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NBA2K19: Cover star Giannis Antetokounmpo on FIFA, selling his PS4 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Athens-born star is the first European player to grace the cover of the prestigious game

If you became a pro sportsperson, what’s the first thing you would buy?

A flashy car? A new watch? How about a gold necklace with your name emblazoned in diamonds?

For Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo it was a PS4 – only he felt so guilty about buying it that he sold the console to his coach the next day.

The first look at the NBA2K19 graphics engine – pretty awesome

The first look at the NBA2K19 graphics engine – pretty awesome

“I was waiting in line when it first came out but we had a game the following day,” Antetokounmpo told Dream Team.

“I bought it and because my coach Nick Van Exel wanted it I sold it to him.”

Athens-born Antetokounmpo, 19-years-old at the time and on a relatively modest $190 a day, waited until his family arrived to the United States three months later to indulge himself in a console again.

Fast forward four years and versatile forward is one of the most devastating players in the NBA, earns millions of dollars a year and has finally tried his first smoothie.

And now, as a reward for his efforts, the 6ft 10ins ‘Greek Freak’ was revealed as the first European cover star of NBA2K19.

‚ÄúI love playing NBA 2K so this means a lot to me,” said the 23-year-old¬†at the NBA2K19 reveal in Athens.

“I have worked hard to earn recognition in the NBA and being on the cover of NBA 2K19 is a dream come true.”

Things could have been very, very different for Antetokounmpo.

His parents, Charles and Veronica, moved from Lagos, Nigeria in the early 90s, leaving behind their first-born son, Francis, with his grandparents.

Charles and Veronica then had three more children – and raised a family in the Athenian neighbourhood of Sepolia.

As was the case with many immigrants to Greece, finding work was a struggle Рso Antetokounmpo and his older brother, Thanasis, supported the family by hawking items such as sunglasses and cheap watches.

Giannis towers above the competition

Giannis towers above the competition

“If I wasn’t a pro basketball player I’d probably be in the military,” said Antetokounmpo.

“I’d be learning how to be disciplined and about culture and my country. Or I’d probably still be selling stuff in the street or become a security guard.”
At seven-foot tall and with hands the size of most people’s heads he wouldn’t be short of offers.

But the self-made star now faces a much brighter future – one he’s not taking for granted.

“Being on the 2K cover, the game I played growing up it’s really exciting – I’m really happy about it,” he said.

“I’m happy they can put my family and where I came from on the cover.”

For Antetokounmpo, it was important the NBA2K19 cover paid homage to his journey – to the people and experiences that helped shape him into the person he is today.

That’s dedication

That’s dedication

“It’s a big honour for me. Hopefully kids can see that and be motivated to work harder, hustle harder and believe in their dreams even more, because they know it can be achieved. The same way that Tony Parker and all these guys made me believe that you can be an All Star in the league.

“It’s not just me – everybody in the NBA can help those kids know and believe – especially in England.

“I think they can be a lot better than where they are now – we’ve just got to help them.”

NBA2K games have always been leaps (no pun intended) ahead of other sports games – including the likes of FIFA. But how close is it to real life?

As 2K painstakingly analyses player performance to accurately reflect their abilities in-game, can it be used as a tool to work out opponents’ strengths and weaknesses?

“The game makes is very realistic but in real life a totally different,” said Antetokounmpo.

“You can see what a player can do in a 2K game but in real life players react different in different situations. You know roughly what they can do it’s just sometimes in real life they’ll so something different.”

He can jump higher than Ronaldo

He can jump higher than Ronaldo

So does Antetokounmpo feel as though he’s been captured accurately?

“Yeah, definitely,” he said with a smile.

“Some things I’m like oh wow this is exactly the same. It’s like who I am on the court and how I act.”

This focus on ratings has led to players, much like EA Sports’ Ultimate Team has done with football, to place a huge value on their in-game scores.

In fact, some care so much that they’ve lambasted Ronnie 2K (the face of NBA2K publisher, 2K) with abuse on social media.

Last year, San Antonio Spurs star Rudy Gay tweeted to the publisher calling his rating a ‘crock of bulls***’.

This focus on ratings, though, gives players a marker to judge, and ultimately improve performance. And for Antetokounmpo it certainly comes in handy.

“I look at my rating every year and see what 2K thinks about me,” he said.

“I look at the overall and if it’s low, it motivates me to put it up by the end of the season – but to be honest with you, what motivates me is the real game and just helping my team win.”

Giannis will be picking up FIFA 19

Giannis will be picking up FIFA 19

Not that basketball is the only game Antetokounmpo enjoys playing Рalthough those hoping to bump into him on Fortnite may be disappointed.
“I don’t play Fortnite – my little brother does,” he said.

“I play FIFA. I love playing FIFA. My favourite player is Zlatan Ibrahimovic – especially back in the day.

“When he was playing with Edinson Cavani – they had great offence and defence. Now and again I also play a bit of Call of Duty – games with weapons.”

Fans will be hoping Antetokounmpo brings plenty of firepower to NBA2K19.

Something tells us he will.

NBA2K19 is released on September 7 on Xbox, PS4 and PC.