It would have been very, very, very easy to make Rise the most generic basketball movie of all time. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s journey from growing up as the son of Nigerian immigrants in Greece to the best basketball player in the world just sounds like something that can be turned into a movie without all that much work — he picks up a basketball for the first time, he dribbles a bit, he gets better and better, he makes it to the NBA, work hard, succeed, triumph, all that stuff. There is, almost certainly, another movie that you can think of that sounds exactly like this.
The issue is making that movie would have gone directly against the wishes of Giannis and his brothers Alex, Kostas, and Thanasis.
“We actually tried, I think, to limit basketball, to really limit basketball, because the story is not a basketball movie, it’s a family movie, it’s a family story,” Thanasis tells Dime. “It’s about my mom and dad. We’re the final product after what we became. But this wasn’t, like, let’s see Giannis and Kostas and Alex dunk the ball and shoot threes and buzzer-beaters and all these things, it was mostly to show […] what you tell people and sometimes they don’t understand, they can’t relate to the struggle to get there, the behind behind the scenes. The hard work, the up and down, the lows and how you react to the lows, and how you rise from that, basically.”
“We don’t need a movie to tell you how great of a basketball player Giannis is,” Alex says. “I think you guys know that already, just like we know that already. So, I think it’s like the background of how we all got to this point — we’re not able to play basketball today if it wasn’t for this lady sitting next to me, my mother. So, I think that was the most important thing, to me, that had to be put in.”
It is not hard to view Rise, which became available on Disney+ on Friday, as the story of Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo. The film starts with the two trying to make it to Greece in search of a better life, and ends with the two of them embracing after — spoiler alert! — Giannis is drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 16th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.
Sure, the film follows Giannis, whether he’s learning how to sell goods on the street or learning about the game of basketball bit by bit. Uche Agada, the actor who was picked for the role after a casting call got put on Twitter by the two-time NBA MVP, stars in the role, while his real life brother, Ral, plays Thanasis.
There is, of course, plenty of basketball interspersed throughout the 113-minute journey upon which the film takes its viewers. But Kostas says the plan all along was to make sure it was done right to ensure that it would be “an amazing movie,” while Giannis says everyone wanted to make sure their parents — the “real heroes” in this journey — were given a spotlight.
“One beautiful scene — I don’t want to give out too much — is how much faith my parents had to themselves, to us, to God, that things are gonna be ok,” Giannis says. “Sitting together and praying together, for me, that’s very touching, because sometimes — I’ve said this in the past — you don’t see the future. Sometimes your parents have to see the future for you and have hope that we were able to have the right tools — which for us is basketball, for somebody else is something else — to be great in life. And just going back, now that I’m a parent myself, I’m like, man, they never lost hope, they never lost trust in us.”
Veronica is “super proud” of what her sons have managed to accomplish, and thought it was “great” to see the things that her and her late husband started — the struggles they faced, the love they provided to their sons — get turned into a film. In the lead-up to the film, Giannis expressed his hope that the movie would inspire folks in “similar circumstances” who face a hurdle on the way to accomplishing a goal and persevere on the road to a better life.
After getting to sit down and watch the finished product, he’s proud to say that Rise accomplishes that. And even if it did not hit so close to home, Giannis believes that the themes of family and perseverance should inspire anyone.
“It’s a movie about our story, [but] you can take us out of it,” Giannis says. “If I watched this movie, I’d want to be a better person, I would want to be a better parent, I would want to have more hope and faith in the things that I do, be a hard worker. So it definitely accomplished that.”