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The Budding Business of Giannis

With an extensive web of endorsements, investments, sports ownership stakes, and foundation efforts, the NBA’s two-time MVP has been building one of sports’ most impressive business portfolios.

This past October, as the increasingly honest and blunt Milwaukee Bucks centerpiece has done over and over again during media sessions, Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered an on-the-fly, all-time, hilarious one-liner.

“Money is not important,” he paused. “A lot of fucking money is important.” 

He had a Bucks contract extension decision looming, and it was to his advantage to actually wait until after this current season to extend, when he’d be eligible to sign a new four-year deal for $234 million.

The Twitter chatter challenged his charming humbleness and modest upbringing, with people pushing narratives that the star power and global audience had changed him — that it was now about the money as he entered his 11th season. 

It couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

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(Photo courtesy of the Bucks)

(Just weeks after the Damian Lillard trade, Giannis eventually signed a new three-year, $169 million extension on the Oct. 23 deadline, that could escalate to $186 million, the extra guaranteed year he had wanted be damned.) 

Although it was said jokingly, there’s a deeper layer behind that Giannis quote.

As Antetokounmpo’s budding business empire has shown in recent years, a lot of fucking money is important because of the platforms, the programs, and the infrastructure that it’s allowing the entire Antetokounmpo family to build. 

Not just for themselves now, but for generations of Antetokounmpos to come. Just as importantly, for the community of Milwaukee, the people back home in Greece and Nigeria, and an audience around the world. 

Over the last decade, Giannis has empowered a team around him to begin building out an array of pillars that represent his different focuses, both in athletics and away from the game. The culmination of that groundwork led to the formation in June 2023 of Ante, Inc., the parent company for which Giannis serves as Chairman and Co-Founder. Ante, Inc. operates the business interests and efforts of him and his brothers Thanasis, Kostas, Francis, and Alex. 

“My family is building a business that we can be proud of,” beamed the Bucks star. 

The business of Giannis is booming and still growing. With those pillars now entailing a new media company, a growing global sneaker empire, over a dozen endorsements and investments, a web of sports franchise ownership stakes, and a charity foundation, Boardroom sits down with Giannis to get an inside look at how Antetokounmpo is building out a legacy for his family name.

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Giannis and his brothers Thanasis, Kostas, and Alex Antetokounmpo attend the premiere of Disney+ “Rise” in 2022. (Cassy Athena / Getty Images)

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The Media Company 

In January, Giannis officially announced his newest venture with the formation and launch of Improbable Media. The new production company, co-founded with ESPN broadcaster Jay Williams, already boasts a host of documentaries, TV commercials, and other uplifting content in the works.

“Building the company was great and is something that, in my world, helps my life become easier,” he said. “I would love to produce a lot of things that I’m passionate and interested about, that people would love to watch.”

The company named former Fusion Media Network and Red Bull executive Jonathan Stern as its CEO. It also added the Milwaukee Bucks Director of Content Nick Monroe as its Head of Features, who has photographed, filmed and traveled extensively with Antetokounmpo over the years.

Improbable’s debut feature production is a full-length documentary on Giannis himself, dubbed The Marvelous Journey and available to watch on Amazon‘s Prime Video. He specifies that it’s been two years in the making. The film features his mother’s first extensive solo interview and provides more access to his life away from the court than ever before.

“I wanted to be myself, and I wanted people to see me not just as a basketball player,” he said. “For example, I never talk about or show my kids, and this will probably be the first time that you’ll see that.” 

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(Image courtesy of Improbable Media)

In addition to his own documentary, the company produced UGO: A Homecoming Story, a 31-minute long feature in partnership with WhatsApp following Antetokounmpo on his first visit to his family’s homeland of Nigeria.

Improbable Media is currently working on another feature-length film to share the true life story of Efe Obada, a Nigerian-born NFL player who overcame human trafficking and homelessness at the age of 10 when he and his sister moved to London. The production company is also working to co-produce content for companies like Breitling and Nike, with whom Antetokounmpo has long-term partnerships. 

With Marvelous Journey serving as the premiere piece of content from the new venture, Antetokounmpo is already seeing firsthand how shaping stories with his Improbable Media team has been able to cut through in the space. 

“In my industry, a lot of people always talk about what I had to go through and who I am as a person,” he described. “There are a lot of narratives that people create. But this is no narrative. This is me talking about the stuff we had to go through and the real journey. … Things that we had to go through in order to get here. It shows a different side of me.”

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(Image courtesy of Google Pixel)

The Endorsements & Investments 

For every generational talent in the NBA, there’s a litany of lucrative offers constantly from companies looking to partner with a player of Giannis’ stature. 

“A lot of endorsement deals come to my table, and I try to pick things that align with my brand,” Antetokounmpo says matter-of-factly of his approach. 

His “brand” has proven to be one of the more unique across the league. His family connection and pride for his loved ones are undeniably a hallmark of both his public image and his daily persona, a trait and storyline that’s shown to connect with audiences from around the globe. 

He’s also long accepted and embraced his constant goofiness, sharing near-daily dad jokes in interviews and constantly coming across as one of the league’s more natural comedians for his audience of a combined 25 million followers across Instagram, X, and TikTok on social media. 

Coupled with his underdog rise from an unknown prospect upon entering the league to a now two-time MVP and NBA champion, Antetokounmpo’s aspirational story is the ascension to greatness that brands are constantly looking to celebrate in marketing campaigns.

All of that has led to Giannis holding one of the NBA’s most expansive endorsement portfolios. 

Antetokounmpo’s collective of corporate sponsors and partners, which he has secured through his years of being represented by his agent, Alex Saratsis, features an array of global companies, including Nike, WhatsApp, Google Pixel, Degree, JBL, 2K Sports, Kronos Foods, T-Mobile, TCL, digital health insurance company Antidote, and Greece’s Aegean Airlines. 

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(Image courtesy of Starry)

Just before NBA All-Star Weekend, the All-Star Game’s leading vote-getter added yet another endorsement deal to his stable, becoming the new face of lemon-lime soda Starry, the official soft drink of the NBA. 

“I feel like I could be funny and joke around, the same way that Starry jokes around,” said Antetokounmpo of the fit. “The 30-second clip is fun, and it shows the fun side of me out there. It promotes the product in a great light, and I was happy with it.”

Under the Ante, Inc. parent company, Giannis and his family also boast a growing investment stable that now features equity in companies including Flexpower Health, Candy Funhouse, and Ready Nutrition. They also acquired a 10% stake in Hellenic Wineries, which oversees Boutari Wineries, a 100-year-old Greek legacy winery that produces both wine and natural mineral water. 

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The Antetokounpmo family.

At the start of this season, the Antetokounmpo family also launched their own AntetokounBros Shop, just adjacent to Milwaukee’s new Trade Hotel, which sits across the street from the Bucks’ home at Fiserv Forum and the city’s “Deer District.” Another AntetokounBros Shop is located within the Athens Airport, with each store featuring casual and athletic apparel celebrating the brothers of the Antetokounmpo family. 

Along with the emerging business portfolio, in 2022, the collective launched the Charles Antetokounmpo Family Foundation in honor of their late father, who passed away after a heart attack in 2017. The “global social impact foundation” has already launched several initiatives in categories including education and health. The foundation is also specifically providing resources and financial support for refugees and immigrants to help improve their living conditions, as well as widows and families facing the loss of a loved one.

Each of the efforts aligns with the Antetokounmpo family’s experiences and hardships as they established themselves in Greece and, more recently, faced the loss of Charles.

Another key pillar of the foundation’s mission is athletics, and with the launch of the AntetokounBros Academy, in partnership with Nike and the EuroHoops organization, Giannis and Co. aim to provide access to sports for youths in Milwaukee, Greece, and Africa. 

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The Shoe Deal 

Within the signature shoe business, there’s been a pricing and positioning trend in just the last decade, which Nike has been ramping up to aggressively grow the business of its handful of featured athletes. 

Several of their signature athletes actually have two signature shoes each season — their main annual “numbered” model and a “takedown” model that is priced considerably lower with a different distribution strategy. Several other brands have also utilized the strategy in recent years.

Antetokounmpo is now on the fifth model of his Zoom Freak series, priced at $140, and the third model of his Immortality sneaker, priced at $90. Since launching his own signature series with Nike in 2019, he’s been steadily building a top-five-grossing signature basketball shoe business among active NBA players, that now towers north of nine figures, thanks largely in part to his dual-model approach.

“I’m happy that my relationship with Nike has been incredible,” said Antetokounmpo. “They allow me to showcase my personality and I think our product is really, really good — one of the best in the league.”

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The Zoom Freak 5 and Immortality 3, each in the “Greece x Nigeria” colorway.

The Immortality shoe has become the best-selling sub-$100 basketball sneaker, with Nike’s first European signature athlete driving serious volume internationally and across a batch of sporting goods retailers nationwide in the US. More than 40 players have worn an Immortality shoe in the NBA this season, with the model also worn all across the EuroLeague.

“I love it,” he adds. “And I know that a lot of people around the world love it too.”

This past summer, entirely behind the scenes, Antetokounmpo was actually faced with yet another large looming contract decision — his Nike deal was set to expire in the fall of 2024.

Because of the standard 14-18-month product planning calendar that the footwear industry operates under and the success that Giannis and the brand have had to date, Nike looked to lock in a shoe deal extension well ahead of the expiration date in July 2023, so as not to interrupt the ongoing planning for the Fall 2024 season at the time. 

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The Antetokounmpo family in Guangzhou, China, in July 2023.

As a dude that specifically covers sneaker deals, a few weeks beforehand this past June, I got a DM on Instagram from Giannis himself. He was looking to give me a ring and pick my brain about the signature shoe business at large, as he weighed the new extension, just before heading to China for his latest sneaker tour with Nike.

“Man, I’m gonna give you a shout-out here, Nick,” Antetokounmpo now jokes. “For a lot of people that don’t know, me and Nick, we had a lot of conversations throughout the summer. He’s got a lot of knowledge on contract extensions and the footwear world.” 

As it turned out, he quietly and happily inked the new long-term deal that is set to make him one of the industry’s highest-earning sneaker endorsers, while also guaranteeing longevity in the sneaker game that few players achieve during their playing careers. 

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The Zoom Freak 5 was recently released in a red-and-white colorway, inspired by the shoes Thanasis would share with a young Giannis in Greece.

“It was easy for me,” he says now. “It was legacy. We talked about it. I had the opportunity to have a Giannis 10 and Giannis 15, and I don’t think there’s a lot of people that can say that. Obviously, Kobe, KD and LeBron — those are the three, and now I’m joining a list like that.”

As he’s shown throughout his tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks, his decision to extend with Nike was also powered by the connective elements of both familiarity and loyalty. 

“I pride myself on my loyalty and sticking around with the people that have supported me and given me the opportunity to be where I am today,” he described. “That’s what I tried to do.”

Giannis fondly remembers once sharing Nike shoes with his older brother Thanasis when they couldn’t both afford a pair of basketball shoes while growing up in Greece, later first inking a modest-paying shoe deal as a teenager beginning his pro career in Europe and now being one of the Swoosh’s global featured faces of the entire company. 

“Nike believed in me when I was a skinny 17-year-old kid with nothing,” he smiled. “Again, it was a no-brainer to continue this partnership and to build something great here. It’s going to last longer than me. I’m very, very happy for the extension.” 

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The Team Ownership Portfolio 

In addition to the media company, another of Antetokounmpo’s noted focuses in recent years has been his pursuit of team ownership stakes across professional leagues in the US. Since signing a supermax contract in 2019 and his most recent max extension last fall, he’s set his sights on building out an ownership portfolio across other professional sports leagues. 

Giannis and the Ante, Inc. parent company are currently minority owners across three leagues, holding equity percentages of the MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, the MLS’s Nashville SC, and the Los Angeles Golf Club of the upcoming Tiger Woods-backed Tomorrow’s Golf League. In each case, he and his brothers have entered into the ownership groups together. 

“I’m trying to do things that I’m passionate about,” he said. “The Milwaukee Brewers — it’s home. I know the best player on the team, and that was easy. Soccer, my dad played soccer, and I played soccer since I was like 11 before I focused on basketball. I’m a big, big soccer fan.”

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The Antetokounmpo brothers celebrate their Nashville SC investment. (Image courtesy of Nick Monroe)

While he admits he’s just beginning on the links, the potential and excitement around the upcoming TGL and the opportunity to take on an equity stake in one of just six of the upstart league’s franchises was too good to pass up. 

“Once I’m done with basketball, maybe I’ll get myself into golf a bit more,” he joked. “[With] golf, I’m trying to get myself together, man. [laughs] My swing is not that good, but Doc Rivers might help with that. He’s a big golf player and golf fan, so we’ll see. I’m just excited to do things that I can prep for my career for after basketball.”

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(Gary Dineen / NBAE via Getty Images)

As TV and streaming platforms continue to prioritize high-cost rights to air live sports, franchise valuations across leagues have rapidly accelerated over the last decade. There’s perhaps no better case study than the Bucks, who were purchased for $550 million in 2014, the year after Giannis’ rookie season. 

Thanks to his star power, the continued global growth of the NBA, and the Bucks’ championship run in 2021, the franchise currently boasts a valuation of over $3.2 billion. With over $400 million in combined on-court past earnings and guaranteed future contract years, and another max contract likely in store ahead, Antetokounmpo doesn’t necessarily want to estimate how much he’s helped to spike that rise in the Bucks’ overall valuation, though he’s proud of the contribution he’s certainly made. 

“I really don’t know, and I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he said. “But anyone that’s followed my journey and the Bucks’ journey will understand my impact on the team being worth $3 billion dollars — it’s big. But I really don’t care about that.

“I understand that it’s a business, and the owners gotta do what they have to do,” he continued. “I didn’t buy the team for $400 or $500 million — they did. They’re the ones that sold the team when the valuation was $3 billion. They’re businessmen, and they have to make a living. They’re good in business and good at putting value into stuff and flipping it. They’re good at putting everything together for it to be successful.”

With the experience of seeing that rise up close and in real-time, the 29-year-old has learned the value of already taking on ownership stakes in leagues he has the ability to enter now. His franchise stakes across three teams currently set him up to benefit as each league and the sporting landscape continue to grow. 

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The Legacy 

Across the myriad of moves made, companies launched, investments, and endorsements inked, Giannis doesn’t hesitate to reflect on how he’s gotten to this point and the legacy he’s looking to build for himself and his family. 

He always comes back to his father Charles, and the pride to pursue the impossible that was instilled in him early on after his family’s humble upbringing in Greece. 

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“My dad did not have nothing,” he reflects calmly, with a pause. “But he had us.”

Since 2017, Giannis has relentlessly sought to celebrate Charles’s life and impact on his children. Just afterward, he tasked the Nike design team with always including a phrase on his annual signature shoes: “I Am My Father’s Legacy.” 

“When he passed away, he didn’t leave money, cars, or houses — none of that,” continued Antetokounmpo. “But he left his legacy with me and my brothers. So we want to represent him every single day to the best of our abilities. That’s what we try to do.”

As a result, his budding business empire is shaping up not just to generate “a lot of money” for Antetokounmpo, but through his foundation, his media company, his athletics academy, and his inspiring play on the court, Giannis is already seeing just how his legacy can begin to extend around the world and make its mark in Milwaukee and beyond.

“I’m just happy that I was able to impact the city of Milwaukee,” he said.

“I believe with me being there, I provided a lot of jobs, provided excitement and have tried to help the community with my family. … We’ve been able to uplift people and help close the gaps, man, and we’re doing it with the people that we love.”

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Nick DePaula

Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.