brothers’ successful athletic pursuits, their unique ascent to stardom and their close bond inspired the 2022 Disney+ biopic Rise.
“[The movie is] not just about me. It’s about the sacrifice that my parents made early in their life in order for us to be in the position that we are today," Giannis told the New York Post in 2022.
Charles and Veronica are also grandparents. Giannis and his partner, Mariah Riddlesprigger, share two children, sons Liam Charles and Maverick Shai, and have a third on the way. Veronica told Milwaukee’s WISN 12 News that welcoming her first grandchild in 2020 was a “special gift.”
They immigrated to Greece, where Giannis was born, in 1991
Charles and Veronica left their home in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1991 and moved to the Sepolia neighborhood of Athens. Their firstborn son, Francis, remained in Lagos with his grandparents, while the other four Antetokounmpo boys were born and raised in Athens.
As undocumented immigrants, the pair struggled to find steady incomes, cobbling together money through odd jobs and labor work. Giannis told TIME that his life in Athens was “a daily struggle,” saying they “had to hustle every day to provide a plate of food on our table.”
Up until 2012, Giannis and Thanasis would sell goods on the street to help supplement their parents’ incomes. In their home, Charles and Veronica’s four sons slept in one bed while the couple slept in a small den behind “a curtain,” Giannis recalled to The New York Times.
“Those moments back then, they were beautiful, man,” Giannis told ESPN in 2018. “Going through the struggle and making it out of it and seeing your family doing good now, it's unbelievable. I remember those moments, and I'm happy I went through those times.”
In order to convince 13-year-old Giannis to join the semi-pro club Filathlitikos, junior club coach Spiros Velliniatis told Charles and Veronica that he would find them jobs that paid 800 euros per month, according to The New York Times. "I knew that Nigerians don’t care about basketball,” Velliniatis said. “They care about soccer. You need to bribe them, the parents. Otherwise, they will not be interested.”
Veronica spoke to her children in her native language, Igbo
While growing up in Greece, Giannis and his brothers stayed close to their Nigerian roots.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home,” Giannis told Andscape. “Obviously, I was born in Greece and went to school in Greece. But at the end of the day when I go home, there is no Greek culture. It’s straight-up Nigerian culture. It’s about discipline, it’s about respecting your elders, having morals.”
At home, Veronica spoke to her sons in Igbo, one of four official Nigerian languages. Charles grew up speaking another of Nigeria’s more than 500 languages and dialects.
In 2015, Giannis got a Nigerian passport. “It’s important. It’s part of who I am. Both of my parents are Nigerian. They wanted me to get it. I wanted to have it, so I got it,” he told the outlet.
The NBA star took a trip to Nigeria with his mom during the summer of 2023.
They were both athletes
The Antetokounmpo boys come from an athletic family: Charles was a professional soccer player and Veronica was a high jumper.
Though Charles hoped that all of his boys would follow in his cleats, he used his soccer skills to improve their basketball talents, including practicing footwork. Charles was especially proud of how Giannis led his brothers both on and off the court.
“The way that he mentors all of his brothers is amazing,” the father of five told the National Basketball Players Association of Giannis in 2016. “He will do anything for them. He will spare nothing to make sure that they have exactly what they need. He teaches them about basketball, about life, about priorities. It’s really great to see all of the things that I am passing on to Giannis he is passing on to them.”
Charles died in 2017
Giannis' father died of a heart attack in Milwaukee on Sept. 29, 2017. He was 54.
On the day of Charles’ death, Giannis and his entire family — including Veronica, whom Giannis called “strong” and “a beast” — channeled their grief on the basketball court at the Bucks' downtown facility.
“There was never a day in my life that I called him and he wasn’t there for me,” Giannis told NBA.com. “I could be sitting on the couch being lazy and then I’d ask him to get me some food. And he’d always be, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do it for you.’ Always at the game, never missed a game since the day that he came here. And he was happy. Really happy. For all of the kids.”
Shortly after his father’s death, Giannis said that it was "okay to be sad" but that the family was getting through their grief together.
“We loved our dad. My mom loved her husband. But at the end of the day, I think, he did what he was supposed to do in this world,” he said. "He had five kids and raised us right. That’s the most important thing. I hope one day when I leave this world too that I can leave to my kids the impact that my dad is leaving now.”
In 2019, Giannis shared a throwback photo of himself and his dad with the caption, "Happy Father's Day! I miss you ❤️.”
Three years later, Giannis and his family founded the Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation, a “global social impact foundation” aiming to help refugees, immigrants, youth, widows and athletes by supporting organizations like the Milwaukee Diaper Mission and the International Rescue Committee.
Giannis honored both parents in his MVP Award speech
In 2019, two years after his dad’s death, Giannis was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. On stage, he gave an emotional speech and paid tribute to both of his parents.
“I want to thank my dad. Obviously, you know my dad is not here with me,” he said. “Two years ago I had the goal in my head that I was going to be the best player in the league. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and I’m going to win MVP. Every day that I step on the floor I always think of my dad and that motivates me and pushes me to play harder and move forward.”
Giannis also thanked his brothers and said his mom was his “hero."
"When you’re a little kid, you don’t see the future. If you have a good parent, your parent sees the future for you,” he said. “She always saw the future in us, she always believed in us. She was always there for us. She is the foundation of this family. You are my true hero."
They moved to Milwaukee in 2014
Giannis was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013. His family joined him in Wisconsin the following year after a long, difficult process to procure their visas.
During his rookie season, Giannis felt “lonely,” “homesick” and “lost,” wrote author Mirin Fader in Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP, per an excerpt published by The New York Times.
In November 2013, he told his family that if they couldn’t come to the U.S., he would return to Greece.
“I’m a really tough kid, I can handle things by myself, but I was always living with my family. But I knew that I had to leave for a better future,” he recalled to the NBPA. “I was always calling my family on Skype and showing them around the apartment, like, ‘Alex, Kostas, this is your bedroom.’ I was like, ‘Mom, this is your and dad’s bedroom. This is our living room. This is our kitchen.’ And I was seeing the look in my mothers’ eyes. She was like, ‘Maybe one day we’ll be able to be there with you.’ I was getting mad, but the Bucks helped me with my situation, bringing my family.”
A couple of years into his career, Giannis, Kostas and Alex were roommates in Milwaukee before Kostas left for the University of Dayton. Their parents lived in the same downtown complex, one floor below, until Veronica moved upstairs after her husband's death. Giannis has since moved to the Milwaukee suburbs with Riddlespringer and their kids, according to GQ.
Their last name was not originally Antetokounmpo
Though the family is known by the name Antetokounmpo, their original Yoruba surname is Adétòkunbọ̀. Antetokounmpo became Giannis’ surname after his given name was misspelled on his Greek passport. The entire family eventually adopted the new last name, according to Andscape.
Giannis said that his given name “means everything” to him, explaining: “I grew up in Greece and my parents are Nigerian, and that’s who I am. … I know where I’m from and I’m proud of that and I hope my kids can be the same.”
They helped Giannis adjust to adulthood after he joined the NBA
Charles and Veronica made sure to be at the majority of Giannis' games, and Veronica continued to be an arena mainstay after her husband's death. When 18-year-old Giannis was starting out in the league, his parents also helped by “paying the bills, driving me to the airport — simple things like that.”
"My father is helping me with basketball. My mother is doing everything else,” he told the NBPA. “If you could give like an MVP trophy, it’s going to my mom.”
Veronica keeps up with everything related to Giannis, especially any gossip on social media. In 2022, Giannis told SiriusXM’s The Starting Lineup that he tried to avoid online chatter, as he would eventually hear it from his teammates, his partner or his mother — who is “on Facebook all day."
"She knows everything. You know, she's my No. 1 fan, or stalker I'd say,” he joked, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “She’s my mom.”
They didn’t have friends in Greece due to fear of deportation
As undocumented immigrants, Charles and Veronica were fearful of forging bonds outside of their family in Greece because “their friends could tell the cops, ‘Come get them,’ ” Giannis told TIME in 2017. "Even now that [my parents] are in Milwaukee, it’s tough for them to have friends. Because for 25 years, they’ve lived without having friends. It’s tough to trust somebody.”
The kids were also afraid in Greece, as they were constantly worried that Charles and Veronica would get deported.
“They couldn’t deport me because I didn’t have a passport. Deport me to go where? Back to Nigeria?” Giannis told the outlet. “I was born in Greece, I had a birth certificate. They couldn’t deport me. But they could deport my parents. So we were afraid as kids that one day we could wake up without our parents. That was one of the toughest feelings for us growing up as kids.”
Even when he had conversations with new people as an adult, his mother told him to ask questions and to give her their names to look up.
“So she still has that trust issue,” he said. “I think it’s getting better and better and better since we moved to the States. But for me, it’s kind of easy to now trust people.”
Despite being fearful of people outside of their family, Charles and Veronica taught their kids to be tough and believe that things would work out.
“My parents would always tell us: ‘Things are going to be all right. Believe in God, things are going to be all right eventually. We are blessed. We are blessed just being in this situation,’ ” Giannis recalled. “Have patience, believe and have patience.”
Veronica received Greek citizenship in 2021
In September 2021, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou granted Greek citizenship to Veronica and her youngest son, Alex. They were sworn in on Sept. 16, 2021, at Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' residence, with both Giannis and the president in attendance.
“It is historic that you are the first woman president of the republic and thank you for inviting us as a family,” Giannis told Sakellaropoulou the next day, according to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini. "We have always felt Greek, we went to a Greek school, we know Greek, we know Greek culture and [the citizenship] is just the official seal.”
They were the last two living members of the Antetokounmpo family to obtain Greek citizenship. Shortly before Giannis was drafted into the NBA in 2013, he and Thanasis were granted citizenship. Kostas received his in 2016.
Veronica has a custom basketball purse covered with autographs
Giannis may have been the one to watch during the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, but off the court, all eyes were on Veronica.
WISN 12 News called her “the biggest fan of the night” among the sold-out crowd, showing off her custom basketball purse. The one-of-a-kind bag was covered in signatures, including those of LeBron James, Khris Middleton and her son Giannis.
While Giannis led the Eastern Conference’s team, her other four boys attended the game, which she called “a very proud moment for me.”
“It’s so fun, it’s so great, and I’m so proud,” she said of Giannis, who was the captain of his second All-Star Game in a row. “Better than proud.”
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