- Books & Biceps
- 💪Books & Biceps - Issue 267
💪Books & Biceps - Issue 267
Giannis, Stallone, the Dice Man and Life Wisdom at the Dentist's Office
Welcome to Books & Biceps #267! If you’re a new reader, add your e-mail with the subscribe button below to make sure you get next week’s issue:
Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA Champion by Mirin Fader
On Wednesday afternoon the Milwaukee Bucks pulled off a blockbuster trade, bringing in future Hall of Famer Damian Lillard to pair with their own future HOFer, Giannis Antetokounmpo. I still think my Celtics are better, but the trade reminded me of the great biography of Giannis that Mirin Fader wrote a few years ago - and if you haven’t read it, whether you’re an NBA fan or not, you’ll find his life’s story to be remarkable.
Or, as the subtitle says, “improbable”. This is a super overused word, but when it comes to Giannis, and more importantly his personal story and the story of his family, that’s the word. It’s a bullseye. The story of where and how he grew up to where he is today makes no logical sense and could not have been predicted. Ever.
But it can be told. And thankfully, it was told expertly by one of my favorite writers, Mirin Fader, in her first biography: Giannis.
Mirin and I connected on Twitter a ways back when I was wrapping up a very late night of writing towards the end of ‘1996’ and she was just getting started on Giannis. (NOTE: There’s a special corner of late-night Twitter where writers post random writing thoughts after midnight, on deadline, and we try to encourage each other to keep writing. The book… will… be… done… one…. day.)
I asked Mirin if she’d connect for a Books & Biceps Q&A when Giannis was released and she agreed. Of course, nobody knew then what the publishing Gods had in store for her back in 2021…
The Bucks would make the Finals. Giannis would make the leap to icon status and he’d become a Finals MVP… all just a few weeks before the book was slated to come out (August 10th of 2021).
From an author perspective, it’s the absolute perfect storm of publicity and timing and it was awesome to see. Even more awesome is this great peak behind-the-scenes of Mirin’s writing process and the book itself. Enjoy!
Finkel: In order to have readers truly appreciate how far Giannis has come, you have to anchor the story in his past and describe what his childhood was like. When writing this book, what did you do to get a feel for the Greece of his youth and what were some ways you familiarized yourself with what it was like for him.
Fader: My goal with every story (and now book) is to treat 'place' as a character of its own. You want the reader to understand what the place looked like, smelled like, felt like. I was supposed to go to Athens in order to do that reporting, but, with Covid-19, I had to cancel those plans.
However, I interviewed 221 people, many of them Greeks who live in Athens, and in Sepolia, the neighborhood Giannis grew up in, to get a real sense of what that place was like. I also hired a researcher on the ground in Sepolia, who would send me videos and take photos of different cities for me. I was interested in everything: the church Giannis and his brothers grew up in (I interviewed the priest), cafes (interviewed owners), basketball courts (interviewed friends), his schools (interviewed teachers). When I set out to write the book, I really wanted to make sure readers felt like they were there.
So much of Giannis' past is unknown: we essentially know only the outline of his life, as in, he grew up very poor, and somehow transcended into a global icon and NBA MVP. This book really aims to be the connective tissue between childhood and adulthood, all of the anecdotes and life experiences that show how his childhood shaped him into the person, man, and player he is today.
Giannis' story is the modern story of basketball in Milwaukee and to understand that, you've said you talked to longtime Bucks fans about what the team means to the city. What part of the Bucks hoops culture did you find the most fascinating?
I loved talking to Bucks fans. What I told them when I set out to interview them was, I want you to feel seen in this book. Bucks fans have gone through A LOT. They stuck by this team, and loved this team, through years of awful ownership, losses, and mediocrity. It was so critical to me to understand how Milwaukee basketball came to be. I found fascinating this threat of "leaving." Ever since the Bucks' inception, when they left for Atlanta, there was this perception of, 'Basketball can't work in Milwaukee.' Then they get a team again, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar leads them to glory, only to leave. Again, this concept of leaving.
So I found it really fascinating to ask Bucks fans what that wound of leaving meant to them, felt like to them. How Kareem leaving was so tied to whether or not Giannis stayed. I could feel the love and elation in Bucks fans when Giannis decided to stay. It was a city that hasn't had a player want them, choose them, in so long, and it meant the world to include those perspectives in my book. The common thing I'd hear from Bucks fans was: "We love Giannis because we feel like we watched him grow up. We grew up with him." You don't see that too much in the modern NBA.
While you were writing/researching this book, what is the one story/person/event you uncovered about Giannis that made you do a double take - like, OH MY GOSH, I can't believe that actually happened!
Learning about his rookie year and how incredibly lonely Giannis was shocked me. I think during his rookie year, he was framed as such a feel-good story, because he was discovering smoothies and American slang and it looked like, from the outside, he was having a ball. He was always pictured smiling, laughing. America fell in love with him and found him endearing and adorable and easy to root for.
But when Alex, Giannis' youngest brother, told me that Giannis was so lonely, and so sad, and so lost, that he nearly quit the NBA, by telling him: If you (and the rest of the family) can't come over here to America I'm going back to Greece." I had no idea he was suffering that much inside. Certainly those outside the organization didn't know either. I mean, what if his family couldn't get the VISA's to come to America? Would Giannis truly have gone back to Greece, and the Greek Freak would have never taken off? Fascinating to think about.
Who was the most interesting person you interviewed for the book that most people have never heard of before and why?
The most interesting person I interviewed that most haven't heard of is Rahman Rana. He was a close friend of Giannis' growing up in Sepolia, as he, too, played for Filathlitikos for a period of time. Rana, who is of Pakistani descent, described to me the racism that Giannis (and Rana himself) faced, as boys of color in often white spaces. This part of Giannis' story is often swept under the rug, but Rana described moments where Giannis and his brothers were faced with this kind of discrimination.
Through Rana, I was able to find other childhood friends who were also boys of color, who did not grow up and have the kind of privilege and success Giannis was able to, because unlike Giannis, they were never granted citizenship papers or passports or opportunities to ascend. I included those stories in order for readers to understand just how improbable Giannis' rise was. Had he not gotten citizenship, he likely would have a similar trajectory to other boys of color in Athens.
No workout or get jacked tip this week. Instead, we’re talking about the heart foundation (not the Hart Foundation with Bret Hart, which we’ll get to at some point I’m sure).
Nope. We’re talking hearts. The muscle that beats in your chest.
Why? Because while having strong biceps is awesome, you know what’s more important? Having a powerful heart. And for any dudes reading this in their 20s or even 30s, it’s likely not something you think about on a regular basis…
But when you get into your 40s… well… with regular blood tests and cholesterol tests and hearing stories of some of your buddies having heart issues, the topic is tough to avoid. Not that you think about it every day, but it sort of thrums along in the background of your brain.
How is my heart? Am I doing enough to keep it strong? What don’t I know?
“Find Out How Far the Disease Has Already Progressed
Bad news. Even if you’re young you’ve already likely got some evidence of plaque accumulating in your arteries. The key is to keep it to a minimum for as long as possible. But knowing where you’re starting from is helpful.
Here are the tests that Attia recommends:
CT calcium scan - This is a quick and easy scan with very limited radiation. It can give you a calcium “score” which indicates how much plaque is already accumulated in your arteries. It’s not an exact science but a higher than expected score could be an indication you need more tests.
What I’m doing: I got this done. My doctor ordered it but it wasn’t covered by insurance. It was $200 out of pocket. It took less then one minute. My score, for what it’s worth, was zero. That doesn’t mean my risk is zero but it is the score I should have been hoping for.
CT angiogram - This is a more involved scan with contrast and potential exposure to more radiation (though I understand with newer machines this is quite limited). This gives a more accurate and thorough assessment of plaque build-up in the arteries.
What I’m doing: I did not get this done. My doctor would not order it based on my risk factors. If I were to have worrying cardio signs, I would insist on this. Without insurance coverage, it’s on the pricey side, roughly $2000, but like I said (and like Attia talks about) it’s a much more accurate picture of what’s going on.
Stress echo exam - This test measures how your heart is actually functioning under stress - which means walking fast on an inclined treadmill for 10-15 minutes.
What I’m doing: I got this done even though it probably wasn’t necessary. It was not covered by insurance (as they deemed it unnecessary for me) and it cost $400 out of pocket. My #’s were normal but I got some additional info from this including some insight into my own cardio fitness.”
If you’re into any of this, I recommend checking out the rest of Greg’s email. He goes over what’s recommended, what’s realistic and what he’s trying. Really eye-opening stuff. In short, fellas, take care of your heart. You can read Greg’s e-mail here.
The absolute last place on earth I would expect to receive deep life wisdom is at the dentist’s office. And to be even more specific: in the dentist’s office waiting room.
But a chance encounter with an incredible almost 90-year-old man has been on my mind since Tuesday. Here’s a ver short story (2 minute read) that will have you thinking for a long time. Read it here:
And I came across this photo below doing research on my Macho Man biography. Was looking for a photo of Macho in the gym with other celebs… and somehow found this shot of Stallone and Dice with Zubaz and a cigarette in 1990 after going to Gold’s Gym. So awesome:
🔥NEW: Book Recs from the Crew
The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen
Recommended by: Justin Floyd
Rags-to-riches tale of Samuel Zemurray, a Russian immigrant who became a powerful and controversial figure in the banana trade, ultimately controlling vast sways of Central America. Gives you a peek into Zemurray’s clever but ruthless world, showing how his banana business changed lands, politics, and lives… I recommend it. Even buy it for friends.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Recommended by: Iain Fraser
This book is a must read for those in positions of authority and power, who want to lead and at the same time act with humility. Turn up, do the work and seek not praise. Lead by example.
NOTE: If you’d like to recommend a book that you think we’d like, reply to this e-mail with the book, author, and 2 sentences about why you loved it and we would too. And feel free to include your name and any social media handles you’d want to be included.
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Did you know I wrote the only book that ranks every single president athletically? Zero politics. Just sports. Check out Jocks in Chief: The Ultimate Countdown Ranking the Most Athletic Presidents, from the Fight Crazy to the Spectacularly Lazy.
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Have a great weekend! - Jon
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