“If I could release a name ...” the autistic teen said Wednesday as he stood next to Johnson in the gym where he made six 3-pointers in his first and only appearance for Greece Athena High School’s varsity team.
Catching his mother’s eye, McElwain hesitated. Then, in a firm voice that drew a burst of laughter, he said, “I don’t care who plays who — as long as it’s a great movie.”
Asked how difficult McElwain’s feat was, Johnson said, “Oh man, I know I couldn’t have done it.”
“Yeah, you could have! Yeah, you could have!” an incredulous McElwain interjected.
“No, no,” Johnson insisted, laughing. “I’m not a shooter. I could run the show and get it to guys like you ’cause you can shoot it. That was my job.”
Johnson, who has become a business entrepreneur, political activist and part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers since retiring from basketball more than a decade ago, stopped off in this Rochester suburb to make it official that he’s bringing McElwain’s “amazing story” to the big screen.
In February, the 17-year-old basketball manager known to all as “J-Mac” suited up for Greece Athena’s final home game of the season. Put in with 4 minutes to go after his team opened a large lead, he scored 20 points and was carried off the court on his teammates’ shoulders.
His jaw-dropping feat, captured on a student video, drew international attention and a flood of calls from Hollywood. Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures recently acquired the life rights to McElwain and his parents, Debbie and David.
They are confident that movie producer Laura Ziskin will do a good job.
“My main worry throughout Jason’s life has been getting a financial backup for him,” Debbie McElwain said in an interview. “Because he’s not going to have a great job, nor is he going to have a college education, nor probably a high school diploma, it’ll give him some financial backup and that’s all I care about.”
Before the movie deal came along, she said, one big concern was “what if his parents are dead, how is he going to make it on his own? It’s taken some burden off us.
“He’s only academically a fourth-grade level — people have got to realize this. That’s why I keep my eye on him, that’s why he looks to his parents or his brother or whoever’s around that he knows.”
In the movie, McElwain will “definitely” have a cameo role, Johnson said.
“Everybody will go crazy when they see him on screen. I think that’s a big part of it,” he said.
Johnson said he got emotional when he watched highlights of McElwain’s performance.
“It’s like he was born to do it. And then to go back to his normal role in the next playoff game was also amazing. How many people would say, ’I just hit 20 points! What’s up, I want some time! Man, I outscored everybody!”’ Johnson said.
“He just went back, put the black tie on, the white shirt and the black pants. I’m right back cheering. That says a lot about who he is. It also says a lot about his parents, the coach, the players. But, again, God blesses us with special people who can be a beacon of light for others.”