Luis Da Silva, Jr., says he got his start in a “two by four” backyard in Elizabeth, where he would spend hours with just a basketball.
“It was a rough neighborhood and my mother didn’t want me down at the basketball courts,” Da Silva said.
In those lonely hours of dribbling and inventing basketball tricks, Da Silva learned to command the giant orange orb as if it were at the end of a yo-yo string.
This was the beginning of a journey Da Silva said “kids like him never dreamed of.”
He’s joined the ranks of some of New Jersey’s great character actors, a Frank Vincent or Phil Bosco incarnate. Even a James Gandolfini, before he became Tony Soprano.
The stars he has worked with are household names: John Travolta, Jodie Foster, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Adrien Brody, Sam Rockwell, and Brie Larson.
He’s played a doctor in “The Life and Death of John Gotti,” a satanic basketball player in “The Devil Goes Down,” a Brazilian race car driver in “Fast Five” and an MS-13 gang leader in “Triple 9.”
His film and TV credits are continuing to pile up, even though he foregoes a Hollywood address for a place in Chatham. Not exactly where you find an actor, who is inked up on every available square inch of arms and upper body, and who stars in urban dramas where blood flows by the buckets.
It is indeed remarkable that the same man, who can play a violent, drug-dealing, sociopathic gang leader with prison-movie menace has written two books called “A Boy Named Boo” and “Zoe and Toby and the Alphabet Adventures.”
Da Silva is 36 now and the father of a preschool daughter, the inspiration of the two children’s books.
“It’s just how we evolve in life,” he said.
His first act came in 2001, when he was 18 and working in a sneaker store -- a passion always connected with basketball. A friend told him about an audition for a Nike commercial.
“I asked for the day off and my boss said, ‘No,’ so I quit,” he said. “My father took me into midtown to this auditorium. I was nervous. There were 3,000 people there; NBA stars, New York playground legends.”
Those nerves built as the auditions wore on. Da Silva, at 5-11, didn’t tower over anybody, and the half-Portuguese, half-Italian kid from Jersey was an unknown.
That lasted only as long as his audition. He killed it. Next was the actual shoot of the Nike commercial in a series called “Freestyle” and Da Silva was one of the stars.
“It was the first Nike commercial where they weren’t featuring shoes or apparel, just the culture of basketball,” he said.
In the commercial, the lighting makes him look a little ghostly and he is doing otherworldly things with a basketball that fall somewhere between magician, gymnast and Harlem Globetrotter, which he eventually became.
But that was after he became the youngest and first non-professional athlete to be given an endorsement contract by Nike. What followed were likenesses of him in NBA video games and other basketball feats that made him one of the street legends he beat out for the commercial.
“Basketball is a culture, it’s a big fraternity,” he said. His nickname “Trickz” was synonymous with his skills and he began to create his own legend.
“Back when I was playing in high school (St. Patrick’s and Linden High), let’s just say the coaches didn’t appreciate the kind of flashy ball handling,” he said. “But we influenced the next generation of players.”
That first success in front of the camera and subsequent offers for “Trikz” Da Silva to be the animated star of basketball video games and led him to his acting career.
His first stint was as “an angry ex-boyfriend” in "America’s Most Wanted" in 2002. He would return to the popular series in various episodes over the next decade. He also had roles in the critically acclaimed “Breaking Bad,” “Treme” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
It’s a career that is still building. He will be in four movies that will be released in 2019.
But he also has an idea that brings him back to his very beginnings of basketball and sneakers.
He has filmed a season’s worth of a show called “Sole Searchers” where Da Silva travels the country finding people in the culture of collecting, designing and constructing basketball shoes. There are eight episodes from New York to Los Angeles, where Da Silva seeks out different characters who view sneakers as art.
“I see it as the ‘Parts Unknown’ of the sneaker culture and hip-hop fashion,” said Da Silva, referring to the exotic food travels of the late Anthony Bourdain.
“There’s a real fraternity out there of people where their Jordans and a fresh cut are their identity,” he said. “We explore that world.”
Of course, one of the episodes centers on his hometown and barber Pedro Antunes of Klippers, known as the “Wolf of Broad Street.”
“He’s known all over the country for his cuts. Rap stars, other celebrities fly him in for a cut,” said Da Silva, who is represented by IPZ, a sports and entertainment management firm in Warren.
Another Elizabeth segment revolves around a man named Freddy, who was a collector of “Michael Jordan 9s,” Da Silva said. “He had hundreds of pairs, and then his house burned down.
“His wife then secretly starts to collect them and we see her surprise him with 20 pairs to restart his collection.”
Da Silva said he had the backing of Affleck “who understands the culture” and hopes to land a TV deal soon.
The show is just another step in Da Silva’s self-described “amazing journey.”
"Where I grew up, expectations weren’t that high,” he said. “If you graduated high school, and stayed out of trouble and got a job you were considered a success. College was out of the question. So to end up to be able to do what I do is such a blessing, it is such as blessing.”