Young Athenians hone their shooting skills under the dazzling white lights of an outdoor basketball court, always dreaming of emulating local hero and global star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Sport offers the tantalizing hope of Greek citizenship — and the promise of an easier life — for the children of African immigrants who were born or raised in Greece but whose presence in the country is in question.
But many of the budding basketball players believe that the huge obstacles that the Greek administration has placed in their path make it difficult to follow their role model, Antetokounmpo, and his rags-to-riches story.
“Every year the school organizes a trip abroad.
Without the papers I can’t leave the country,” said David, 17.
“I don’t understand, the Antetokounmpos were like us.
today they receive all the glory and we receive nothing,” he lamented.
His playmate Tangu shares the sentiment of injustice.
“They say that we all have the same rights, but that is false,” he told AFP.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, born in Athens to Nigerian parents, is everywhere in the Greek capital, gracing billboards and acting as a role model for aspiring basketball players of African descent.
A huge fresco on a basketball court shows Antetokounmpo, 27, leaping with superhuman agility toward a basket, soaring toward clouds and a Greek god.
His number 34 jersey sells for thousands in the alleys of downtown.
Dave Okonkwo, also born in Greece to Nigerian parents, aspires to follow Antetokounmpo’s example and become a professional player.
“I dream of meeting him, learning from him.
Giannis has always been my idol,” said the 18-year-old, as he laced up his shoes on court.
– Legal limbo – Antetokounmpo’s breakneck rise to international sports stardom had humble beginnings.
Penniless and without regular legal status in Greece, his family survived on the earnings of odd jobs and informal trade.
Basketball gave the two eldest sons, Thanasis and Giannis, an escape from the precariousness of everyday life.
Scouts saw his talent, and Giannis joined the prestigious North American NBA league with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013.
Giannis’ sporting achievements made it easy for him to regularize his status in Greece, where he gained citizenship at age 18.
when he traveled to the United States.
The granting of Greek citizenship to these children of immigrants is not automatic and the criteria vary according to the age, the situation of the parents and the education of the young people.
Administrative hurdles often leave young people in legal limbo, especially when response times seem to drag on indefinitely.
Nikos Odubitan, who founded the organization Generation 2.
0 to help integrate and offer legal support to young people facing such difficulties, said the bureaucratic delays exceed the deadlines stipulated by law.
“The law says that the steps must be completed in six months.
Actually, the average is more than four years and some people wait six to seven years,” he said.
Uncertainty prevents children from accessing free healthcare, the organization added.
“One Giannis does not make a summer,” Odubitan said.
– Hard work and perseverance – Okonkwo began playing basketball at age 11 at the AntetokounBros Academy, an organization founded by the Antetokounmpo brothers to provide opportunities for “underserved youth” and enable them to change their lives through the power of sport.
It was also at the academy that budding basketball star Benjamin Tangu practiced his first dribbling, after arriving in Greece at age 13.
“He achieved it through work and perseverance.
Nothing is easy, but you always have to follow your dreams,” added Okonkwo.
“We always want to compare ourselves with Giannis, but everyone follows his own path.
He did it.
Now it is our turn to be recognized.