Celtics

NBA author explained how Greek fans heckled Danny Ainge when he scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013

"One of my favorite interviews was actually learning about the Celtics' interest in Giannis and traveling to Greece."

Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge announces his retirement from his role as President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics during a press conference at the Auerbach Center in Boston on June 2, 2021. Auerbach Center

Among the myriad of historical “what if” moments for the Celtics over the last decade, one of the more interesting scenarios involves Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Though he’s now a two-time league MVP, Antetokounmpo was largely unknown coming into the NBA draft in 2013. That year, Boston held the 16th pick in the draft, and experts projected a wide range of potential options that then-president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might select.

Antetokounmpo was seen as a mid-to-late first-round pick, and was a person who the Celtics scouted.

In researching her upcoming book, “Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP,” NBA writer Mirin Fader learned more about Boston’s scouting trips to Greece before the draft.

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Fader recently shared an Ainge anecdote with A. Sherrod Blakely on the “A-List Podcast.”

“One of my favorite interviews was actually learning about the Celtics’ interest in Giannis and traveling to Greece,” said Fader. “Austin Ainge told me, ‘Look if we had known Giannis would grow like two inches once he got to the NBA, obviously this would be a different story. He would not have fallen where he had fallen to [in the draft].'”

Fader also shared a humorous story from when a Greek crowd learned who was in attendance during one of the team’s games.

“Learning about the time Danny Ainge came to Greece and he came to a road game in a place called Volos. The fans were heckling him,” Fader explained. “They don’t know who he is at first. They think Danny Ainge is an opposing Greek [general manager]. Then they find out he’s Danny Ainge, and then they start screaming insults and curses, and then they start screaming ‘Lakers,’ and then he realizes they’re making fun of him because they realize he’s Danny Ainge.”

Ainge, as Fader notes, took the crowd’s reaction in stride. As someone who once gave himself the nickname “El Terrible” during a Celtics preseason trip to Spain in 1988, the former Celtics player and executive never shied away from “being that guy.”

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In an earlier interview with Boston Herald reporter Steve Bulpett in 2019, Ainge discussed the trip to see Antetokounmpo in Greece.

“From when I saw him play in Greece in a couple of Division 2 games to where he is now is just mind-boggling and unimaginable,” said Ainge. “It’s a great credit to him. I mean, obviously he has great physical tools, but he also has an incredible work ethic and joy for the game.”

The Celtics eventually traded up in the 2013 draft to select Kelly Olynyk with the 13th pick, with Antetokounmpo falling to the Bucks at the 15th pick.

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As for why Boston passed on the future MVP, Ainge noted the Antetokounmpo’s growth.

“We all liked him,” Ainge told Bulpett. “All of us had seen him. I think I saw him in maybe January, but by the time that he was drafted that same year, he was I think two or three inches taller and maybe 10 or 15 pounds heavier. And he was even bigger the year after Milwaukee drafted him. But he was just a really skinny kid that had no outside game, and he looked like a kid that just needed a long time to develop.”

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