"Russell [Westbrook] used to crash at our place, and he went to the gym every day. That guy is a true gym rat."
It’s not often that a cable series gets renewed for a Season 2 before it even premieres, but such was the case last fall for Legends of Chamberlain Heights, a half-hour animated series on Comedy Central that chronicles the entirely inappropriate exploits of Grover, Milk, and Jamal, three benchwarmers on Chamberlain Heights High’s basketball team. The show was created and is voiced by former UCLA hoopers Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking, both 35, who lunched with SI a few days before their season premiere (Sun. June 18, 11:30 ET) to discuss Legends’ rise, and the decline in their own playing time as collegians.
Sports Illustrated: Where did these three characters come from?
Josiah Johnson: There’s a little of all of us in these guys. We sat the bench at UCLA, me and Quinn and our other buddy, Ike Williams. Every game we’d just be hanging out, talking s---, looking at cheerleaders, trying to occupy ourselves for those two or three hours.
SI: Why does Legends connect with people?
Quinn Hawking: All of us, at some point, have been in the background. People know what it feels like to be an intern a P.A., a backup … Very few people live life as the star player. Our characters don’t even play, but in their own minds they think they’re legends.
SI: Does that describe your playing careers? [Johnson and Hawking played at UCLA from 2001 to ‘05.]
QH: I think I had 7 points in my career. I hit a three against [Cal State] Long Beach my freshman year.
JJ: I think I dimed you [recorded an assist] that play.
QH: At that point I still had – I don’t wanna say dreams, but I felt like in another year or two I’d be ready to play. That was when [Steve] Lavin was the coach.
SI: Did you end up playing any important minutes?
QH: No. There was more hope when Lavin was there, but when Coach [Ben] Howland came in – it wasn’t like you were wasting your time, but you knew you weren’t going to see any minutes. So you had to ask yourself: How are we going to spend this next year? We just decided to live it up as much as possible. That meant that if we went on a road trip, we weren’t just gonna stay in our hotel room all night.
SI: What can viewers expect in Season 2?
JJ: Being funny is the priority, but we also deal with social issues like gentrification, racial appropriation … We have an episode where the guys get thrown in jail. They have to survive jail, so they get a mentor. O.J. Simpson.
SI: Naturally. You two just missed playing with Russell Westbrook, is that right?
QH: He came in two years after we finished.
JJ: He lived at Quinn’s house in the summertime, stayed on their couch.
QH: I shared an apartment with [UCLA center] Lorenzo Mata. [Mata] was a freshman our senior year… He and Westbrook became friends. Russell used to crash at our place, and he went to the gym every day. That guy is a true gym rat. Everything that he’s doing now is a result of his work ethic. He had this old car – I don’t even know what kind it was. He had to pour water in the radiator every time he started it.
SI: Was there any hint back then that he was going to become the player he is today?
QH: No, I just remember Mata came home from their first practice, freshman year, he was like, Dude, we’ve got this new guy, Russell, he’s unbelievable. But Russell didn’t even start. He didn’t start his sophomore year either.
JJ: They had Darren Collison at point guard.
QH: Then Russ becomes the fourth overall pick [in the ’08 NBA draft].
JJ: We were living in a house in Westwood at that time. Russell and [Kevin] Love would come through and hang out and play foosball. A couple months later they’re the fourth and fifth picks in the draft. We were like, ‘You guys are about to be $100 million, bruh, and you don’t even realize it.’
SI: When did you realize your show was going to make it?
JJ: In November ‘09, at our first meeting. We went and pitched Comedy Central and you could just tell there was an energy in the room. We looked at each other like, ‘Yo, we’re gonna do this s---.’
SI: Not bad for a couple of scrubs.
QH: The crowd loves it when the guys at the end of the bench get in the game. But as a player, when you’ve been sitting there for two hours, you’re not really in a position to succeed. (laughs) And there’s added pressure because everyone wants you to score so you can make their day.
JJ: It’s not fun, bro. (laughs)
QH: And it felt weird after games, signing autographs for kids—
JJ: (laughs) Yeah, like, ‘Are you sure?’
QH: ‘Do you really want this?’
SI: Who were your favorite teammates?
JJ: People can say what they want about Matt Barnes, but I remember when he was playing for the Long Beach Jam in the ABA. He carved a place for himself in the NBA and he has worked for every minute, every dollar he’s earned.
SI: Just don’t mess with his ex-wife.
JJ: (laughs) We actually have an episode about that this season. The coach at the high school gets fired so Derek Fisher takes over. But Fisher is just there to [meet] chicks, so the guys call Matt Barnes during the middle of the game and he drops the phone and comes to the rescue.
QH: That might be our first episode of the new season. We submitted that to the network as our premiere episode.
SI: Naturally. Was there a point last fall when you realized the show was blowing up?
QH: I still feel like it’s a new show. This is a strange time right now, with people disconnecting from cable and everything. I still feel like we’re under the radar.
JJ: It was big when Shaq tweeted about the show in November … We got love from Adoree Jackson. Talib Kweli is a fan. Rick Ross followed us on Twitter. I was like, ‘Damn, Rick Ross!’
SI: Do your former coaches watch?
QH: We’re still close with Coach Lavin. He came to our premiere party. I remember we were hanging out afterward and I said, ‘Thank God I wasn’t good at basketball.’