By DEREK GATOPOULOS and THEODORA TONGAS, Associated Press
SEPOLIA, Greece (AP) – With less than a minute to play, Yiannis Tzikas was already making plastic cups to fill with champagne.
âIt’s over. No one can change this game now,â he said, his hands shaking slightly as he popped the cork.
Tzikas runs the Kivotos Cafe, where Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo used to grab a sandwich and a can of juice on his way to basketball practice as a teenager, in Sepolia, a former industrial city that has long been part of greater Athens.
In the darkness of early Wednesday, Tzikas opened up to catch Game 6 of the NBA Finals and watch the Greek Freak lead the Bucks to their first title in 50 years, beating the Phoenix Suns 105-98.
Antetokounmpo finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots and was named MVP of the series.
âThis is Giannis time. He deserved it and we’re proud of him, âTzikas said as he handed out drinks to a dozen fans who watched the game with him.
Milwaukee is eight hours behind Athens, with Game 6 starting at 4:00 a.m. local time and watched by night owl basketball fans, as well as supporters, friends and old acquaintances in Sepolia. Fans at the cafe sat brooding for the first half as Phoenix led. The crowd came alive at sunrise.
âAt the start of the season we didn’t expect this but after the (Bucks) reversed the final we could see it coming,â said Kyriacos Hager, who wore Giannis’ 34 shirt. â(Antetokounmpo) brought sporty models back to this generation. It’s no longer Giannis from Sepolia, it’s Giannis from all over the world, an inspiration to many people.
Named after Noah’s Ark, Tzikas’ cafe seems to have stood still for decades, with beige tiles, dark wood and laminate counters and panels, with an assortment of liquor bottles alongside. a coffee machine – and a wall of framed Antetokounpmo Family memorabilia, signed jerseys and basketballs from the Bucks and the Greek national team.
It’s a few blocks from where Antetokounmpo and his basketball co-star brothers Thanasis, Kostas and Alex grew up with their Nigerian parents, who gave their four boys Greek names.
Tzikas said Giannis always stopped at a cafe when visiting Greece, adding that this had not changed with the fame.
âHe was always simple, humble and polite and when he grew up he never forgot where he started,â he said. âHe had a lot against him. He was poor and he was a different color from the rest of us and he did … He owed no one nothing, it was all him and his family. He believed in his dream and he made it happen.
After the match was over, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted: âUnbelievable Giannis! The Greeks celebrate everywhere!
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