After Giannis Antetokounmpo complained of right knee pain while training with the Greek national team, Milwaukee Bucks trainers recommended he forego the European championships, causing a mild international incident between the NBA and the Greek basketball federation over the weekend.
“I’m injured, the pains haven’t subsided, and I have to get better,” Antetokounmpo wrote in a Facebook post announcing his absence from EuroBasket later this month. The All-Star point forward issued a sincere apology to fans, calling his decision “the biggest disappointment I’ve ever felt in my career.”
Antetokounmpo, who missed all but one of Greece’s exhibition games prior to EuroBasket due to the injury, was serving as an NBA ambassador in China when Bucks strength and conditioning coach Suki Hobson evaluated the knee, according to a statement released by Milwaukee GM Jon Horst on Sunday.
“Hobson put Giannis through a series of exercises to evaluate his knee and reported that he was still experiencing significant pain on basic movements,” said Horst, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Upon consultation with Hobson, Bucks team physician Dr. William Raasch recommended Giannis return to Milwaukee for further evaluation and rehab in order to prepare him for training camp.
However, the Greek Basketball Federation challenged that version of events in an odd news release translated by EuroHoops.net, accusing Antetokounmpo, the Bucks and the NBA of a grand conspiracy:
The simultaneous briefing by the manager of the Milwaukee Buks and by Giannis Antetokounmpo himself via phone and social media from faraway China — and not in the proper formal form — for his inability to play for the Greek national team, brought us sadness due to this great loss, but unfortunately it does not surprise us.
“Since Giannis arrived in Greece and the national team training camp started, a series of indications which were particularly worrying had created the conviction of an organized and well-staged plan by the NBA franchise in which Giannis has signed. Everything was in full knowledge of the NBA, if not encouraged by the NBA, and the athlete was put in a very difficult position. He ultimately was obliged today to announce that he can’t be a member of the national team.”
Likewise, federation general secretary Takis Tsagronis told state TV ERT, via the Associated Press, that Antetokounmpo’s withdrawal “is bad but not unexpected news. All indications were that it would end up like that. We, on our side, did everything not to give the Bucks an excuse. We took a magnetic scan of Giannis’ leg and it was clean. What the Bucks claim is not the reality; something else is happening.”
However, both the Bucks and the NBA denied accusations of “an organized and well-staged plan.”
“The NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks have followed all appropriate protocol under the NBA-FIBA agreement,” NBA senior vice president of basketball communications Tim Frank said in a statement, via the Journal Sentinel. “Giannis has an injury that has been confirmed through multiple examinations and any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
Antetokounmpo, whose four-year, $100 million contract extension begins this season, has been remarkably durable in his four-year NBA career, missing just one game due to injury — patellar tendinitis in his left knee on Dec. 20, 2015. The 22-year-old enjoyed his best year in 2016-17, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.5 combined blocks and steals to earn All-Star, Most Improved Player, Second Team All-NBA and All-Defensive Second Team recognition this past season.
Antetokounmpo has played for the Greek national team each of the past three years, including last summer, when he delayed signing his contract extension until September 2016 to participate in an Olympic qualifying tournament, reportedly against Milwaukee’s wishes. “I have to work and improve as much as I can the problem I’m facing on my knee,” Antetokounmpo wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “Last year I had the option to freeze the deal for my new contract. This year I have no choice.”
Addressing the drama surrounding Antetokounmpo’s absence from EuroBasket, which is set to begin on Aug. 31, EuroHoops Greece publishing manager Nikos Varlas reported the Bucks star “has a vulnerability and a chronic problem in his right knee since his 16th birthday. There are many times when the knee is irritated in the meniscus area,” and he “often plays with painkillers or injections.”
Still, Antetokounmpo reinforced Horst’s expectation that the 6-foot-11 standout will be ready for the start of Bucks training camp, adding on Facebook, “I’m not in a lot of pain and I’ll be ready for games.”
Whether or not the Greek basketball federation’s response to Antetokounmpo’s announcement will have ramifications on the budding superstar’s future national team participation remains to be seen.