'I've Always Been A Basketball Fan': Akin Omotoso On Telling Giannis Antetokounmpo's Story In 'Rise'

Movie director Akin Omotoso
instagram | Akin Omotoso/Instagram


Akin Omotoso is an award-winning Nigerian film director and writer. His sister Yewande Omotoso and father, Kole Omotoso, are also authors. Akin has directed many movies, but his most famous work to date is the 2022 movie Rise.

Akin recently appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. During his appearance, he spoke candidly about how he wanted Rise to be as true to the life of NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo as possible, including filming at the actual places where he grew up. Akin also discussed how making this movie was a family endeavor that involved all of the Antetokounmpo family members.

Keep scrolling for more details about his interview.

The Perfect Fit 

The show began with the host, Trevor Noah, admitting to his guest how much of an immense pleasure it was for him to know he was the director of the movie Rise. According to him, when he heard that Disney was making a movie about the life of the NBA player Giannis, he wondered if it would be possible to get a director who would fit the film's requirements. Then he discovered it was Akin, a perfect fit.

"And then I heard that Disney was going to be making a movie. I was like, this is going to be phenomenal but 'who's gonna direct it?' I was like, 'where do you get somebody who understands Nigeria but understands being an immigrant around the world but understands the world of basketball. You can't find a person who knows all of this.'"

Trevor continued, "And then I found out it was you, Akin Omotoso, a Nigerian, who lived in South Africa, then moved to Los Angeles, who loved basketball, perfect fit. Congratulations."

Why Akin Chose To Tell Giannis' Story

The host went on to ask Akin why he felt the story of Giannis was one he wanted to tell. The Nigerian director explained that he has always been a basketball guy who became obsessed with African players in the NBA. 

"Well, I've always been a basketball fan. So anyone who knows me knows, basketball - I'm the guy. And I became really obsessed with African players in the NBA. So every time there's a draft, I would check, 'What are the names that resemble the ones that we recognized, right? And what's their story to get to the draft? So when Giannis was drafted, I read his story in 2013… I read his story and said, 'if ever I make a basketball movie, it's this gentleman's story I want to tell.'"

Filming In The Actual Locations Where Giannis Grew

Knowing that Akin filmed the movie in the actual locations where the character grew up, Trevor asked why he chose real locations instead of faking them. 

"For me, authenticity was important. In the movie, the basketball court where they're on, that's the basketball court he started playing on. When he's sleeping in the gym, that's the gym he slept in. Where they are selling, that's where they sold. That authenticity, for me, was just important."

How Akin Connected With Giannis And His Family 

The story of Giannis involved every member of his family. Hence, Trevor asked Akin how he managed to gain Giannis' trust and connection. 

Akin explained that all Giannis wanted was for his story to be told rightly. Hence, every meeting with them was a family meeting, which opened him up to the family. 

"He wanted to make sure that the sacrifices of his mom and dad came through… So every meeting with them is a family meeting."

He continued, "It was a real family affair. And I think that they were so open to us having access and getting the story right." 

 Akin's appearance on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah and candid details about how he directed the story of Giannis was thrilling and inspirational. The interview is a must-watch for all lovers of African players in the NBA.