Disney’s ‘Rise’ takes you on the journey of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family
There are movies about basketball and there are movies that incorporate basketball as part of a larger story that means so much more.
Disney+ exclusive “Rise,” the story of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family, falls into the second category.
During Giannis’ meteoric rise to superstardom, fans worldwide have come to know the Antetokounmpo family, as Giannis and brothers Thanasis, Kostas and Alex have each made names for themselves as professional basketball players in the United States, while their eldest brother, Francis reached the professional level as a soccer player.
Over the better part of the last decade, we’ve learned the Antetokounmpo name, but “Rise” gives viewers an opportunity to learn their story. Before any character appears on screen, viewers are taught that the original spelling of Antetokunmpo is, in fact, “Adetokunbo,” a surname of Yoruba origin that means “the king has returned from across the seas.”
The meaning of the family’s name couldn’t be any more fitting, as its journey is a part of its royalty.
While four of the five Antetokounmpo brothers were born in Greece, they were born to Vera (Yetide Badaki) and Charles (Dayo Okeniyi), who immigrated to Greece from Nigeria in order to pursue better lives for themselves and their children.
Through the heads of the family, “Rise” shows the ways in which the family’s Nigerian roots serve as their foundation, juxtaposing those elements with the Greek culture they embraced during their upbringing in the Sepolia neighborhood of Athens.
During a pivotal point in the film, Thanasis tells the family “when one person in the family scores, we all score,” a mentality that could be a fitting tagline for the movie as a whole. Through struggle and sacrifice came triumph and achievement, all because of the family-first attitude instilled by their parents.
The familial elements of the movie couldn’t be stronger, as Thanasis and Giannis are portrayed by real-life brothers Ral and Uche Agada, both of whom made their actorial debuts in “Rise.”
Based on their performances, you wouldn’t be able to tell they were first-timers.
Ahead of the film’s release on Disney+, The Sporting News spoke with the Agada brothers, whose real-life chemistry shines both on screen and in everyday life.
“I think one of the biggest things to take away from (the movie) is to keep those people — in this case, your family — those good people, close to you,” Uche Agada told SN.
Ral Agada echoed a similar sentiment, explaining that the strength of the Antetokounmpo family prepared both Giannis and Thanasis for their big breaks, as he shared that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
Such can be said for the Agada brothers, who got their break after Uche responded to a casting call he saw, which was a screenshot of an Instagram post from Giannis Antetokounmpo, posted to Twitter.
After a few callbacks, Uche got the part of Giannis and was asked if he had any other siblings, paving the way for his older brother Ral to audition for the part of Thanasis. That they’re real-life brothers adds to the authentic feel of the interactions that occur between them and other members of their family throughout the movie.
“For that part, there’s no acting,” Ral Agada said. “We’re just going to do the brotherly thing that we always do.”
It’s those interactions that build the story and make Disney’s adaptation of the Antetokounmpo family as easy to root for as their real-life counterparts.
When one of us wins, we all win 🙌🏾🇬🇷🇳🇬 pic.twitter.com/rfJ7N2gsdg
— T. Antetokounmpo (@Thanasis_ante43) June 22, 2022
Of course, there is the basketball, and the Ugada brothers have a background in the game. Both Uche, who stands a 6-foot-5, and Ral, who stands at 6-foot-1, have a history in the game that dates back to their younger years, and it’s no secret that they know what they’re doing on the floor.
“Rise” not only shares the journey of the Antetokounmpo family, but it also takes you on the journey, from Nigeria to Turkey to Greece to the United States, where Thanasis perfectly delivers an homage to Prince Akeem in “Coming to America.”
The movie culminates with one of the family’s crowning achievements, but with their stories still being written, it also breeds excitement for what’s next in their respective lives.
As for the Ugada brothers, after getting their first taste of acting, they each expressed that they’ve found a passion, making them eager to get back in front of the camera to further pursue their careers in the business.
It might not be long before preparation again meets opportunity for the Ugada duo.
You can stream Disney’s “Rise” exclusively on Disney+ beginning Friday, June 24. Streaming options begin at $7.99 per month.