Streetball legend's story told in Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story

There is a biopic out now about legendary streetball player Jack Ryan, called 'Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story.'

“I got a tryout with your Nets," said Jackie Ryan, portrayed by actor Greg Finely. "Fitch wants to take a look, wondering if you could put in a word."

“Sure, yeah. See what I can do. Can always use a backup,” says a sarcastic Gill Turner, played by Moise Morancy.

If you were a fan of streetball in the '80s and ever took in a game at the West 4th Street Courts you know where this conversation originates from. And you know of Jack Ryan or 'Black Jack,'  the flamboyant, rebellious, sharpshooter with a sharp tongue from Brooklyn.

But for the real Jack Ryan, now 59 years old, he says:

 "For me, it's hard for me to watch, because the guy Greg did such a great job, playing me and it brought me back to that time when I was not doing too good," said Ryan.

How could Finley not do a great job acting in this role? Ryan himself was on set for most of the making of this film during the summer of 2019.

On a crisp October afternoon, Ryan was on-site again. One week before the movie’s release on October 30, FOX 5 met up with the New York City-based actors from the cast of "Black Jack", the real Jack Ryan and his daughter Morgan,  and where else? But the West Fourth Street Courts, where Ryan says, “this is my home away from home ... this is my backyard.”

Bronx native James Madio plays Ryan’s best friend in the movie, Marty Doyle, and explains how he prepared for the role.

"According to Jackie, Marty was an Irish fella so for me, I'm a small Italian guy. Different. So I had to approach it different, and you always want to do it justice for a real character. But the research was just the way a grew up, and who I grew up with, and who I grew up around.

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There’s a scene in the movie where Jack and his friend Marty get into a bar fight with a guy from the neighborhood, named Dino … played by former New York Rangers winger, Sean Avery. As Avery’s acting career continues to blossom, he says for this role, and that scene, he did have to channel his hockey playing days and the “agitator” he was on the ice.

“I’d say ‘just hit me!’ and we'll get it over with, it's quick, we don't have to try and get the angle right, fake a punch and then --- when you say that to people, nowadays on a movie set, they get a little bit nervous. But we worked it out, I think it looked good.”

Madio adds, “When you have to improvise a fight with a hockey player, someone that grew up on the ice, it's intimidating because I had to say some choice words for him.”

As the real-life story goes, Ryan never would have had a chance to try out for the New Jersey Nets if it wasn’t for the support of long-time, New York Post basketball columnist, Peter Vecsey, played by actor, Geoffrey Cantor, who spent time speaking with Vecsey on the phone about his side of the story .. and more.

“I get to set and they sorta picked out the wardrobe, but it didn't feel right, so I called him, I got his phone number,” says Cantor. “I spoke to him for about an hour and a half--about Jackie, about the clothes, about the time, about the style. He didn't say that he discovered Jackie, but he did say he sort of saw Jackie the way no one else did.'

"And I saw one of the purest basketball players ... he spoke to me about that - he was just a pure basketball talent and he's never seen anything like it, and he had connections ... to all the basketball teams, but mostly the New York area teams and he made the call ... so that part of the story is ... absolutely true," said Cantor.

Actress Ashley Green plays, Jenny Burke, based on Jack’s love interest Jennifer DiMaggio, who Ryan eventually married.

DiMaggio was a two-time All-American basketball player at Pace University. Jack and Jennifer are no longer together, but 16 years ago, they had a daughter, Morgan, who saw an early version of the movie, with both of her parents and their early relationship portrayed on the silver screen.

"I know the true story," said Morgan. "And the movie, I was watching it, and I  know it's a little different, and I can tell he was upset by the way that they portrayed him because, he's a good guy, he's not like that, but I know it's for the movie, and after I watched it, I loved it! It's a great movie.”

The varsity basketball player talks glowingly about her father and who he is now, as Ryan looks on, and kisses her on her head.   

Like any movie, "Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story" takes its creative liberties. And while it was a dark time in Jack Ryan's life, when he returns to the West 4th Street Courts in the West Village of Manhattan, and plays in the cage with his old buddies, and now his daughter ... he absolutely lights up. 

Wit"My boy Smush Parker's here, Doc! You know, if this was in the middle of the summer there'd be a lot more of my friends here.  Sometimes I come here, not to play,  just to see my old buddies," said Ryan.

Ryan points out his old buddies that came to the courts that October day to put up some shots and meet the actors in the movie about their friend’s life, that they watched close up in the ’80s and ’90s.

Shooting and rebounding across the court is Ryan’s Brooklyn College basketball coach, Ted Gustus, former NBA Player and Brooklyn native, Smush Parker and music producer, Angelo Valasquez, who are all still close with Ryan from the relationships they built on the West 4th Street Courts.

As you watch this group play horse, and another group of players warm up for a pickup game, it’s scenes like this, playing basketball on the streets of New York, that inspired producer/director Danny A. Abeckaser, known as just “Danny A”, to make this movie.  

"Danny is a Brooklyn kid, born in Israel, but grew up in Brooklyn. He played high school basketball, averaged 26 points a game, like I did as a senior in high school,” says Ryan.  “Danny loves and his passion is basketball and making films, so he really believed in this project and he did a great job. And the world’s going to get to see that … it’s never too late, you're never too old to find your purpose in life … and you'll be happy.”

Madio reminisces from days on the set when they shot the film last summer, both in New York City and in Upstate New York, that Danny A. would pick up a basketball any chance he’d get. “He had a lot of fun, I mean in-between takes he would shoot with Jackie and he would shoot with some people on the crew and you can tell he was really truly enjoying himself.”

Actress Tara Westwood, plays Jack’s mother alongside actor David Arquette who has the role as Ryan’s father.

From working with and now knowing Ryan for over a year now, Westwood sees what draws people to Ryan’s basketball story.

"If you watch the movie you'll see that in his younger years Jackie made some poor choices, and then he turned a new corner, opened a new chapter. And I feel that's why people are coming ," said Westwood.

"What's important to know, is that Jackie then made very different life choices, and now he has a career that he enjoys making young children happy (performing ball tricks at events and at NBA and college basketball halftime shows) and he's a father, and he's very close to his daughter and I look at that as such an inspirational story and I think that's why people love and support him so much. "

Sean Avery played under the brightest lights of professional sports, at Madison Square Garden, but gives perspective, on how Ryan’s playground basketball career, was just as special. 

"We all start somewhere, as an athlete there's a journey that you go on, and whether it's me growing up in Canada on a frozen pond that I skated on or a neighbors pond they froze during the winter … It just so happens in New York ... Jackie played on this court,” Avery says looking at his surroundings. “If you see this court in the summertime, you walk by, and you feel the energy, so I'm sure 20 years ago it would have been quite the interesting scene to be a part of.”

Avery continues,  "I think the beautiful thing about Jack Ryan now is what he's doing, the transitioning in his life. You watch him on Instagram, and his character, it's like you can see the journey in his eyes, and that's what's interesting about this story.”

“Black Jack: the Jackie Ryan Story,” is now streaming and on-demand most platforms including Amazon PRIME Video and iTunes, as well as selected theatres across the country that are open and permitting limited people inside.