In This Episode
This week on Takeline, Mirin Fader of The Ringer talks to Jason and Renee about her new book on Giannis’ journey from Greece to the top of the NBA. Jason and Renee also discuss the latest NBA contract extensions and trades from last week. Later, they break down what consequences would lead to less anti-vaccination rhetoric from NFL players. Plus, Jason breaks down what led to Lionel Messi parting ways with Barcelona.
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Renee Montgomery: The leagues don’t have as much control as I think that they would wish they had. I mean, do you think that the leagues’ amplifying it matters, or should they?
Jason Concepcion: You know, sports is a microcosm, right? I think that the thing that we’re dealing with right now in this country and I think the world in general is how does my responsibility to the broader society, people that I’ve never met, interact with my personal freedom to do whatever the fuck I want to do?
Renee Montgomery: Jason, we are still coming down from that tornado in the NBA last week called free agency, as we all know. There was some upgrades as the week progressed, namely some shooters. They need some shooters at the Lakers, Miami outed my homey, Kyle Lowry and the Bulls are out here making moves. Unless the NBA, you know, there’s that tampering thing going on—I still need to find more about it.
Jason Concepcion: We’ll talk about that.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, we’ll talk about that later. But I have to know, what do you think about some of the team additions, starting with the Lakers? Like what are your thoughts on what’s going on?
Jason Concepcion: Well, first of all, Russell Westbrook, LeBron, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, among others, plus free agent guard Kendrick Nunn, one of the younger additions to the team, as well as Malik Monk joined the Lakers. On paper, this is a team that, you know, the joke is like there are a lock to win the 2013 finals.
Renee Montgomery: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.
Renee Montgomery: But listen, on paper, an incredible, like that starting five is going to be going to be Beasley, Carmelo Anthony also joined to add some unnecessary shooting, number nine scorer in NBA history. That’s huge. I’m a little, like I’m a little concerned about depth. Obviously, if you’re paying three players, LeBron, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, like $150 million, it’s going to be hard to fill out a team. Russell Westbrook at the moment is the only actual point guard on the roster. I’m sure LeBron will fill in some there, I’m sure Talen Horton-Tucker will fill in some there. I’m sure, you know, Malik Monk will fill in some there. But in terms of depth, I think that’s a real question. As is shooting. Shooting is one of those things in the NBA now, it used to be like, oh, get a couple of specialists. Now you can’t get enough. And I think with the, with the particular build of this Laker team, this is a team that can’t get enough shooting. It’ll be super interesting. We’re going be talking about them all season. LeBron fired back briefly on Twitter about people who are who are talking about how old the team is. And then he deleted it, which was interesting. But it’s going to be a fascinating team. What do you think about them?
Renee Montgomery: You know, I think that the entire community of veterans lies on this Lakers team ,and hear me out, because a lot of people, as we see athletes want to play into a later age now, you know, it used to be, oh 32, 33, you’re getting up there, time to kind of shut it down.
Jason Concepcion: You’re out.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, you’re out. But athletes nowadays, they want to play past that 32, 33. They want to sometimes play into their 40s, as we see now with a Tom Brady, you know, even a Sue Byrd, there’s a lot of players that are playing into an older age or a later age. And so imagine the Lakers with this group they have, what if they come out and have an amazing season? Like what if they come out in all those age questions are just a erase because they’re so smart or they play so well together or they have so much basketball IQ that it might balance it out. That would be huge for all the veteran in any sport in any world because they will refer to this team as the veteran team that got it done. So I’m really, really curious to see what happens with these Lakers, because I know a lot of people are watching them. This is almost like an experiment happening in a sense of LeBron, like you said, he clapped back, as LeBron will do, and he let everybody know that, we see the tweets, we hear the talk, keep that same energy down the line. So that already lets you know that they gave them some chalkboard talk, some chalk talk and locker room talk. So I’m really excited, not to mention that THT, one of their young guns, signed a three-year deal for 32 million. He’s up here, by the way, I should mention, I’m in Vegas for Summer League. THT showed up the Summer League yesterday like he was a vet. He’s daping up players playing. I mean, he came through like, yo, what up? Yeah, I got this contract on the way. But they are missing in some young guys. But I’m telling you, this will be interesting because a lot of people are watching can players play past that necessarily prime age.
Jason Concepcion: Man, he is a vet in terms of like Summer League where everybody’s young and just trying to make their way into the league. You know, it’s funny, one of my favorite Summer League moments involves the Lakers, Mark Madsen. This is several years ago now—Mark Madsen was coaching the the Laker squad at Summer League, and they got beat in Summer League and in the game. And they interviewed him afterwards, and he was like, Mark Madsen was like, it’s on me, it’s on me. I didn’t have the guys ready. I didn’t have them prepared. This is on me. I’m going to take this loss. I’m gonna take this loss. I’m taking full responsibility for that. I’m like, Mark, it’s Summer League.
Renee Montgomery: It’s Summer League my guy.
Jason Concepcion: Go play, Blackjack like and please calm down. Please relax.
Renee Montgomery: Listen. He’s taking it serious. OK? Ready, ready.
Jason Concepcion: Then there is the Miami Heat. They add your guy, Kyle Lowry, who joined in a sign and trade three-year contract worth $90 million, leaving the Raptors where he is, I think it’s fair to say the greatest player in Raptors history. The Heat are also expected to sign Jimmy Butler to a max deal worth about $184 million over four. Victor Oladipo, which this is a big deal for them, adding depth and scoring, agreed to a one-year minimum deal to stay with the Heat. And then, of course, Duncan Robinson, one of the great—rags is unfair—but like nowhere to riches stories in sports history has signed a five-year $90 million deal. Shouts to Jason Gallagher. Shouts to Tommy Altero, all my friends who work closely with Duncan Robinson. PS, ask him if I can borrow, if I can just hold ten grand for a little while. I heard he’s doing OK. Let me, let me hear that. That they are going to put their hands on people. They’ve also added PJ Tucker, who they signed from the Bucks. That man, that is a Heat team that is going to make squads work for everything. What do you think about the Heat?
Renee Montgomery: I think that you that’s the team that you don’t want to play.
Jason Concepcion: Absolutely not.
Renee Montgomery: I don’t care if it’s the beginning of your road trip. Like you imagine Kyle Lowry in there taking charge. Jimmy Butler harassing whoever he guarding? I mean, even think about a PJ Tucker, look what he did. Look what he did this last play off.
Jason Concepcion: Bam Adebayo, who can, who can play anywhere on the court defensively?
Renee Montgomery: I mean, defensively, that’s where they’re going to obviously hold their cap. No shocker there. But this is different. This is a team that’s puts together defensively in a world where the NBA is so focused on offense. I mean, the players that we just talked about aren’t necessarily—Kyle Lowry is a three point shooter, a great three point shooter, but everyone else that we’re talking about, it’s not those snipers or it’s not that offensive repertoire that you think of. Jimmy Buckets can get a bucket. So let me just say that. But we know Jimmy Buckets as a two way player. So is the fact that he can do both. And then you got a PJ Tucker, he’s the D-in-3 guy, can knock down that corner three. But it’s like these guys, you can tell where Miami’s head was at when they signed this team. And they’ll be I mean, they’ll be fun to watch because I’m looking forward to watching Miami play any offensive powerhouses like a Golden State Warriors or Portland. I’m looking to see how do they do against those big offensive clubs, you know?
Jason Concepcion: I’m tired already thinking about watching them. That’s how physical, you know, they have this culture already that’s been in place ever since Pat Riley has been with the franchise. And that culture seems to pervade the entire team all the way down. Udonis Haslem obviously has remained on the team as this culture carrier, as this person on the ground who is telling the players what it means to be a Miami Heat player. I just think back to, you know, a million years ago, Pat Riley was the coach of the Knicks, he, in order to stay with the Knicks, he was asking for like a piece of the team and to be GM and to have a voice in player decisions. And the Knicks said no. And then he went to Miami and the Knicks remain the Knicks. And I think I hated him as a kid. I was like, man, fuck Pat Riley, how dare he? And now I’m like, man, they should they should have given him that piece, right. What does it mean to me? I don’t, I don’t own the team. They should have done it. I mean, that’s that is going to be a team that that will work other teams to the bone, like you may beat the Heat, but you are going to sweat to do it.
Renee Montgomery: And listen, you talked about culture, the Bulls have some of the most iconic culture ever, you know, even to the point of their introductions. You know, we all know about their introduction to how it works because Michael Jordan played there. We remember that. But the Bulls have been making some moves too with DeMar DeRozan signing a three-year, 85 five million contract. Lonzo Ball four-year, $85 million. Alex Caruso. Now this one’s interesting because all the Lakers fans—Lake show. Yeah!
Jason Concepcion: They were crying. They were crying.
Renee Montgomery: Lake Show! Alex Caruso, fresh out of jail, went straight to the Bulls, man. I know, for a four-year 37 million deal. I know that hurt The Lake Show because he’s a fan favorite, due to how he plays. I mean, you got to give him credit. He built that. You know, he built that fandom with how his style, his hustle. And then, you know, it’s just that Bulls cub, they already have a Zach Levine. So I’m interested to see what that nucleus can do, adding Lonzo and DeMar. Again, I don’t know how strong they can be, but I like the moves in a sense of the Bulls needed to do something.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m not excited in the sense that now the Bulls, a rival to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference, and the Hawks as well, have gotten better. It’s going to be super exciting. Caruso, Lonzo and Levine is going to be gas. That is going to be so fun. The interesting thing to me is that you have two players in Lonzo and Levine who want to run, and then you’ve got like DeMar who is 32. Vucevic who is a big, who just kind of jogs to a great scoring big. Not a great defender but not the fastest. So you’ve got like half the team wants to run and half the team doesn’t want to run. How is that going to shake out, what is that going to mean? But it’s super exciting. Like again Lonzo and Levine, that is going to be super fun. And as a person who, you know, I was team Zach Levine is not a winning player, and he took a leap last couple of seasons in terms of his scoring. 28 a game, I think last year on eight—eight!—three pointers a game. That is, you just can’t deny what an impact scorer he is. And defensively it’s, he’s still not great, but he’s also not terrible. And that’s going to be a really, really fun team. That’s like a, that’s like an NBA league pass watch team.
Renee Montgomery: Absolutely. Like you got, you got to watch when they’re on just because I mean, Lonzo, we know that he’s a flashy player and it’s exciting, but something that you got to be excited about. [unclear] you having with your Knicks.
Jason Concepcion: Let’s go!
Renee Montgomery: Talk to me, your Knicks.
Jason Concepcion: So it’s a strange feeling being a Knicks fan and, and looking at this team and thinking man I guess our front office is pretty good. Julius Randle, who made his first appearance on an All Star team last year, made his first appearance on an NBA, All NBA list last year, who had a career-defining year last year. Lifting the Knicks into playoff contention, agreed to a four-year, $117 million contract, elevating his deals total value over five years to 140 million. He could have opted in for this year and then opted out the year after for a 200 million plus max deal. He didn’t do that. He put his trust in the team. One could argue with the recent history of the Knicks maybe that was unwise. But he did do that. And we also managed to sign Kemba Walker after the guard got a buyout from the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC wants to, they want to go all youth. They got Shea Gilgeous1Alexander, they have Lou Dort, they have a bunch of young players they want to get playing time. They want to get them playing time. Winning is not so important to them, so they bought out Kemba Walker. And listen, he’s maybe the most iconic New York player to never play for New York. UConn legend, all, so many, so many magic moments in MSG, not in a Knicks uniform. And now to finally get him here, it’s great. Now there are questions obviously, the knee injury from last year had a very, didn’t look great when he was on the floor for the Celtics. Never really seemed to manage to like integrate into the way they play. That said, even if he is not what he was, not to the level of Kemba Walker from three or four years ago, he is such a huge upgrade in terms of their starting point guard. Now you can move Derrick Rose to the bench where he can just attack second unit guards, which is his, that’s his strength. He doesn’t have to worry about playmaking, just score, score, score. Elfrid Payton, who the Knicks lost every Elfrid Payton minute last season. Now we don’t have to worry about that. Add to the fact that the Knicks added Evan Fournier, who is I think a good score and a good secondary creator. And now they’ve checked off a bunch of those boxes. The weaknesses that were exposed by your Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs: lack of creativity, lack of scoring, right, lack of depth. The Knicks have checked all those boxes. It’s great. And while they haven’t elevated themselves into like a surefire top 4 playoff team, they’ve done the thing which they want to do, which is show to any star players that might shake loose in for the trade deadline or might shake loose in free agency in the future, that, hey, we’re not a disaster anymore. In fact, we’re a solid team. We have a plan. We’re implementing that plan. We have a good coach, and you can come here and you can thrive. Look at how crazy these fans are for a team that is the fourth seed, that overachieved. Look at this. Don’t you want to be part of this? And they can see that incredibly now.
Renee Montgomery: I mean, you don’t, that’s what’s blowing my mind for even the past years, the Knicks are an easy sell. Playing at Madison Square Garden is an easy sell. So whenever the Knicks are struggling, I’m like, people want to play there. So if the organization ever figured it out a little bit kind of to what you’re saying, started making solid decisions, you’re going to be able to gobble up some free agents in a hurry. People just don’t want to go there if it’s going to be a losing organization and it doesn’t look like it has direction, but there’s direction happening now. And you talked about Julius Randle having trust in the team. I mean, I think it works both ways. Julius Randle didn’t have the best of exits in the playoffs. You know, there was a lot of things exposed. So I think this was a smart move by both to just, lets just get the deal done. 140, 5 years. We both understand that we want to build together. I think that that was the perfect deal. And then you guys even see a hint of Cardiac Kemba, if Cardiac Kemba makes his way.
Jason Concepcion: That’s all we need. Just a drizzling.
Renee Montgomery: If you guys see a hint of Cardiac Kemba—
Jason Concepcion: A sprinkling!
Renee Montgomery: I mean you got a—sprinkling. OK, calm down because we’re the same conference. OK. Calm down! Because I got, “Sprinkling.” You are turning up. But if you guys, that’s like Kemba, he’s a UConn guy but he’s just a really good guy. So I always wish the best for him, unless he’s playing against the Hawks. But I think that he’s going to recover. I think playing at home is going to be a big factor. I think getting traded, bounced out of the Celtics like so quickly with all the promise that he had, I think that’s going to be part of his drive to come back. I think even just the way that it happened with OKC getting, you know, the buy-out, I just think when you’re a good player and you feel like you’re being shuffled around or you feel like you’re being tossed around or bounced around, that’s motivation to add to the board, too. And so I think with all of those things and, you know, Kemba is a New York guy, so there’s pride. There’s that chip on his shoulder. I just think that this is a great sign for the Knicks. And I’m crossing my fingers because, you know, I’m all the way team Hawks. But I just, you know, it just makes sense what’s going on there. And speaking of the Hawks, it’s a no shocker alert, with what happened with the Hawks. John Collins on a five-year, 125 million deal. And while we didn’t know what the—congrats, John, you earned it—and while we didn’t know what that deal, like the money amount, we know he earned himself a big paycheck. So he got it. And then the Hawks agreed to a five-year, $207 million deal for Trae Young. Again, I don’t know if anyone is surprised about Trae Young. Trae Young is a max player type. Coach Nate McMillan is back as the official head coach. So our nucleus is there. I’m going to see if we can sprinkle in, like you said, sprinkle in a little something else to add to it. But I like that we got our core back and it’s locked in. What do you think?
Jason Concepcion: Well, it’s all about health, right? Like if the Hawks can come back healthy next season, there’s your improvement on paper. Not to mention this is a team, even though it is run it back at this point.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah.
Jason Concepcion: Y’all made a leap in the playoffs. Like a leap. A leap in confidence, a leap in the way you play, a leap in the way that that Trae and the rest of his team work together and trust each other. And I think that they’re, the Hawks are scary. The Hawks are a scary team. And again, if they are healthy next season with all their players next season . . .
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, DeAndre Hunter. We signed Lou Will back. We still have Red Velvet, Cam Reddish, our nucleus is really there. So that’s the healthy, just that you’re referring to.
Jason Concepcion: So if that, if that’s, if that’s in place, scary team. Extremely scary team. The Atlanta Hawks and Trae, yeah, there’s no surprise there. You got to lock him up. You absolutely have to lock him up because everything runs through him. He is the absolute superstar of that team and a guy that I doubted for a while, and there’s no, there’s no, there is no doubt. Like he is one of the most flammable offense players in the league.
Renee Montgomery: Yes. And speaking of, like, chips on your shoulder, Trae, just the hits just keep coming for him and for us hawks fans, like I said, it’s great. He got left off the USA team, which is recent. They just got gold. So that’s burning in the inside. And I’m not, I haven’t spoken to him about this. I’m just saying athlete to athlete. And then the All Star game last year. So if people are thinking that Trae Young is like hype about what happened last year, I would highly doubt. I think everybody’s thinking let’s run it [?bite]. And Clint Capela included, OK?
Jason Concepcion: So kind of breaking news in the NBA. We should note that the NBA has begun a tampering investigation regarding the way the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat announced, processed their respective sign and trade agreements with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry. By league rules, teams aren’t officially allowed to have contact with players under contract with another team, like player representatives that’s fine and that happens year round all the time, every minute, every hour of the calendar year. But actual team to player contact can’t happen until the moratorium lifts. Now, last year, the Bucks announced a sign and trade agreement with the Kings for Bogie Bogdanovic that the league then investigated because it was announced within minutes of the moratorium lifting. And they were embarrassed by that. And they investigated and they found that the Bucks had indeed tampered and they took a second round draft pick from them. And Bogie Bogdanovic is now a member of the Hawks, where he is doing, where he is an important and important weapon for your Atlanta Hawks and not for the Bucks. We should also note that in 2019, the NBA put in more stringent penalties for tampering if tampering should be found. This included raising the maximum fines for teams to ten million. The possibility that a team Exec’s involved in this, could be suspended. The forfeiting draft picks, as happened with the Bucks and even perhaps the voiding of contracts, although I don’t think anybody expects to see that step anytime soon.
Renee Montgomery: No.
Jason Concepcion: The league also has broad powers to seize communications, including telephone records, text, emails, etc. Now, as we have talked about many times, as many people have talked about, tampering happens. It’s almost impossible to legislate. But it seems like the NBA steps in when they get embarrassed a little bit and people talk about it, which is what happened with the Bucks and which is what I think has happened here with the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, who both announced sign and trade deals within minutes of the moratorium lifting. Your thoughts?
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, well, first of all, we kind of made light of this last week. You know?
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, we did.
Renee Montgomery: We did. We surely were laughing that right when the gates open up, it’s just a flood. And so it’s no shocker alert. I also wonder, I agree, Jason, I think it has a little bit to do with, like, Captain Obvious here. Somebody was talking before, if you had it done minutes after. But also, too, is getting very super team-ish in the NBA. So I don’t know if, if this is a way to start trying to get a hold of it, because . . .
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, I think there’s something to that.
Renee Montgomery: You know, because there’s so much movement going on and it’s in superstars and role players included. The NBA with the path it’s on, I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but you just start to see more. Even a DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball going to the Bulls. What’s going on in Miami. Like, the Lakers. You just start to see a lot of pileup happening. And so I wonder if the NBA is like, all right, we have to start getting control of everything, starting with free agency, starting with how teams are talking to players, starting with how things are functioning—we have to start getting some control because right now it really does feel like a free for all in a sense of like, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t, like I’m not, we made light of it last week, but no one was surprised that people signed right away. So we clearly understand that the rules are being broken.
Jason Concepcion: And it’s, and we’re talking sign and trade deals too, which I think is important because, listen, if you’re just trading for a player or acquiring a player in free agency into your tap space, there is a world in which that could be a verbal agreement. You run the numbers without actually having to talk to the player. You’re like, oh, they want this much. A sign and trade requires the team that currently has the free agent, to sign that player to the deal that the team who is acquiring the player wants, rIght, and then trading that player. So it’s a very complex deal with multiple steps that requires a lot of negotiation three ways between a player and the team that he is currently employed by, the team and the other team that is acquiring the player, and the team that will one day acquire the player and the player that they hope to acquire. So it would just suggest that there is no, looking at that, it’s hard to believe that you could do that without talking to the player in some form or fashion. So I guess I’m not surprised by this, but it’s, I agree with you. I think that anxiety about the way players move and the places that they go has been very high in the NBA, especially around small market teams who have had to adapt to this new landscape and try and, you know, create strategies for acquiring players and within the context of a league in which they understand that free agents are probably not going to come to their market. And so I think that, I think that you’re right, that this in some way is the league trying to gain control of a situation that they really don’t have a lot of control over, right, there saying, hey, we understand that this happens, but if you push it, then we have to do something. And so it remains to be seen. Maybe we see some draft picks get forfeited. I think the Heat and the Bulls actually don’t have that many draft picks to forfeit. So that would be very interesting. Maybe we see fines.
Renee Montgomery: I think it starts at fines, moves to draft picks, and then moves to the canceling of the contract, kind of how they wrote it. So I think at this first go around, this is like, I feel like this investigation is like ringing the alarm, basically, like, everybody!
Jason Concepcion: Watch out!
Renee Montgomery: Calm down!
Jason Concepcion: Let me ask you this, because fines nobody cares about fines because they don’t count against the cap. What if it was fines up to 10 million and that counts against your team salary cap? I think that would really scare teams.
Renee Montgomery: Oh, yeah. I mean that million dollars?
Jason Concepcion: Against the cap? That will, I mean, that throws you into the tax. That does, that’s a red line. And I think that even without the draft picks, suspending execs, if some amount of the fines came out of the cap of the team that that broke these rules, I think that would really make execs and various franchises think twice about what they do.
Renee Montgomery: I agree. Don’t give them ideas, Jason. I don’t know how to feel, I don’t know how to feel about giving ideas of how to fine. But I also I really have to believe that I don’t think the players, like they’re going to check the phone records and all this. If people are just talking on their normal phone—
Jason Concepcion: That’s the thing.
Renee Montgomery: I would be like shocked. So I don’t know what they’re going to find with this investigation, but I just do know that they probably, this is the ringing of the alarm. Like everybody, let’s start to get back in order and get things like functioning properly.
Jason Concepcion: So excited to be joined by this guest. She’s is a writer for The Ringer.com, an author, and her new book is called “Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP.” Take a guess who and what that book is about. It comes out August 10th. Buy it wherever you get your books, please support your local bookstore. Miren Fader, welcome to Takeline. It’s so great to have you here.
Miren Fader: Oh, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jason Concepcion: In this book, you mark the initial setting of Giannis’s childhood in Greece as the the post -Golden Dawn era, Greece’s far right political force within their political system. How did these circumstances and that political context affect Giannis’s life in Greece in his pursuit of a basketball dream?
Miren Fader: Well, it made it really hard for him to just exist in general, aside from being a basketball player. I mean, so Greece doesn’t offer birthright citizenship so Giannis grew up stateless, essentially his whole life. And even though he was born there, went to church there, went to school there, spoke the language as Greek as any of his friends and classmates, he was not considered Greek. And Golden Dawn, this neo-Nazi criminal organization, would patrol neighborhoods like Sepolia, where Giannis grew up. And so he was always aware this keen sense that they were never too far and he knew what they could do to migrants, people who looked like him. They chased them, they stabbed them, they kill them. So, yeah, he endured a lot of racism. And I think that people don’t really talk about that story with him.
Jason Concepcion: We should, we should mention so Golden Dawn was a political party for many years but recently there was a trial, a landmark trial in the history of Greece, where Golden Dawn was officially ruled a criminal neo-Nazi organization.
Miren Fader: Yes.
Renee Montgomery: That’s crazy! And the book title tells us that this was an improbable rise of an NBA MVP. But just how small is the likelihood the Giannis even makes it to the NBA based on what he went through growing up? I mean, what were those obstacles?
Miren Fader: Yeah, well, first of all, because he doesn’t have papers, he can’t get a passport, and because he doesn’t have a passport, it’s hard for him to travel and get scouted. So and because he doesn’t have papers, he can’t even compete in the top division in Greece. So that would be the A1 division. So he’s in the lowest division A2 Greece, and really the only reason why NBA scouts find out about him is because there’s a video that circulates among scouts and that’s when they say, OK, like this kid, he’s tall, he’s lanky, I like his athleticism. But, you know, Giannis is playing on a team that has been compared to the YMCA. I mean, he doesn’t even start. He doesn’t even start, like, actually playing basketball regularly until age 16, 17. So, I mean, you take all of these factors and like, nobody thought he was going to be in the NBA at all.
Renee Montgomery: Wow.
Jason Concepcion: Wow. In those early years after arriving in Milwaukee, he’s talked about how isolated he felt, obviously, a significant amount of culture shock. He was obviously so skinny compared to how he looks now, like an actual action figure. What were those, what were those early days like for him in Milwaukee?
Miren Fader: Yeah. So first of all, it’s just learning the language. I mean, he knew enough to string sentences together, but you’re talking about learning a playbook, hundreds of plays. And Larry Drew, the coach, is just talking so quickly and he just knew that it was all going past Giannis head so adjusting on the court was tough. And then off the court, he was without his family because they couldn’t get the proper visas. They got denied twice to come to America. So he felt so lonely to the point where his brother told me, Alex, that, you know, Giannis told his family, if you guys can’t come over here, like I’m leaving, I’m going back to Greece. And so I don’t, yeah, so, I mean, imagine if he would have left, like there would be no Giannis, there’d be no Greek freak. I mean, he was really close to that. It was really painful and hard. And he also was grappling with going from not knowing where your next meal is coming from to being a millionaire. And it’s not like, oh, it’s all good, I have money now. It’s like I’m afraid to indulge. I’m afraid to buy things.
Renee Montgomery: You know, it’s interesting because I think that’s part of his appeal to me. Like seeing him carry a bag full of water bottles with him, leaving in the arena and different things like that. It shows his background and how he doesn’t take anything for granted. In your book, you talk about how Giannis finally realized his dream. He escaped some, in some ways a traumatic childhood in Greece, and then in the 2020 season gets put on hold with the pandemic, as we know, there was the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd—there was so many things that happened. But how did these horrific events affect him in the country that he now called home?
Miren Fader: Yeah, so I think the thing with him is like the past is never too far behind. It always tugs on him. It always lingers. Like no matter how much money he makes, there’s always that child in him that knows what it’s like to have without. And even though he has generational wealth, there’s still that hesitancy to spend money. And a refrain that he often says with his brothers to this day is, what if we all went to sleep and woke up and came back to where we started? And I think that really is just, it’s like, OK, wow, you’ve achieved the unthinkable. You’ve done it all. There’s no way you’re going back to where you started. But that’s how close it is. And that’s how trauma works. And I think, you know, for Giannis, he’s not just created a life for himself, but his brothers. But they are also acutely aware of the fact that like a decade ago, we didn’t even play basketball.
Renee Montgomery: Crazy.
Jason Concepcion: We’ve been talking about, you know, Giannis’s roots as a Greek of Nigerian descent coming to America. What does that, what did you learn in your research just about what that identity means to be an African immigrant in Greece? I know a lot of the Golden Dawn verdict was celebrated by immigrant groups in Greece, as you know, not just a landmark legal case, but as something that added significant protections to them just in their daily lives, like walking around. What does that identity encompass, like to the best of your ability to describe it? Like what is it, what does it mean to be an African immigrant in Greece, growing up there?
Miren Fader: I mean, he was subject to a lot of racist insults during the games. I mean, he would be playing and at road games, they would say things like: go home monkeys. People would, yeah and when café owners would give food to him and his brothers, people, other patrons would say, why are you giving to the Black kids? It’s always this feeling of outsiderness. And although there were many kind white Greeks that did treat him with respect and dignity, there were just also others who, no matter if he was born there, they would not consider him Greek. And the police would often look the other way when Golden Dawn was committing all of these crimes, because before the trial, that was just normal life. You knew to run the other way if you saw people from this organization because they would wear clothing that identified them. And, you know, Giannis lived in this deep fear of his parents getting deported because if there was one, you know, stopped by a police or a neighbor even saying like, oh, this family’s loud, they can come in and take his parents away. And the hard part was, is that Giannis essentially didn’t belong on paper anywhere, didn’t have Greek citizenship, didn’t have Nigerian citizenship, so his parents would have been taken back to Nigeria, but Giannis would just be in Greece had that happened with nowhere to go and not knowing what to do. So that just made life really, really difficult.
Renee Montgomery: You know, it’s interesting to hear that. It makes it even more fascinating that after Giannis led the Bucks to the NBA championship, that he headed back to Greece, and while there, you know, he made some other comments. But just hearing about his situation in Greece and then going back, do you think that that had any effect to why, you know, he made a statement that said, I don’t care about being the face of the NBA. Kevin Durant or James Harden can be that. But, you know, based on his past, do you think that that had anything to do with him just being fine where he is?
Miren Fader: I think it’s so complicated because on the one hand, he professes his love for Greece constantly. He has played valiantly for the Greek team. He has identified himself, you know, way more as Greek than Nigerian, in a sense, like my nickname is the Greek Freak. You know, we don’t really know too much about his Nigerian roots. He’s only said a couple of things here and there. He’s starting to become more vocal. But at the same time, even as he is lauded as this hero in Greece, this national symbol of hope, there are people that I found in my reporting that still draw swastikas on his murals in Greece to this day. There are right-wing politicians that still call him racist things on national television. So you have this person that it could not represent Greece to a better ability and to profess how much he loves it, but yet it does not always treat him well. And I think people have a really hard time of holding all of these things in their heads at once because it’s it’s complicated. And I think to sugarcoat Giannis journey as this, quote, fairy tale and American dream and rags to riches is just not really accurate.
Jason Concepcion: Is there any anecdote that kind of stood out to you as something that it was either surprising or just encapsulated him as a person in your, in your research of this book?
Miren Fader: Yeah, I think the one for me is, so I told you all about fearing deportation of his parents. And so growing up, he couldn’t trust anyone and his parents couldn’t trust anyone. And so his rookie year in Milwaukee, he has to get his cable installed and he’s fearful and distrustful of having a cable, random stranger come to his house. So he asks a Buck staffer to be present with him because you never know people’s motives. And the staffer comes, it’s like a nine to four installation. It takes all day. Staff gets really hungry. He goes into Giannis’s pantry, looks and sees an Oreo jar of cookies and he eats three of them. Doesn’t really think anything of it. The next day at practice, Giannis is like: did you eat my Oreos? And the staffer is just like what now? You know? Because it’s like what? And Giannis is like what I noticed that three were missing.
Renee Montgomery: Wow.
Miren Fader: And he’s like and he’s like very serious. And the staffer is like stunned. Like first of all, like who counts their Oreos. But then the staffer is like, oh my gosh, it makes so much sense. Like of course he counts as Oreos. This is a person that acutely was aware of what he had and didn’t have. And just because now he’s in the NBA earning a million dollars, having enough food to last him til wherever doesn’t mean he doesn’t still hold on to that. So I just feel like that encapsulates so much about who he is as a person.
Renee Montgomery: I have it on good authority, that from our producer, Zuri, that you are Hooper in high school, OK?
Jason Concepcion: Well, a hooper or basketball player? Hold on. There is some, there’s philosophical arguments about whether a person is a whooper or basketball player.
Renee Montgomery: Well, she was money from the free throw line. Does that matter? OK, so I just have one last question. Should Giannis be thanking you for how he turned around things on of the free throw line in the finals? Like, let me know.
Miren Fader: Renee, can we just, like, have a moment where I’m fan girling because I played basketball all my life and I talking with you. I was so nervous before this podcast because you are like so cool and like my hoop girl dreams are like happening right now.
Renee Montgomery: Let’s go. I love that!
Miren Fader: Wow. This is very cool. Giannis does not have to thank me. I’m not sure, I’m not sure [laughs] I think I should be thanking him for the, for winning a championship on my my book release. So thank you, Giannis.
Renee Montgomery: That’s a win-win right there. Listen, she is Miren Fader, author and journalist for the Ringer. The book is called Giannis, and it’s out August 10th, wherever you get your books. Go buy people!
Jason Concepcion: Yes!
Renee Montgomery: Thank you for joining us. Hoppers hoop OK? Thank you for joining us!
Miren Fader: Thank you so much.
Jason Concepcion: News came out earlier this week that a hospital in Michigan has dropped Kirk Cousins as it’s spokesperson due to his comments not in support of COVID-19 vaccinations. Last week, Cousins did a news conference where he basically said he’d do, quote, everything to protect his teammates, except get vaccinated. Recently, the NFL sent a memo stating that, quote, “If a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss.” That includes players, coaches, etc., not getting paid for that game day. Currently, the numbers show that at least 90% of the NFL players have received at least one dose of vaccination. So, Renee, should the league and teams be trying to limit these louder unvaccinated voices and elevate the significant majority of the league that is, that is vaccinated and received at least one shot of vaccination? Or will these financial consequences ultimately be the thing that brings pressure to bear on these unvaccinated voices like Cousins and others?
Renee Montgomery: Well, first of all, money talks. So, you know, you drop a couple of those spokesperson checks, the first the hospital, something else, then you start to reevaluate your decision. So that’s, that’s first. But I don’t think it matters who the NFL amplifies in a sense of if its players that are for the vaccination or against it, because this day and age, in the digital age—it used to be you watch players’ press conferences on the news. That’s the only place you really found that type of stuff. But now with social media, it doesn’t matter if they highlight what Kirk Cousins says or not. As soon as it hits the Internet, you and I will be retweeting it, talking about it, it will be digested some way, so I think now it’s to the point where teams don’t have a choice. Leagues don’t have a choice. You know? I know that the leagues probably wish the players wouldn’t say half the things they said. Even look at the NBA with the All Star game last year and the players basically saying to the media, we don’t want to have it, we don’t want no parts of it, it’s no good. And then the league still had to deal with that. So I think what you’re seeing right now is a new wave in a sense of players are their own press releases. Players are their own press conferences. Because there’s so many small outlets, you know, an outlet could pick up just like, the team might not highlight, like Kirk Cousins, but an outlet might find what he said. And then it’s just as big as it was before. So I think that at this point, kind of to the NBA, the leagues don’t have as much control as I think that they would wish they had. I mean, what do, what do you think about it? Do you think that that the league’s amplifying it matters, or should they?
Jason Concepcion: I think that the league, the NFL is trying to gain control clearly through these new rules, particularly the rules about forfeiting games and the fact that vaccinated players are not liable to the same kind of stringent COVID protocols that unvaccinated players are—I think that, you know, sports is a microcosm, right? I think that the thing that we’re dealing with right now in this country and I think the world in general is how does my responsibility to my, to the broader society, right, to the people that are in my community that are immunocompromised or that don’t have the same kind of financial resources that I do. How does my responsibility to those people, people that I’ve never met, interact with my personal freedom to do whatever the fuck I want to do? And I think that’s a lot of what we’re dealing with in this country writ large, where you have a lot of people for many, many reasons, you don’t want to take a vaccine. Many of them are citing personal freedom. They don’t want to kowtow to this thing that is being pressed upon them. They see it as a rejection of their ability to have personal choice. And at the same time, that choice to not get vaccinated, when you scale it up to millions of people, tens of thousands of people in a in a community, hundreds of thousands people, millions of people in the nation, it adversely affects kids who can’t get vaccinated until after 12, people like Washington football team head coach Ron Rivera, who is immunocompromised and faces perhaps dire consequences if he contracts COVID-19. And I think trying to figure out what that balance is, is a lot of what where the friction in our country is coming from. And that is being played out before our eyes in the NFL, in various sports. And I think we’re heading towards a place where, you’re seeing the U.S. military just announced that that soldiers are going to have to be vaccinated, all going to have to be vaccinated.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, I saw that.
Jason Concepcion: Various state and local governments have announced that state workers have to be vaccinated. Various private companies have announced that—I think we’re heading towards a place where you can either be vaccinated and prove that you have been, or not. But it’s not, we’re not going to have this halfway thing where some of the country is not going to get vaccinated and it’s going to loudly tell you that they’re not going to do it and the other part of the country is like, no, we have to get vaccinated. Something is going to shift and I think you’re seeing it shift now with the NFL, with these various companies putting in these vaccine mandates. Because unvaccinated people at this point are allowing the further spread of this virus and this spread of this virus is threatening the economic underpinnings of the NFL, of the various companies that exist within this country and of the country writ large. As you said, money talks and it talks really loud and it’s talking loudly right now, even if that connection doesn’t seem as bright and obvious to everyone as it actually is. This is happening because the NFL is like our business model is under threat by COVID-19 so we have to do something. This is going to happen more and more. You’re going to see more companies enacting these kind of vaccine mandates, I think.
Jason Concepcion: So let’s talk about—this news broke and it’s continuing to break right now, broke last week that Leo Messi, one of the most iconic player, athletes in the world, certainly, I think like top three iconic player over the last 10 years globally, has officially left Barcelona, the club that plucked him from Argentina as a literal child, six-time Ballon d’Or or winner, multiple-time world champion, multiple time La Liga champion, multiple-time Champions League champion. I never thought I would see it and it’s happening because basically Barcelona is in debt to the tune of some billion plus euros. Now, formally, yes, an immense number. Not only that, but the wage, part of that is the wage bill. Barcelona has been a titan of world football. They pay Leo Messi, his last salary with 75 million euros a year, which is like almost $100 million a year, which is crazy, crazy, crazy.
Renee Montgomery: Wooh!
Jason Concepcion: And to surround him with the talent that that was necessary to surround him with, they were also signing, you know, numerous name players from other leagues around the world. Even bench guys were making insane salaries. And under legal rules introduced in 2013, there is essentially a floating salary cap that limits the amount that teams can spend to 70% of all revenues coming in. And Barcelona basically exceeded that amount with the deal that they agreed to with Leo Messi. In other words, they could have signed him if not for these rules. Their card got declined and now Messi will go to Paris Saint-Germain in France’s League One. League One has been, has been criticized for not really enacting their own financial fair play rules in this kind of stringent manner that La Liga is doing. Paris Saint-Germain is owned by essentially the nation of Qatar.
Renee Montgomery: Excuse me. What?!
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, the nation of Qatar owns PSG. Like that’s how they can afford to do this. They are owned by the Qatari investment group that is owned by the king of Qatar, and therefore they can afford to do it. Barça is 1.3 billion euros in debt. They just added more players that people have heard of, including Sergio Guerra, multiple time champion with Man City, Mem DEPAY, others. Losses for the 2021 season for Barça would exceed 200 million euros because of COVID. So that’s it. And that’s why Messi will probably join PSG. I should note that a fan, a Barcelona fan, has filed a suit against Barcelona in a French court saying essentially that, hey, it’s not fair that Barcelona is losing Messi to PSG because the French League does not it does not enforce its financial fair play rules fairly or strictly in the same way that La Liga is doing it and therefore, it’s unfair that Messi is going to PSG. But all of which is to say that this is a real earthquake in international soccer. And it is a thing that I don’t think anybody ever saw coming. And Messi is going to the one team that could really afford to sign him, which is a team owned by Qatar. It’s truly crazy.
Renee Montgomery: Listen. There’s a lot of mess going on with soccer. I mean, we had some of the teams wanted to take flight and create their own super league. And now we’re coming back and it’s getting messy with Messi. And he’s just like, I really might have to start getting into soccer, at least the news, the soccer, because this is like some wild stuff. The card got declined. These are things I hear about every day. People’s cards is getting declined. People are spending more than what they have. It sounds like soccer is doing what everyone does just on a bigger scale. But, yeah, I’m very, this is very interesting to me, like the whole set up that a team is owned by Qatar? Like what are we, like this is like, yeah, soccer, and for the people are like duh, I’m really just not in the soccer world. So Jason gives me all this new information at once and it’s like, what is going on?
Jason Concepcion: So. And just again, PSG is announced that they’ll going to sign Messi to about a 40 million euro deal. 40 million euros is probably like, I’m going to say, $42 million a year, which is wild, but is a significant pay cut from his 75 million euro—
Renee Montgomery: Big time.
Jason Concepcion: —a year salary, which was about $88 million a year, USD.
Renee Montgomery: Imagine 40 million being a big pay cut? Like, What?! I mean.
Jason Concepcion: Imagine making $88 million dollars a year. What is LeBron like, makes like 33. Like, you can max out at about 40’ish in the NBA, which is a lot, but double that in international soccer. Double that.
Renee Montgomery: OK, OK, OK, you know what time it is that sound means it’s time for buzzer beaters. When we talk about the stories that we didn’t cover in the show just because of time. And Jason, I have been canonized into the DCU, which I feel very excited about because I’m just now getting further into it. I had CW star Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash on Remotely Renee, and to celebrate I got myself some flash artwork—shout out to Dark Wing Art, AKA Dustin Watson of Heartland Group. They turned up OK. So for all the listeners, go check out the picture. Yeah, he snack. Go check out the picture. It’s on my Twitter. Jason, I know that you’re a comic fanatic here at Crooked Media, right. What do you think of this Flash cosplay, and what character would you want to be made into? Because I know you’re really into the world, the DC world. Are you into the Marvel world, too? I don’t know, but who would you have yourself made as?
Jason Concepcion: I’m more of a Marvel guy, but I like DC as well. And this art is on a is truly unreal. Like this is super, super cool. It is my long-running dream, like since I was six years old to like appear in any comic book. I would, I’ll take, Marvel would be, would be my top choice. I would take DC, of course. Probably. Wolverine, who is the star of the X-Men mutant fame, is an iconic character for the Marvel Comics. You know, honestly, I would take, I would take Dark Wing for DC. I would, you know, Batman, one of the, anybody in the Batman kind of universe. This is just incredibly cool.
Renee Montgomery: Wow.
Jason Concepcion: This is so, so cool.
Renee Montgomery: Wolverine! I’d like to see you as Wolverine.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah. Get me, get me my claws. Keeping on the comic strip, I just saw a James Gunn’s Suicide Squad movie this weekend. And it is really, really fun. Very colorful. And I think it’s something that the DC Universe in their, in their film universe, really needs. Super fun. I love the way they put the lettering on the screen like a comic splash page to mark the chapter endings and starts. Really, really fun movie. And I got to say, I’m super jealous of this art, Renee, this is awesome.
Jason Concepcion: Goodbye. That is it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. And don’t forget to subscribe to Takeline show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode. Plus my digital series, All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday. Check it out, folks! See you next week.
Renee Montgomery: Let’s go!
Jason Concepcion: Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Carleton Gillespie and Zuri Irvin. Our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard. Our contributing producers are Caroline Reston, Elijah Cone, and Jason Gallagher. Engineering, editing and sound design by Sarah Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four, and our theme music is produced by Brian Vazquez.