Over one hundred years have passed since the first basketball team was founded in Greece.
It all began when a group of young men who were members of Thessaloniki‘s Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), started playing the famous game for fun and then decided to form a team.
It turned out that this was not only the first team in Thessaloniki but the first anywhere in the country.
A photograph from that inaugural year, now exhibited in YMCA’s museum of basketball in Thessaloniki, depicts a group of young men playing the game in an open area of the city.
Instead of a basket, the men used a seatless upside-down chair, showing their eagerness to play their beloved game despite the lack of infrastructure in that period.
Debate about when first basketball team in Greece was formed
However, some people argue that basketball came to Thessaloniki a year before, in 1919.
There are reports of American nationals, who were members of the American branch of the YMCA, coming to Thessaloniki to support the American soldiers who fought alongside Greeks during WWI.
These Americans are believed to have brought the game to Greece, as basketball was already widespread and very popular in the US at the time.
It was in 1891 when the Canadian James Naismith, a physical education teacher and instructor at the International YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented basketball, while he was trying to keep his young men busy.
In no time, basketball started gaining ground in Greece and became increasingly popular in Thessaloniki.
Members of both the Greek and the American YMCA created an area in the Pedion tou Areos park in Athens so that young men could play the new game.
In 1923, the first basketball stadium in Greece was planned, in what is now known as ”Mikis Tsikinas” Sports Center and the Basketball Museum of Thessaloniki.
Since then, basketball has gained millions of fans in Greece, with both the Greek national basketball team and the country’s clubs winning numerous major competitions.
The Greek Freak brings Greece to the forefront of the sport
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the kid from Sepolia, Greece who once sold watches and sunglasses on the streets of Athens to survive, became the King of basketball on July 20, 2021 after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the first NBA title in half a century.
Behind 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks from their superstar forward, the Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns to win the franchise first championship since 1971 on their home court.
It is a remarkable achievement for Antetokounmpo, who started out life by hawking merchandise in the streets of Athens. From an impoverished background to stardom, Antetokounmpo is now living the American Dream — like millions of other Greeks who emigrated to the US over the centuries.
Before winning the NBA title, the 26-year-old won back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in 2019 and 2020, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to win two MVPs before turning 26.