Giannis Antetokounmpo got emotional when he heard US President Joe Biden tell his story at the White House.
Biden welcomed the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks to the White House on Monday, the first time since 2016 that an NBA champion had been thus honored.
Biden praised team members not just for their achievements on the court, but also for their efforts to promote coronavirus vaccinations and for speaking out after the 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake sparked protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Bucks, led by Antetokounmpo, seemed genuinely excited to get back to the tradition of NBA champs visiting the White House. Antetokounmpo even posted a video on social media of him practicing his greeting for the president.
Giannis’ older brother, Thanasis, also a Bucks member, was with him at the White house Monday.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 9, 2021
The two brothers were beaten to an NBA title by their younger brother Kostas, member of the 2020 champion Los Angeles Lakers, although his role in the team was limited. Kostas is now playing for French club Villeurbane.
Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks end a 50-year drought, bringing home an NBA championship for the first time since Lew Alcindor (the Hall of Famer who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after converting to Islam) and Oscar Robertson led the team to the 1971 title.
Biden spoke of Antetokounmpo’s humble upbringing, being born in Greece to Nigerian immigrants, before he came to fame in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo said he was also proud that the president highlighted his and his teammates’ activism.
“What we did had never happened in sport,” he said. “I’m proud of my teammates that we were able to stay in the locker room, talk about it, voice our opinion. … I was able to take a stand for something I believe in.”
The sitting president, regardless of party, often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically nonpartisan affairs in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.
But the celebratory visits became highly charged during the Trump presidency as many athletes took issue with Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to the criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinion.
Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is a prominent Democratic donor.
His son and the team’s senior vice president, Alex Lasry, is on leave as he competes in a crowded race for the Democratic nomination for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats, vying for the chance to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Biden didn’t make any direct mention of the Lasrys’ Democratic ties. But the president at the start of his remarks paid tribute to Ted Kellner, a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist who served as an honorary chairman of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, and former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Wisconsin.
Lasry slyly suggested he hopes that the team keeps coming back to celebrate championships as long as Biden is president.
“What the hell, why don’t we come back for the next four years?” Lasry said. “Let’s do it for eight years.”
The last NBA team to visit the White House was the Cleveland Cavaliers, just days after Trump was elected president and while Barack Obama was still in office.
Trump preemptively disinvited the Golden State Warriors in 2017 after the team’s biggest star, Steph Curry, told reporters he planned to vote no when the players came together to decide whether to visit the White House.
The next year Trump said no invitation was coming to the NBA champs before the playoffs even ended as the finals pitted Curry’s Warriors against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. James was an outspoken critic of Trump.
The Toronto Raptors visited Canada’s parliament after winning the 2019 NBA finals but players made clear they were not interested in a White House visit. The 2020 championship won by the Los Angeles Lakers, also led by James, occurred when the White House had paused such visits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump also disinvited the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, the 2018 Super Bowl champs, after several players said they would not attend a White House celebration with Trump.
— NBA (@NBA) November 8, 2021