Streaming on Disney+

While basketball may not be the big deal in Australia that it is in the US, some players become household names around the globe, such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. At some point we may need to add the name Antetokounmpo.

You may not have heard the name before, but anyone keen on the NBA will know it well. Rise tells the unlikely true story of NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brothers, who were born and raised in Greece to Nigerian parents, Charles and Vera.

Leaving a baby son with family in Nigeria, Charles and Vera make the difficult journey to Greece in the hope of providing a better life for their children. However, they end up entering the country illegally, and this creates ongoing trouble as they seek to work and raise four more sons.

Rise is an old-school Disney film – one that tells a solid, family-friendly story with honesty and heart. The four boys share one large bed, and the two eldest share one pair of Nike sports shoes when they play basketball, but there are no complaints. That’s just how it is. 

“Give it your all, and then let God do his work”

The Antetokounmpos are loving and supportive of each other and have joyous times together as the boys grow up, but the filmmakers also focus on the hardships they experience because of their colour, residency status or lack of money. 

Perhaps it’s dwelt on a little too much, but given that Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the producers, he may have felt the need to highlight challenges the family had to overcome, in the hope that better solutions might be found for others.

Importantly, although Charles and Vera worry about the family’s future or fear for their safety, their choice on each occasion is to pray and persevere. They teach their sons to follow their example of hard work, determination and giving everything to the Lord. 

At one pivotal point Vera says to Giannis, “Give it your all, and then let God do his work”. In fact, early in the film as the Nigerian community in Athens celebrates Giannis’s birth, Vera tells a friend that his middle name means “crown” in their language, as she hopes he will have a God-given crown nobody can take away.

Of course, we know there’s a happy ending to Rise or it wouldn’t have been made, yet the Antetokounmpos achieved a “crown” in this life with the knowledge that a much better crown awaits them.  

The film is warm-hearted and beautifully acted, particularly by Yetide Badaki as Vera and brothers Uche and Ral Agada as (respectively) Giannis and his brother Thanasis. Rise has also been made against a tide of movies that glory only in what the world has to offer, so it’s worth a look for that alone.