Giannis Antetokounmpo's inspiration for some of his dad jokes comes from book an Iowa family gave him
What do you call a cow on the floor? Anybody know? Ground beef!
The enthusiasm with which Giannis Antetokounmpo has been deploying his fleet of corny "dad jokes" has added to his endearing legacy in Milwaukee, though he came especially prepared after a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 29. Before speaking to members of the media after the crucial 118-116 road victory, Giannis sat at the podium, cracked open a new book, simply titled "Dad Jokes" and offered his brief dose of bovine humor for the evening.
Giannis ended the night with 40 points, 14 rebounds, a key win and an enhanced national appreciation for his dedication to the craft of lame humor.
It turns out, though, that the story behind the book is even better.
A family that doesn't get to see Giannis play gets something even better
On March 16, Brian O’Donnell stayed up late at his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to catch the end of the game between the Bucks and the Sacramento Kings. It was a bit of superstition on his part; his three boys (Brady, 14; Blake, 12; Luke, 9) were excited to voyage to Minneapolis three days later to watch Giannis face off with the Minnesota Timberwolves. O'Donnell wanted to be absolutely sure Antetokounmpo didn't get nicked up against the Kings and would, presumably, be active when the four of them sat near the Bucks bench at the Target Center.
Brian admits he grew up a Boston Celtics fan, but his sons have taken a shine to Giannis (his wife, Jenny, hails from Wisconsin and has family ties to the state) and the family had saved for quality seats and found a rare open weekend to make the four-hour trip for a game.
The interest in the Bucks star had grown for the O'Donnells during a medical scare for Brady last summer, when his appendix ruptured on Father's Day weekend. Brian and Brady sat together in his hospital room last July and watched the Bucks beat the Nets in overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Brady was groggy enough from surgery that he wasn't sure if he'd dreamed some of the details.
"The boys did all their research and knew Giannis takes the court two hours before the game," O'Donnell said, adding that the four of them made sure to get to the game far enough in advance to see warmups. "He didn't warm up, so then all of a sudden one of the guys somewhere around me checked Bleacher Report or something, using some not-so-nice language and saying that Giannis is not playing. He's sitting out because of his knee.
"The boys were obviously pretty disappointed. I don't want to say devastated or anything; there are much bigger problems in the world than not seeing a superstar play ball, but they had planned out the week before we were going."
Indeed, the Bucks didn't have Giannis and lost, 138-119. But, there was already a silver lining.
The family had lodging just across the street from the arena, coincidentally where the Bucks were staying. As the team rolled into the hotel late the night before, the O'Donnells caught a glimpse of Bucks players checking in. And they had something for Giannis.
Instead of asking for something, the O'Donnells had the idea to give something
Brian said his three sons constantly watch YouTube videos of Giannis and were aware that he'd occasionally dole out game-worn shoes to fans. They'd also grown fond of his dad jokes.
"They were making a sign in Greek to ask for his shoes," Brian said. "My oldest son, Brady, said, 'Wouldn't it be cool, instead of asking for stuff from the NBA players, what if we got something to give to him?'"
With the dad jokes in mind, Brian decided to order "Dad Jokes" on Amazon and bring it on the trip, just in case they crossed paths with the star player. Each of the three boys inscribed a brief note on the inside cover.
"They carried it with them around for a couple days there (in Minneapolis), just in case they ran into him," Brian said.
Then, they got their chance. Brian said Giannis motioned toward the boys and allowed for a picture near the lobby. The moment passed rapidly; Brian said he didn't have a chance to offer much of an explanation behind the book when they passed it off to him.
"It was a quick, 10-second interaction, but how many people can say they're even lucky enough to get a picture?" Brian said. "The boys were disappointed (he didn't play), but we still had a great time as a family.
"It may sound corny, but that's something we talked about. We still got to sit courtside for an NBA game, got to see Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton — we're also big Notre Dame fans — and getting to see them up close was pretty darn cool. We'll try again someday to get back to another game, but we were lucky enough to have an interaction with him."
There was no telling what would happen with the book, of course. And then, 10 days later, it resurfaced.
'Dad Jokes' reappears after 76ers game
The boys were asleep during the 76ers postgame, but Brian thinks his sons have seen the YouTube clip of Giannis telling the ground beef joke, followed by his laughter, 100 times since.
"I told my wife, that's the book the boys gave Giannis,'" Brian said. "Not only did Giannis keep the book, he's using it."
His youngest son, Luke, reported that none of his friends at school believe the story that the O'Donnells gave Giannis that book.
"I can understand why they wouldn't," Brian said. "He could have gotten that from anywhere. A couple talk shows ... they're like, 'Giannis is bringing his own Dad Joke book now; he's really stepping up his game.' It was one of those surreal things."
Brian said his kids were glued to the postgame for Milwaukee's game two nights later against Brooklyn — and the boys were crestfallen that even though Giannis told another dad joke, the book wasn't present.
"But he's still telling the jokes!" Brian said.
Brian, a former high school principal who now runs his family's delivery business, said he and Brady talk a lot about Game 7 against the Nets and their time in the hospital.
"Everything (with surgery) went really well, but it had been a pretty rough weekend and was a really scary time," he said. "We're watching and rooting on the Bucks, and it's one of those moments that you'll take with you forever. The Bucks won, so it was nice to see him have some joy. Over the next three weeks, we really started rooting and watching intently."
The Bucks, of course, went on to win the NBA championship. Brian made a promise to Brady that they'd find a date on the schedule when they could catch the Bucks in person during the 2021-22 season.
They didn't get to see their guy play, but they got a story to tell forever.
"I just want to say thank you to Giannis; a simple gesture to him turned into a huge thing for my boys that they've talked about nonstop," he said, "They've called their grandparents, aunts and uncles and told all their friends at school."