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Yetide Badaki as Veronica, Ral Agada as Thanasis, Elijah Sholanke as Alexandros, Uche Agada as Giannis, Dayo Okeniyi as Charles, and Jaden Osimuwa as Kostas in ‘RISE,’ exclusively on Disney+.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks rates as one of basketball’s greatest players ever but “Rise,” a biographical feature, celebrates something more: the love and power of family.

Giannis, 27, born in Greece, was among the youngest NBA draft picks in 2013. Incredibly, two of his brothers followed in his footsteps. Younger brother Kostas was on the L.A. Lakers 2020 championship team. Older brother Thanasis plays for the Bucks.

“Disney approached us in 2018 with the opportunity to share our story with the world,” he said during a virtual press conference this week. “I knew eventually our story would be told one day. It’s so amazing, where we started and where we are now. But in telling it, they never mention our parents. So our family sat down and told how we are here today, which is about my parents.”

His parents, Charles and Veronica, fled their native Nigeria for Athens, Greece. They were undocumented immigrants. Even though their children were born in Athens, they were not given citizenship.

Charles died in 2017 at 54. Veronica, speaking quietly, confessed, “I’m super proud of my kids. Raising them was one thing but to be here today!”

  • (L-R): Ral Agada as Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Dayo Okeniyi as Charles Antetokounmpo, and Uche Agada as Giannis Antetokounmpo in Disney's live-action 'RISE,' exclusively on Disney+.

  • A scene from 'Rise,' on Disney+.

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“It was clear we had incredible tale of overcoming adversity, a family story of faith,” noted director Akin Omotoso. “At the core it’s about a very modern world where immigration and cultural identity is at the root of it.”

“I’m a fanatic, especially with African players in the NBA,” said Arash Amel, who had campaigned heavily to write the screenplay. “I always thought Giannis’s ‘story of overcoming’ would be the story we’d tell.”

It’s one thing to know and tell your life story. It’s something else to see it dramatized.

“Seeing your story on the screen is a whole different case,” Giannis said.

“When the movie starts, my mom and dad were in Turkey — and just seeing the fear in their eyes. Before we were even born. I’m 27 now with two kids and they were my age, in their 20s. Seeing their journey when it was just the two of them was tough for me.”

Yetide Badaki plays Veronica in “Rise.” She clearly remembers how unusual this project was from the start.

“When I got the script I couldn’t put it down. I finished at 2:30 in the morning, sobbing,” she recalled.

“We’re sitting here in what some would call the City of Dreams. For a company that unabashedly celebrates dreams with dreamers.

“And now we get to make this piece of filmmaking that inspires families — by an inspiring family.”


‘Rise” streams June 24 on Disney+.

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