In a recent interview with Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Giannis Antetokounmpo revealed that he nearly ended his basketball career in 2020. While discussing his commitment to mental health — both through the Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation, which he named after his late father, and a partnership with the Milwaukee-based Antidote Health — the former league MVP expressed that the weight of being one of the best basketball players on the planet had him weighing walking away from the game altogether.
Antetokounmpo told one story about being in Orlando and a woman “my mom’s age” telling a group of children that he is “the best player in the world,” and while he appreciated that, Antetokounmpo spoke candidly about the pressure that comes as a result, which requires playing, practicing, and carrying “yourself like the best.”
“As much as people say I’m handling it well, because that’s my personality,” he told Nickel, “it’s hard.”
He went on to explain that, despite being eligible for a five-year supermax contract (which he would go on to sign), Antetokounmpo seriously weighed giving up basketball altogether, to the point that he discussed this with the Milwaukee Bucks‘ front office.
Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“In 2020, I was ready to walk away from the game. I had that conversation – yes – with the front office.
“And, you know, very normally, everybody is looking at me like I was crazy. ‘You just signed the largest contract in NBA history and you want to walk away from the game and all that money…?’
“Mannnnn, you can take that money and shove it into your…”
His youngest son coughs; Giannis continues.
“…Sorry for my language.
“But. I don’t care about that. I care about joy. I’m a joyful person. My father didn’t have nothing; he had us. He was the richest person on earth because he had his kids. He had the beautiful family; he had nothing. This – to me – doesn’t mean nothing.”
As Antetokounmpo explained, he started talking to a therapist, watched documentaries about other athletes who have made their mental health a priority over the years, and sat down with perhaps the NBA’s most vocal advocate for taking care of a person’s mental health, Kevin Love. Now, he says, he is at a point where he wants to pay it forward by helping “as many people as I can.”