Giannis Antetokounmpo has plenty of raw talent - but he's no Eddie Murphy
theScore

Warning: Story contains coarse language.

Days before training camp for the 2017-18 season began, Giannis Antetokounmpo had a message for his Milwaukee Bucks teammates: he was going to tell a really good joke on media day.

"Everybody knew it would be kind of corny," Bucks guard Khris Middleton told theScore. "But we were hoping it would finally be a good joke this time."

When he took the microphone on media day, Antetokounmpo proceeded to tell a joke about American songwriter Trey Songz, before adding, "I had one about a mustache, but I'll shave it for later."

Antetokounmpo also interrupted former teammate Rashad Vaughn's media availability to tell another joke.

"Have you guys seen the new movie Constipation?" he asked. "No? That's because it hasn't come out yet."

The jokes mostly drew laughs from Antetokounmpo himself, and no one else.

"He failed us all," Middleton said, still shaking his head at the memory of it months later.

In his fifth season, Antetokounmpo has made the leap from raw talent - pardon the Eddie Murphy pun - to Most Valuable Player candidate, averaging 27.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists with 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Milwaukee is the team nobody wants to face in the first round, largely thanks to Antetokounmpo's individual brilliance and his ability to take over a series by himself.

On the court, the 23-year-old can seemingly do whatever he wants, doing things on a nightly basis that makes you wonder not if, but when he will be the best player in the league. Away from the basketball floor, Antetokounmpo's playful personality and fun-loving attitude is something his teammates genuinely enjoy.

"He's a ball of energy," Middleton said.

But when it comes to his sense of humor, that's when the criticism comes. "(Some of the jokes) you chuckle a little bit," guard Sterling Brown said. "A lot of them, you're like, 'oh, OK, alright, that was funny.' It takes a minute."

Because Antetokounmpo is so serious when he's on the floor, teammates are often caught off guard by his jokes.

"His sense of humor is just awkward," teammate Jason Terry said. "He's so focused and locked in, he'll be stone-faced, and next thing you know, you look over and he tells a joke out of nowhere, and I'm like, 'you were just about to fucking kill someone (on the court).' It's very spontaneous. You don't see it coming."

Antetokounmpo started playing basketball in 2008 and came to America to learn a completely new culture in 2013 after he was drafted 15th overall by Milwaukee.

Teammates introduced him to movies like "Coming to America" and "Next Friday." He went to Walmart for the first time and was so fascinated by the size of the store he started riding on one of its mobile carts.

Antetokounmpo tried a smoothie for the first time. He counted Drake, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Big Sean as his favorite hip-hop artists - although former video coordinator Ross Geiger had to tell him which lyrics he was allowed to sing in public.

Five years after being drafted, Antetokounmpo has accumulated enough knowledge that he has flipped the script and is now teaching his teammates a thing or two.

"When he first came here, he didn't really speak English too well," Middleton said. "Now, he's teaching us slang words."

Antetokounmpo has continued to embrace core tenets of American culture. This season, he has become particularly drawn to wrestling, a sport he grew up watching in Greece. He found another avid wrestling fan in rookie D.J. Wilson, and the two of them started going back and forth about their favorite wrestling memories growing up. In December, they attended a WWE show together in Toronto along with Tony Snell and Vaughn.

The Bucks star has also learned how to tell really bad jokes the past few seasons.

At media day in 2016, he told a knock-knock joke about Celine Dion's 1996 hit song "All By Myself" in which he referenced Barack Obama. While it appears Antetokounmpo is spending a lot of time on the internet looking up jokes to tell his teammates, he insists that is not the case.

"I've always been the clown of the class," Antetokounmpo said.

So, what has been the overall feedback from teammates on his jokes?

"I don't think they really like them," Antetokounmpo said, smiling. "But that's because they don't have a sense of humor."

Bucks forward John Henson had a wry response to that: "He was funnier when he was younger."

Henson is one of several teammates who has a word of advice for how Antetokounmpo can get better.

"Gauge what kind of crowd you've got before you tell your joke," he said.

Middleton was more direct.

"Get better jokes," he said.

None of this has deterred Antetokounmpo, however.

After all, it took just a decade after learning about the sport of basketball for him to become one of the best players in the world. Surely, making his teammates laugh on a regular basis won't take that long.

In January, Antetokounmpo pulled off his most elaborate joke yet.

After Brown had been slacking off on his rookie duties, which includes grabbing towels for teammates after practice and making sure there are playing cards and speakers for music on team flights, Antetokounmpo decided to teach the rookie a lesson.

After practice, Brown left to go pick up his car in the parking lot and something didn't feel right.

"As I walked out of the building, I had a sense," Brown said. "There was a funny vibe in the air. I just didn't know exactly what it was."

When he got to his car, Brown found it filled with popcorn, thanks to Antetokounmpo.

Brown spent two hours cleaning out his car and had to get his vehicle detailed three times, but he took the rookie prank in stride, and was complimentary of his teammate's joke (perhaps because Antetokounmpo has threatened further punishment this season if he continues to slack).

"Giannis likes to joke around and have fun," Brown said. "He's an upbeat guy and it’s great to have."

While his jokes remain hit or miss, Terry doesn't want Antetokounmpo to change a thing about his sense of humor. After all, the balance between his seriousness on the court and his playfulness off the court is working just fine.

"He should keep doing what he's doing," Terry said. "We like the focus."

What has impressed Terry the most is how seamlessly Antetokounmpo has fit into a new country and a new lifestyle.

"I see his family, his infrastructure, and the support system that he has here,” Terry said. "It's made it easier for him. Dirk (Nowitzki) had a similar thing. That's the hardest thing for foreign players is not having family around. Forget the food, the jokes, and everything else, just not having someone who is just like you is the hardest part."

Still, in a season in which he has become one of the best players in the league, teammates are still hoping he can improve his sense of humor, although that might have to wait until at least next season.

In the visitors' locker room after a win over Toronto in which he scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and added six assists, Antetokounmpo had a theory as to why his teammates don't laugh at his jokes.

"You know what I say," he said, pausing for effect. "My jokes are too smart. They don't get them."

He then broke into laughter.

"See, that was a good one, huh?"

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Sports on Earth, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has plenty of raw talent - but he's no Eddie Murphy
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