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“Old soul” Antetokounmpo still hungry entering 10th NBA season

Disney+ "Rise" Los Angeles Premiere

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 22: Giannis Antetokounmpo attends Disney+ “Rise” Los Angeles Premiere at Walt Disney Studios Main Theater on June 22, 2022 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering his 10th NBA season.

Which doesn’t sound right. The Antetokounmpo fans love is still a child at heart — the guy who celebrates a title by going to Chick-fil-A and ordering 50 nuggets. The guy who smiles big on the court and tells dad jokes at the end of every press conference. The guy who goes to the White House with Joe Biden and jokes he will run for president in 2024 with his brother Thanasis and call themselves “Antetokounbros.”

It doesn’t feel like a decade. Giannis Antetokounmpo still plays the game and lives life with child-like joy.

Yet the calendar doesn’t lie, this season will be 10 years in the league.

“I’m an old soul, Antetokounmpo told NBC Sports. “Like, in my mind I feel like I’ve been a vet five years now. But like my body... I have so much energy. I’m so hungry to accomplish more. I want to go out there and help you know my team in the best way possible. And a lot of people know that I’m a winner. I love to win. I love to go out there and leave everything on the court.

“But definitely I agree with you that people don’t think I’ve been 10 years in the league and they see me as kind of the young guy. You know the new guy on the block but it’s okay, you know, but at the end of the day, I won’t go out there and do the best job possible and try to win games.”

In that decade Antetokounmpo has changed and evolved, especially physically. Antetokounmpo is not the scrawny kid who got pushed around when he entered the NBA, now he is a physical force like few others in the Association.

“I definitely feel different,” Antetokounmpo said. “When I was 18 I was eating cheeseburgers and drinking Mountain Dews and, you know, sodas, but as you as you grow older, you realize that you want to have a long life and a healthy life. And I definitely take care of my body as much as I can. I invest in myself. The best investment you can do is in yourself, to invest in yourself.”

Antetokounmpo also built himself into a brand over the past decade — to borrow a Jay-Z line, “he’s a business, man.” However, for him, that has to be personal as well. His latest venture is with Antidote Health, an Israeli telemedicine startup, where Antetokounmpo is both the company’s ambassador and an investor. Like seemingly everything in his life, this is not a cold, calculated investment for Antetokounmpo.

“It’s definitely personal. We share the same mission…" Antetokounmpo said. “Growing up in Greece. We didn’t have access to [doctors], you know, there were a lot of situations a lot of times that my dad was terrified to go to the hospital. He was terrified of the doctor’s visit. He was terrified to just go talk to the doctors, to take a hospital visit [because of the bill]... No matter where you’re from, what your circumstances is, where you live, what do you, I believe like you should have access to health care. You should be able to have that doctor, go to a hospital visit. I believe it’s a human right.”

Antetokounmpo has grown in other ways over the past decade — he is the father now to two sons, Liam and Maverick, and that will change anyone’s perspective. It makes him think of the security he can provide them, the legacy he leaves for them, both on the court and in the world (hence his focus on healthcare).

But Antetokounmpo is still a kid at heart — you can see it in his face as he plays with his brothers this summer representing Greece in EuroBasket.

Playing with that child-like mindset and joy is something Kobe Bryant talked to him about when Antetokounmpo worked out with the legend.

“I really am not one of those persons to, you know, kind of share our conversation. But yeah, he talked a little bit about it. You know, just being a kid. Always be curious. Always ask questions,” Antetokounmpo said. “Always trying to improve and he did that until he was 38 years old and even after basketball he was trying to always improve.”

If Antetokounmpo improves any more it should terrify the league — he is a two-time MVP, a Finals MVP, and is the best basketball player on the face of the earth right now.

And while he may be an old soul, he’s still just a kid at heart.