What Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates wear on the court has become a fashion statement even an ocean away from Milwaukee, as the Bucks’ Greek-born basketball phenom has become – along with LeBron James – the global face of the world’s No. 2 sport (behind soccer).
At the NBA Store in downtown Milan, around the corner from the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, the racks are filled with classic selections of merchandise from big-city teams with iconic brands: Chicago Bulls red, Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold, the blue and yellow of the Golden State Warriors. Even with the worst record in the league, the New York Knicks’ blue and orange remains popular.
But right there, at the front of the store, is the antlered deer and the “M” below the neckline. Milwaukee gear is selling like wildfire in Italy.
An Italian woman has picked out a black Bucks warm-up with green trim and will drop 110 euros on merchandise from a team that plays 4,500 miles away in a city that she has never visited. Success on the court has helped raise the Bucks’ profile, but for many here, it’s all about their charismatic superstar. “It is a present for my son,” she says. “He loves Giannis.”
At the Airness basketball store in Milan’s trendy Porta Nuova district, an entire wall is devoted to celebrating the Bucks, including the alternate “City Edition” jerseys in their unlikely combination of gold, red and green. “Giannis is loved for the way he plays and because he seems like a genuinely good person,” says Claudio Pavesi, who manages the store. “His jersey is bought by fans of all ages and even people who only occasionally follow basketball.”
Americans playing professional basketball abroad have noticed the Giannis effect too. Now in his sixth year of pro ball in Italy, Fond du Lac native Travis Diener has had an up-close view of his home state’s rising profile in Europe. “Giannis is everywhere in Italy,” says Diener, who played with Marquette and three teams in the NBA before taking his game to Italy. “A lot of people over here still associate Wisconsin with ‘Happy Days.’ But Giannis is putting the state on the map.”
During the Bucks’ playoff run, Antetokounmpo began wearing his own signature shoe, the Greek Freak 1 – Nike’s first designed for a foreign-born basketball player. It’s set to be released in August.
If the 1990s belonged to Michael Jordan and the Bulls, fashion-savvy Milan is signaling that the 2020s may well belong to Giannis and the Bucks.