Was Jimmy Keene a Real Football Player? Was He a Real Drug Dealer?

Image Credit: Dateline NBC/NBC

Apple TV+’s crime series ‘Black Bird’ depicts the enthralling tale of James “Jimmy” Keene, a prisoner who gets an opportunity to put an end to his imprisonment by going undercover for the FBI. Jimmy agrees to elicit suspected serial killer Larry DeWayne Hall’s confession to the supposed murder of Tricia Reitler, along with the location of her suspected dead body. The famed former football player, who eventually got into the drug business, forms a bond with Larry to earn his freedom. Since the series is based on an astounding true story, the viewers may want to know whether Jimmy was really a football player and a part of an enormous drug business ring. Let us answer your questions!

Was Jimmy Keene a Real Football Player?

Yes, Jimmy Keene was a real football player. Jimmy played football while he was studying at Kankakee Eastridge High School, Illinois, and was even referred to as “the assassin.” “I was taught [football] by my dad at a young age. He said, son, if you don’t hit that guy first, he is going to hit you and hurt your first,” Jimmy told Lester Holt about his early years as a football player for ‘Dateline NBC.’

Image Credit: Dateline NBC/NBC

“In high school, I lettered in three sports and was the star running back when our football team went all the way to the state championship game. The caption for an article about one victory read, ‘Keene in control,’” Jimmy wrote in ‘In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption,’ the source text of the show. According to the book, his father James “Big Jim” Keene never missed his son’s games.

However, Jimmy’s football career didn’t last long. After graduating from high school, astounding everyone who thought he would join a major university with a renowned football team, Jimmy joined Triton, a community college in a suburb of Chicago. “My mind was straying from sports and school,” Jimmy said about the period, as per the source text.

Was Jimmy Keene a Real Drug Dealer?

Yes, Jimmy Keene was a real drug dealer. During his high school period, the financial condition of his family wasn’t good, which led him to the drug trade, as per ‘In with the Devil.’ According to ‘The Inside Man’ of ‘Dateline NBC,’ he started with marijuana in Kankakee and eventually began trading cocaine at the age of 28. “It [drug trade] was a way for me to make money. but it was also a reason for me to keep hanging with the rich kids,” Jimmy told Hillel Levin for ‘In with the Devil.’

Image Credit: Dateline NBC/NBC

According to the source text, Jimmy recruited his fellow football players and athletes to his drug business to build a network in Chicago. During the same time, he also associated with people involved with Chicago’s mob. As per his book, he soon became the Cicero mobsters’ supplier. Jimmy’s network included eight dealers and he earned more than a million dollars per annum, with a profit of $400,000, selling drugs. “In the fifteen years before his arrest, he had built one of the biggest independent drug empires in the Chicago area. […] His suppliers included a Mexican drug lord and Chicago-area Mafiosi,” Hillel Levin, co-writer of the source text, summarized in the same.

While Jimmy celebrated the success of his drug business, authorities started to find ways to capture him. In November 1996, eleven agents from DEA stormed into Jimmy’s house and arrested him upon finding bags of drugs in the house, as per the source text. The arrest paved the way for a 10-year prison sentence, which led him to Larry Hall.

Read More: What is Jimmy Keene’s Net Worth?