June 29, 2018 / 5:00 PM / 5 months ago

Greece drafts NBA superstar Antetokounmpo to woo tourists

ATHENS (Reuters) - “I’m Giannis Antetokounmpo. Visit my beautiful country, Greece,” the NBA All-Star beams, standing before a row of classical Greek columns in Greece’s latest push to attract tourists.

NBA All-Star and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo arrives for a press conference presenting the new Greek Tourism ministry ad campaign in Athens, Greece, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

In the ensuing 60-second clip, footage of Antetokounmpo on the court alternates between postcard images of Greece: turquoise waters, whitewashed chapels and ancient monuments.

The Mediterranean country of just 11 million people is expecting a record 32 million tourists this year and is banking on the sector to help it emerge from nearly a decade of economic crisis and misery.

It has named Antetokounmpo, born in Greece to Nigerian migrants, its tourism ambassador, pinning its hopes on his huge global appeal.

“I tell my team mates: Guys, if you haven’t been to Greece you’re missing out,” Antetokounmpo told reporters on Friday. “I’m calling on people to come and get to know our country and see its beauty.”

The video posted by Antetokounmpo on his Instagram page had clocked up more than 65,000 views within a couple of hours.

Antetokounmpo’s phenomenal rise from a lanky boy in Athens to the NBA has earned him the nickname “Greek Freak” by fans worldwide and comparisons to basketball giants Magic Johnson and LeBron James.

Born in Greece to Nigerian parents, Antetokounmpo and his brothers sold trinkets on the street to survive and grew up fearing deportation. Antetokounmpo was not granted Greek citizenship until 2013, aged 19.

His rags-to-riches story has moved Greeks who give Antetokounmpo roaring cheers whenever he plays in Greece. A giant mural of Giannis in his Milwaukee Bucks jersey covers the court where the Antetokounmpo brothers practiced features in their old neighborhood of Sepolia.

Asked to name his favorite place to visit in Greece, it was, surprisingly, not one of its countless sun-soaked islands.

“My favorite place is Athens,” he said, without hesitation. “I like that when I come here I go see the people I grew up with.”

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams

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