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What NBA great Giannis Antetokounmpo’s winning mindset teaches us about thriving under pressure: ‘Failure is something that we have created’



Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks star forward, says there’s no secret to staying calm under pressure. Instead, the NBA player works on quieting the noise and mastering his mindset—through discipline, focus, and humility, he says. 

“I just keep on learning,” Antetokounmpo tells Fortune in a sit-down interview during an event this week on how to master the The Lean Mindset hosted by GE in New York City. “How can I help myself be more efficient? How can I help my team be successful? How can I engage with my teammates?”

Asking questions when things don’t always go well has helped Antetokounmpo turn setbacks into learning opportunities. In many ways, learning is his antidote to failure—something other leaders have championed as a way to excel in an organization or team. 

“Failure does not exist,” he says. “Failure is something that we have created. What exists is that we did not accomplish our goals.” Kobe Bryant honed in on this same ethos during his career, saying how he neither loves to win nor hates to lose. He said, “Failure doesn’t exist…the story continues.” 

Antetokounmpo has been known for his powerful mindset, grit, and candor in interviews throughout his career. In an interview earlier this year after the NBA playoffs, Antetokounmpo said, “Some days it’s your turn. Some days it’s not your turn.” 

 ‘Keep fighting

Antetokounmpo went pro as the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Now at 28, Antetokounmpo has established himself as a legend in the league. He held the award for MVP for two consecutive seasons, becoming the 12th player in NBA history to win the award back-to-back. In 2021, he led the Bucks to a title championship for the first time in 50 years and is considered one of the best players of the game. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game Six to win the 2021 NBA Finals on July 20, 2021.

Andrew D. Bernstein via Getty

Even with his hard-earned accolades, Antetokounmpo tells Fortune the pressure to stay on top has not overwhelmed him. He ironically credits his shortfalls for keeping him grounded.  

“There’s going to be ups and downs in whatever you do. There’s going to be times when you win the game. There’s going to be times when you lose the game, but at the end of the day, I’m going to always keep on fighting, keep on trying to improve, and that has never let me down,” he says. “It’s proven to work.”

Learn from ‘dull moments’ 

Antetokounmpo says he expects “50 more dull moments” in his life. 

“Looking back, all of the dull moments I’ve had in my career, that’s where I came back stronger and I got the best,” he says. “I know that for those low moments in my life, I’m going to learn and I’m going to improve to jump into the next chapter … Adversity is always good. I’m a big believer of that.” He credits his upbringing for his mindset. He has often opened up about his family, whom he supported and brought over from Greece to live with him, per a recent NYT article. Together, they launched a foundation, supporting social impact organizations in Greece, Nigeria, and the U.S. 

Antetokounmpo admits he’s always been a people pleaser, but as he’s grown in the game over the last decade, he’s had to learn only to control what he can. 

“I try to be successful and I care about other people,” he says. “But at the end of the day … I can’t control what people say about me, their thoughts [or] their actions.”

He adds, “I go out there and try to be the best version of myself every time I have a chance.” 

Antetokounmpo admits it’s not easy to keep a strong mindset amid hardship. He credits his close-knit circle, teammates, and coaches who not only support him but push, challenge, and check him. 

“If you wake up every single day and you stay locked in, you stay in the present as much as you can, and keep it moving forward, keep on learning, there are always steps to success,” he says. “That is the approach I’ve had. It’s very hard to do that, but it’s possible.” 

His advice for others who aim to adopt his mindset? 

“Try again tomorrow,” he says. 

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