Kim Hughes-Floutsakos remembers the first time she met NBA superstar Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo.
It was 2001 and the Swampscott native was teaching English in a suburban Athens private school called Athens College, and all of a sudden one of the male faculty members walked into her classroom with a tall, skinny 7-year-old.
“Giannis wasn’t enrolled in the school at the time, but he was hanging out in front of the school’s gate and one of the men at the school just kind of assumed that he should be in school and brought him into my classroom,” said Hughes-Floutsakos, who is the daughter of the late Jim Hughes, a well-known Swampscott businessman and coach. “He and his family were very poor at the time, and we all did our best to help him out with things like clothes and food and whatever else we could give.”
Antetokounmpo’s rise from son of impoverished immigrants to NBA superstar and champion with the Milwaukee Bucks is one of the most unlikely stories in all of sports, and Hughes-Floutsakos had a front row seat to the early days of that rise.
But things were not easy for the Antetokounmpo family in Greece. For the first 18 years of his life, Antetokounmpo — who is now 26 years old — couldn’t travel outside the country and was effectively stateless, having no papers from Greece or Nigeria because, despite being born in Greece, he didn’t automatically receive Greek citizenship; Greek nationality law follows “jus sanguinis,” or determining one’s citizenship based on their parents’ nationality. His parents’ status as immigrants made it hard for them to find work, forcing Antetokounmpo and his brothers to help provide for the family.
Despite all of the challenges, Hughes-Floutsakos remembers Antetokounmpo’s selflessness and determination to provide for his family above all else.
“He was such a sweet boy, and he was also supporting his family at the time so he really grew up fast,” said Hughes-Floutsakos, who currently lives in Swampscott. “He would bring lunches from school home to his family and things like that, but he was also always such an outgoing, positive and smart person. He was just a really good kid through and through.”
And she can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing sports, especially basketball.
“He was always a gifted athlete and he pretty much always played basketball,” said Hughes-Floutsakos. “He was so outgoing; he was always the one who was organizing the games and leading the other kids.”
In her time teaching Antetokounmpo subjects like English, Greek and Arabic over the years, she came to know his family as well. Antetokounmpo’s father, who died at age 54 in 2017, was a former professional soccer player in Nigeria and his mother is a former high jumper. Three of Antetokounmpo’s four brothers — Thanasis, Kostas and Alex — are currently professional basketball players, with Thanasis right beside Giannis on the Bucks roster.
“They’re an incredibly proud family and they’re so close,” said Hughes-Floutsakos. “Their mother is such an amazing woman and all of the kids have just become such great people.”
Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall by the Bucks in 2013 — making him an instant millionaire. The stories of him sending all of his money back home to his family in Greece have been talked about since then, including the time when, in 2014, he sent so much money to his family that he didn’t have enough for cab fare from the Western Union to the arena for practice. He ran most of the way there in 20-degree weather before a local couple gave him a ride to the arena.
In the eight years since he’s been drafted, Antetokounmpo has turned himself into the quintessential NBA superstar. And on Tuesday night, after defying the odds once more and taking home an NBA championship, the young man that Hughes-Floutsakos taught English to 20 years before stood in front of an international audience and spoke perfect English.
“I mean, he’s just a superstar,” said Hughes-Floutsakos. “It’s so funny to look back at the young, skinny kid I knew all those years ago and then see him now with all he’s accomplished.
“And it’s not even just what he’s done on the court, it’s what he’s done for the kids of Athens and other disadvantaged kids,” Hughes-Floutsakos said. “I’m just so proud of who he’s become, and I know everyone else in his life is just as proud.”