‘Legends of Chamberlain Heights’ – upcoming Comedy Central show by ex-UCLA players aims to ‘change the game’
Even the most ardent college basketball fan probably has never heard of Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking, but it won’t be long before you’ll be regularly hearing those names for the next decade.
Johnson (pictured left) and Hawking (right), two former teammates on the UCLA basketball team, are about to blow up in a big way.
The ex-athletes recently had their TV pilot picked up by Comedy Central, which ordered 10 episodes of “Legends of Chamberlain Heights,” a show that is set to hit airwaves in 2016. Those working with the network are hoping it will fill a void that has been missing since “Chappelle’s Show” went off air in 2006.
So what is “Legends of Chamberlain Heights”?
To understand the concept, you have to understand the legends behind it.
Johnson, 33, was a star basketball player at Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.) in high school who averaged 24.2 points and 12.4 rebounds as a senior. He entered UCLA as a legacy; he is the son of five-time NBA All-Star and former National Player of the Year Marques Johnson, and the younger brother of former UCLA national champion Kris Johnson, who had an eight-year pro career abroad and averaged 18.4 points per game as a senior with the Bruins. Despite entering UCLA as a high school star, Josiah redshirted as a freshman in 2000. His minutes were limited during his career; he averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds per game during his four-year career at UCLA from 2001-2005.
Hawking, 32, was a three-time all-league player during his high school career at Anaheim High School and averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a senior. Like Johnson, he was a star player as a prep and found minutes tough to come by in college. He redshirted his freshman year from 2001-2002 and played in the program through his graduation in 2005.
If you look closely enough at the record books, though, you will find Hawking’s name; he attempted six field goals during his UCLA career, making a 3-pointer and free throw to give him four total points for his time with the Bruins. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s still four seasons and four more points than most people have ever contributed to the most successful college basketball program of all time.
The lack of playing time for Johnson and Hawking led to lots of long seasons on the bench, which became a familiar home for the duo. That is where they spent most of their time and when the seed for the TV show was planted.
(Image courtesy Bento Box Entertainment/Brad Ableson)
“Legends of Chamberlain Heights” is a cartoon about three high school freshman — Jamal, Grover and Milk — who live their lives from the end of the bench and outside the “in” crowd. As a press release from Comedy Central explains, “the best friends try, and mostly fail, to get through day-to-day life both on and off the court, but failure doesn’t faze them or get them to stop trying since they’re destined to become legends…in their own minds.”
It seems like the theme of Johnson and Hawking’s college life, though this show is set in high school to appeal to a wider audience.
To this day, Hawking still says he is unsure whether he is an actual legend, or just a legend in his own mind.
“Whenever we see former teammates, they will always call us ‘legend.’ You know, like, ‘Hey legend,’ or ‘What’s up legend?’ Everyone has always called us ‘legend’ since school. But were we always legends, or is that just what they called us (in jest)?” Hawking wondered in a phone interview with Larry Brown Sports.
Just like the protagonists of the show, Hawking and Johnson learned how to make the most of their time on the bench.
“There’s a certain obstacle in being a bench player,” Hawking acknowledged to LBS. “In some ways the bench becomes the enemy because it’s pretty humbling (to spend your time on it).
“Being a bench player gives you a lot of time to contemplate things. It’s a lot of downtime. If you’re not one of the top guys, you have a lot of time to contemplate life, basketball and other things away from the court.”
(Johnson pictured along with former teammate/bench player Ike Williams)
It was during their time on the bench that Hawking and Johnson added to their friendship, one that began in 2001 when the younger Bruin arrived on campus.
The two met at a freshman orientation during the summer of 2001, which was after Johnson’s first year on campus and prior to Hawking’s freshman year. It didn’t take long for them to become friends.
“I saw Jo at a party holding a 40 and immediately knew he was cool,” Hawking says of Johnson’s choice of beverage.
Johnson, for his part, says the handsome Hawking was “already a legend just walking on campus” his first day at the school.
Hawking even recalls a story from his playing career when during a road game at Washington State, he wasn’t in uniform because of a heel injury and therefore had the opportunity to interact with some members of the opposite sex.
“That night I probably got like 30 Facebook friend requests from girls at Washington State, which made me feel important. I don’t know if I would have gotten that if I were playing,” Hawking says, noting the benefits of being a bench player who wasn’t dressed for the game.
Hawking meanwhile is equally complimentary of the good-looking Johnson, endearingly calling the 6-foot-8 former forward a “plus-size model.”
As you can see, being a legend isn’t just about playing well on the court, but also about one’s effect on the ladies. That’s why the sole name “Legends” wasn’t enough for the show, and how they arrived at “Legends of Chamberlain Heights,” a reference to Wilt Chamberlain, who wasn’t just a baller on the court, but was also estimated to have slept with 20,000 women during his life.
Asked to name a few “legends” from their UCLA days, Johnson did not hesitate.
“T.J. Cummings is hands-down one of the bigger legends of all time,” Johnson says of the former Bruin and son of ex-NBA player Terry Cummings. “The type of women he was dating in college was crazy. We’re talking actresses, members of Destiny’s Child … being in a Missy Elliott music video. He had one of the greatest mouthpieces that I ever witnessed.”
Being a legend is all about having the confidence to act like one, which in turn makes you one. Hawking recalls a time when Cummings used his confidence to help them get into a club.
“I was like 19, he was like 20, Jo was like 20. There’s a long line and we walk up to the front. Cummings tells the security guard that we just had an exhibition game (implying they were professional players), and we were in.”
Former Bruin and ex-NBA 3-point master Jason Kapono also comes to mind for Johnson.
“He was one of the funnier dudes but also one of the most confident guys,” Johnson says of Kapono, who averaged 16.5 points per game over his career at UCLA.
One time during his sophomore season in 2001, Kapono was struggling in a game at DePaul. According to Johnson, Kapono said to the guys on the bench, “I’m about to hit the next five threes.” Johnson recalls Kapono making four threes in a row and missing the fifth, but he was sold for life after seeing that awesome display.
A look at the history book proves Johnson’s memory to be accurate; Kapono tied a career-high with 28 points that game, including three straight 3-pointers during a 12-0 run.
But the great thing about legends is you don’t have to be a star to be one.
“Ike Williams, he had his own fan club on Facebook — he was years ahead of his time,” Johnson says of his good friend and former roommate, who played two seasons on the team.
Throughout their time together in college and afterwards, Johnson and Hawking developed their own code language. Whether it’s Johnson’s penchant for making everything rhyme with “boo” or using the Spanish “jaja” version of a laugh rather than the English “haha,” their lingo is something they believe will catch on through the show. They describe it as derived partially from being around the basketball culture and partially from just what they’ve created.
“That’s always what’s been what’s differentiated us,” Johnson says of their lingo. “That’s how we used to communicate with each other back in college. We had our own lingo. We just hung out for so long that it just became or own lingo. I think that’s what makes this show unique or different is we have that lingo. We’re hoopers. We grew up in that locker room culture and that’s how we were able to put our stamp and imprint on it. We want to flip what’s normal and make it funny and creative.”
Despite both working as TV producers for various sports outlets, neither Hawking nor Johnson them were schooled in TV writing prior to undertaking this project. They believe that has helped free them when it comes to incorporating their lingo in the show.
“Anytime we have a script, Jo and I get our chance to flip the script and make it original and unique,” Hawking notes. “Once we have the story written, Jo and I get to dive in and give it that feel. We didn’t come from that background where we were trained to be writers or creators. We have our own lingo stemming from our basketball days.”
By now you’re probably wondering how these two were discovered and how they even had the opportunity to pitch a show to Comedy Central. It’s a great question, and the answer all has to do with some Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James humor, which is a sweetspot for Johnson, who practically prays at the altar of King James.
Back in 2009, Nike ran a huge campaign featuring the Kobe and LeBron puppets (you can watch a video featuring all of them here). Johnson started a sports blog called “Jersey Chaser” a year earlier as an outlet to provide sports takes, humor and generally share his awesomeness with the world. Since he was proficient as a video editor and comedy came naturally to him, one of Jersey Chaser’s earliest marks came with creating parody videos. And nothing made an imprint quite like their first Kobe-LeBron puppet parody.
Here is the original Jersey Chaser puppet remix — just beware that the content is edgy and contains some bad language:
That video went viral and has amassed nearly 570,000 views on YouTube to date, which isn’t bad for a puppet parody. More importantly, it caught the eye of several people.
Johnson says he began receiving cold emails from people about the video, including one of his current “Legends of Chamberlain Heights” co-creators, which includes veteran Simpsons artist Brad Ableson, writer Michael Starrbury and Bento Box Entertainment’s Mike Clements. Johnson was asked to come in on a potential cartoon project for LeBron James, which was right up his alley, but he quickly realized that the type of raunchy content he wanted to do would not at all fit with the type of brand James was trying to build. But Johnson did not let that deter him and instead used it as an opportunity to begin working on what would eventually become “Legends,” a project he has been working on since the fall of 2009.
“Between the five creators of the show, this has been a six-year process,” Johnson says.
Asked about how much time they put into the show from the time they started working on it in 2009 until now, Johnson estimated that it could have been thousands of hours.
“We have done a lot of this stuff for free. Hundreds of hours if not thousands with the hope of it getting picked up. We both believed in this project. It was not an if; it was a when. We always believed it would get picked up.”
Hawking expressed a similar confidence in the show’s fate.
“It’s a special process to go back to when we met these dudes six years ago. We had a complete confidence in this process. It’s hard to get your pilot picked up, what makes you think your show is the one that will get picked up? Jo and I always felt like this show, ‘this is gonna go.’ It just has to go. It just felt so right. I don’t think either of us questioned whether this would go or not. Luckily our group stayed faithful and true to it, and now we’re grateful. It’s surreal. And now it’s time to go to work.”
Despite their confidence that proved to be warranted, Johnson says he still had his doubts at times.
“It’s been an arduous process and we were so busy we maybe wanted to tap out, but when we got together, it all came together like legends.”
He says getting together with the crew always energized him because, “it was all something we could escape our square lives with.” And when the show got picked up?
“I was screaming like a little girl,” Johnson admits.
The show is still months away from airing, but Johnson and Hawking already have a vision for how it will unfold.
“The show is going be on the level of like a ‘South Park,’ that’s what we’re aiming for,” says Johnson. “We’re trying to elevate comedy and do it in a way that’s smart and ahead of its time. We’re coming in to try and change the game.”
And now that they’re getting the opportunity to showcase their skills, Hawking knows big things are in store.
“After sitting on the bench at UCLA, this is our time to change the game. We want to compete, come in, play hard and get some buckets.”