Basketball

This NBA star was in Fresno and no one seemed to notice at first. Except this boy

NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo apparently was in Fresno on Tuesday, trying to blend in with the local crowd and partake in a classic Valley tradition.

It even lasted for a while as few people recognized the Milwaukee Bucks star while he attended a farmers market at River Park with his girlfriend and Fresno native Mariah Riddlesprigger.

But eventually, Antetokounmpo’s cover was blown once 12-year-old Cloud David Laurente approached the 6-foot-11 center and asked to take a photo with him.

Even Laurente, though, didn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I saw a really tall guy and his girlfriend was wearing a bucks shirt, and was I thinking ‘Is that Giannis?’ ” Laurente said. “I thought he was a fraud. Because one time when I was in Reno, I saw a guy who looked like Kevin Durant, but it wasn’t him. It was a fraud.

“I asked my dad if that really was Giannis. He told me yeah. My dad watches tons of NBA. So I knew he was right. And that really was Giannis.”

After Laurente and his little brother, Clay, took a photo with Antetokounmpo, other people eventually started to notice that they were in the presence of a basketball star and soon were asking for a photo or autograph.

Antetokounmpo, whose nickname is “The Greek Freak,” is considered a strong candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award after averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals, while also shooting 57.8 percent from the field.

“I didn’t ask for his autograph because I knew he was with his family and didn’t want to bother him,” said Laurente, who is in sixth grade. “In the beginning, no one was going up to him. But there were a lot more people who wanted to take a photo with him after I got one.

“I was pretty excited once I knew it really was him and he wasn’t a fraud. I’ve seen (NBA players) Brook and Robin Lopez before. I’ve been to Quincy Pondexter’s summer camp. But I’d never seen an MVP candidate before. Not in Fresno. It was random.”

Antetokounmpo, who lives with Riddlesprigger in Milwaukee, has been known to visit Fresno on occasion with his girlfriend’s family living here.

Riddlesprigger is a daughter of Pat Riddlesprigger, the longtime Valley basketball coach and former player at Fresno State who currently serves as Fresno Unified’s Athletics Manager.

Mariah Riddlesprigger might not be a world-class athlete like her boyfriend but she does have a sports background.

Riddlesprigger was an outside hitter on the volleyball team at Bullard High then continued to play at Rice University.

The couple has posted photos of each other on social media numerous times, dating as far back as 2016.

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Happy New Years from us!

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Between dating Riddlesprigger and being teammates with Fresno native and ex-Memorial High star Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo has been surrounded by Fresno influences this past season.

The Bucks’ postseason run came to an end late last month after they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games, falling just short of playing for the NBA championship series against the Golden State Warriors.

Bryant-Jon Anteola is a multimedia reporter for The Fresno Bee, writing stories and producing videos about sports, news and random topics relatable to those in the Fresno area. He’s won a McClatchy President’s Award and received honorable mention by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He enjoys sports because of the competition, camaraderie and energy, and views sports as a microcosm of society.
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