The New York Times published an excerpt Tuesday morning from a biography of Giannis Antetokounmpo written by prominent athlete profiler Mirin Fader. There are some anecdotes in this excerpt—not as many as in this raucous, wonderful blog from Jayson Jenks of The Athletic, from back in November—but they’re choked in a sweaty single-minded quest to present everything from Giannis’s NBA rise—everything: his shoes, his diet, his choice of friends, his video games, the poofiness of the literal pillows on his bed—as a symbol of the noble and heart-rending transatlantic journey from poverty to superstardom. It’s a little much.
One anecdote from Fader’s excerpt stands out. It’s the story of a time when Giannis was riding shotgun in the vehicle of Bucks assistant video coordinator Ross Geiger during a Milwaukee blizzard. Driving conditions were poor and unsafe, until Giannis did something that sounds at the very least extraordinary, and possibly superhuman:
One night, as they were leaving the Cheesecake Factory near 11 p.m., a heavy snow was falling, the beginning of a blizzard. Inches and inches of snow had already piled up outside as Antetokounmpo and Geiger headed to the car. The windshield wipers furiously whipped back and forth, but the snow pelted down so hard Geiger couldn’t see. At all.
Geiger pulled over. “Don’t pull over,” Antetokounmpo said. “We keep going.” Antetokounmpo, still buckled into his seat, took his right arm, towel in hand, and lunged forward and stretched his massive wingspan all the way over to Geiger’s side, serving as a human windshield wiper, cleaning each side every 30 seconds. Geiger could see enough to make it home.New York Times
If I’m reading this right, Giannis extended his right arm out the window of Geiger’s vehicle, reached across the width of the windshield, and wiped fast-accumulating snow from Geiger’s line of sight, while safely buckled into the vehicle’s passenger seat. Anyone who has watched even one minute of Antetokounmpo’s Bucks career has remarked on the incredible length of his limbs, but this sounds beyond even his capabilities. Inspector Gadget could do it. Stretch Armstrong could do it. Could a real-life human being do it? Just how many arm joints does this young man possess?
To understand how this might be possible, first we must engage our math brains. According to this 2016 story from Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN, Giannis’s wingspan measures an impressive 7-foot-3, and his hands measure an incredible 12 full inches from thumb tip to pinky tip. According to this image of Giannis touching the rim and the floor at the same time, his standing reach must be somewhere close to 10 feet. That last part isn’t super relevant but I find it incredible, as a person who would have to be launched from a trebuchet in order to touch the rim of a regulation basket. The man has some serious length.
In order to understand whether a person with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 12-inch hands can function as an effective windshield wiper while seated inside a motor vehicle, the next piece of information we will require is the width of a car’s windshield. According to this page on the NBA’s website, back in 2014 Giannis was learning to drive using the 1997 Subaru Outback of none other than Bucks assistant video coordinator Ross Geiger. It seems safe to assume this is the vehicle in question, although Geiger refers to it as a 1998 Subaru Outback in Jenks’s blog, leaving open the amusing possibility that our man upgraded from a 1997 Outback to a 1998 Outback, some time between 2013 and 2015.
I do not have a 1997 Subaru Outback, but I do have a Ford Focus, which strikes me as a perfectly average motor vehicle. A rummage through my basement revealed that I also have one (1) standard tape measure, which I used to determine that the windshield of my perfectly average Ford Focus goes something like 54 ⅝ inches from end to end. It’s surprisingly difficult to measure one’s own wingspan, but a sincere effort yielded a measure of something like 64 inches. From the interior of my sweltering hot Ford Focus, I found that I was able to reach my hand out the passenger window and touch the top corner of the passenger’s side of the windshield (Figure 1, Point 1); by leaning way forward and reaching with all my might, I was able to touch a spot roughly six inches further down the windshield and maybe three inches closer to the middle (Figure 1, Point 2).
Had I been the passenger in Geiger’s car that night, and had he been driving a Ford Focus, and had I successfully convinced him to plow onward through the snow storm instead of pulling over to wait it out, we quite simply would’ve pinwheeled the car into a ditch and died of exposure. Giannis has a good 23 inches on me, reach-wise, and more than a foot of height, but even with all that it’s hard to imagine him making it all the way across that diagram up there with his huge fuckin’ hands. Perhaps the specific shape of a 1997 Subaru Outback makes this feat possible in a way that it is not in a Ford Focus? Maybe the Outback has little teeny baby dimensions?
For help with that question I contacted the home office of Safelite AutoGlass, a vehicle glass repair company whose friendly jingle—Safelite repair, Safelite replace—comes to mind whenever I think of auto glass, which turns out isn’t very often but is also more than you might expect. First I followed their website’s instructions and sent a text message to their automated system; the automated reply thanked me for choosing Safelite and instructed me to call an 800 number and speak to a parts specialist; the 800 number supplied by the automated system directed me to a very confused scheduling representative. I explained my predicament, we sat in silence for several awkward seconds, and then she transferred me to a local Safelite shop, to speak to a technician. That technician, Kim, must be the most patient auto glass professional in the entire industry: After hearing my story, she devoted whole minutes of her life to tracking down the dimensions of the windshield of a 1997 or 1998 Subaru Outback, in order to help determine whether Giannis Antetokounmpo could effectively wipe the exterior of one from the interior of the vehicle. Her findings: The windshield of a 1998 model Subaru Legacy Outback (the best she could manage under the circumstances) measures 36.80 inches in height by a whopping 57.30 inches in width. Maybe not the freakish measurements of your modern sport utility vehicle, but certainly a significantly larger piece of glass than the one on the front of my suddenly embarrassingly tiny-seeming Ford Focus (Figure 2). Even for someone as huge as Giannis, this seems like too much surface area. Kim declined to give an opinion on whether the feat described in Fader’s profile is possible, as presented.
The issue is less that the man’s arm could reach across a 57-inch windshield than that in order to do so he would have to use both his forearm and his upper arm, otherwise we are talking about a 50-plus inch forearm. In order to get his full arm out of the car and across the windshield, the joint in play would have to be his shoulder, which would need to be pressed against the vehicle’s A-pillar. This presents troubling questions about where Giannis’s head would be in this scenario. Smushed dangerously against the interior of the windshield? Fully outside the car, like a goofy dog, during an arctic vortex and in blizzard conditions? I do not like to picture the reigning Finals MVP in either of these configurations.
The Defector staff was divided on whether the details of this anecdote added up. There were those who insisted the “stretching” of Giannis’s “massive wingspan” was in service of reaching across the center console and flicking Geiger’s windshield defrost into the “on” position. Then there were those who felt that with the proper extension of the seatbelt and a significant lunge Giannis could perhaps whack at the snow on Geiger’s side of the windshield with a flailing towel. From both sides there was broad agreement that not enough care was taken in describing the scene from that fateful night, especially for a claim as incredible as this. Simply do not tell me that a human man cleaned the driver’s side of a car’s windshield every 30 seconds in a blizzard while buckled into the passenger seat without explaining precisely how this was managed! That the man has a “massive wingspan” will not suffice!
One thing is certain: If Giannis truly did pull this off, there are some genuinely far-flung areas of the car he should similarly find within reach. My car’s front right wheel is just 30 inches from the front corner of the passenger side window. Hell, for that matter, the right rear wheel is just about 52 inches from the window! The very bottom of the car is just 36 inches from the bottom of the window. Could Giannis clean the entire passenger side of my car while seated comfortably inside the vehicle? The distance to the fuel door is just 56 inches! Could he complete all steps of the refueling of my car while simultaneously checking his teeth for gunk in the rearview mirror? Truly the mind boggles at the possibilities.