‘Rise’ is Set to Highlight Family Over Basketball

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Rise - But Why Tho

Michael Jordan. Wilt Chamberlain. LeBron James. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Bird. Kobe Bryant.  All names synonymous with basketball royalty across multiple generations. As players like Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Ja Morant, and a host of other younger players begin to etch their own legacies in basketball history, it is impossible to not include Giannis Antetokounmpo in the conversation.  While his skills on the court are legendary, even more so is the Antetokounmpo family’s rise from immigrants battling deportation to having three NBA champions in the family.  The Antetokounmpo’s inspirational story of trials and tribulations to superstardom will be told in Rise set to premiere on Friday, June 24th on Disney+.

Through a virtual press conference, cast members, crew, and the Antetokounmpo family were able to provide more insight into what went into bringing Rise to life. The junket was filled to the brim with off-screen and on-screen talent including , Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Veronica Antetokounmpo (Mother), Alex Antetokounmpo, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Francis Antetokounmpo, Uche Agada (as Giannis Antetokounmpo), Ral Agada (as Thanasis Antetokounmpo), Yetide Badaki (as the mother Veronica Antetokounmpo), Dayo Okeniyi (as the father Charles Antetokounmpo), Akin Omotoso (Director), Bernie Goldman (Producer),  Arash Amel (Writer), and moderator and ESPN senior entertainment reporter Kelly Carter.

From the onset, it was clear that a lot of pride and passion went into the making Rise. Giannis expressed that Disney had approached his family with the opportunity to tell their story in 2018. It is probably no coincidence that this would be the timeframe where Giannis is becoming a star in the NBA, winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2018-2020, and an NBA championship following closely after in 2021. The success during this timeframe didn’t stop at Giannis either.  Thanasis, Giannis’s older brother, won a championship on the same Bucks team in 2021, and Kostas, Giannis’s younger brother, won his own championship with the Lakers in 2021. Even the youngest Antetokounmpo brother Alex is well on his way to success as a member of the Raptors 905.

While the success the siblings have achieved is spectacular, Giannis wasted no time in emphasizing that the focus should be on their parents just as much as them. He went as far as to say that their parents are “the real heroes of this story”.  While soft-spoken in the press conference, Veronika exuded pride in her sons and how meaningful it was to be able to this story. Veronika shared that scenes involving her husband the late Charles Antetokounmpo were particularly difficult to watch. Further, she talked about her own sacrifices that didn’t make it into Rise including not be to attend school.

Despite the hardships, when asked what she wanted families to get out of the film, she wished for viewers “-to be faithful, be humble, be disciplined, and have faith in anything you do. And never, never lose hope in what you’re doing.” In one of the most touching moments in the press conference, Giannis continued to sing the praises of his mother’s commitment to their success in response to the same question. He expressed how after seeing the movie he released how his mother really not lost hope; “-you kept raising us and like, you know, put us in school and like, having us get educated and like, trusting us out there, you know, with you coming out there and helping you and sell stuff and, you know, join a team, and play basketball, and do what we love, you know. But you never lost hope throughout it all until we actually made it.”  Further, as a parent himself, he hoped that other parents receive that same message as “parents see the future for you sometimes.”

The passion extended to the production team as well. Director Akin Omotoso (Vaya) as a self-proclaimed basketball fanatic had a vested interest in the Antetokounmpo story long before Disney came knocking. Akin mentioned that he always pays close attention to the African players drafted into the NBA. He knew instantly this was the story he wanted to tell all the way back in 2013. Further, writer Arash Amel (A Private War) praised the story in Rise as “-an incredibly modern tale of triumph over adversity” with a universal reach to families of all kinds. As an immigrant himself Arash, he felt a special connection to the story and was able to put a part of himself into the script. It is evident that through the production of Rise, the cast and crew formed a close relationship with the Antetokounmpo and became an extension of their journey.

Rise - But Why Tho

Creating that familial bond on set is likely a lot easier when you have actors who are brothers, playing brothers on screen. Brothers Uche Agada (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Ral Agada (Thanasis Antetokounmpo) fell into their respective rolls by happenstance. Uche saw Disney’s ad looking for actors while scrolling through social media. He took a shot and sent in his audition tape with no prior acting experience. After getting a callback and receiving the roll, he encouraged his brother Ral to do the same. Ral sent in his own tape and after doing a chemistry read, the Agada brothers were set to play two of the Antetokounmpo brothers. Before they knew it, they were on set in Athens, Greece.

The way Rise was cast echos so many of the themes that appear to be present in the film. Here are two brothers who have an opportunity of a lifetime. They get to pursue a dream and achieve things together that may have seemed inconceivable just as Giannis and Thanasis did. It is clear that director Akin Omotoso was looking for individuals who could capture the family dynamics much more than finding big names.  Couple this with hearing how the Antetokounmpo brothers expressed how authentic Rise felt, even the more tragic moments, show that this film has the makings of an instant classic.

While basketball is what the Antetokounmpo family is known for, without a doubt Rise will be a family movie. The film’s name changing from Greek Freak, Giannis’s basketball nickname, to Rise proves that it in more ways than one. As the conference came to a close, Giannis expressed this sentiment better than I ever could.

“You know, when they came to us, it’s a movie about my family. You know, it’s not a movie about me, and as Thanasis said when someone scores, everybody scores when one person makes it, everybody makes it. You know, we had the same mentality and we always gonna have the same mentality, you know, how can we share that joy? You know, because, you know, this journey is not about me, you know, it’s about every single person in here.”

The love that went into the making of this story was on full display during the press conference. As someone who is a sucker for family films, I am more excited than ever for Rise. Despite the lofty pedestal we actively place professional athletes on they are real people with real stories at the end of the day. Films like King Richard show us that is more than just about the sport. It is my hope that Rise enters into that space transcends the surface-level expectations of what a sports movie is supposed to be and viewers see it for what it truly is; a family movie.

Rise will premire exclusively on Disney+ June 24, 2022.