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Meet Josiah Johnson, former UCLA player turned NBA meme king


Slouched deep into one corner of a velvety couch in his spare bedroom, bare feet propped on an identical ottoman, Josiah Johnson is looking for his big moment, like a degree guard probing a defense.

His gameday attire features a faded Seattle SuperSonics T-shirt. His laptop rests comfortably on his thighs, iPhone clutched in his right hand. His greater than 232,000 Twitter followers are waiting.

The probabilities unfurl on a big flat-screen television within the opener of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals. Perhaps he’ll tweet about a star in the gang doing something funny. If Jayson Tatum continues to pile up points, perhaps the Boston Celtics scorer also will star on Johnson’s timeline.

Having played for UCLA within the early 2000s when the retired John Picket would watch practices, kidding the benchwarmer about dribbling two balls as a part of an ambidexterity drill when he could play with just one, Johnson has learned to be quick but never hurry.

Finally, as the gang roars after Miami overtakes the Celtics with a large third-quarter run, Johnson’s got it.

He posts a picture of white nationalists hoisting tiki torches during their notorious 2017 march on the University of Virginia. Caption: “Celtics fans without delay.”

Johnson’s laugh fills the room in his Woodland Hills home. He knows the racial overtones that may roil some in Boston will delight loads of others within the NBA Twitter community.

Like a politician on election night, Johnson waits for the outcomes to roll in. Twenty-six comments materialize in lower than a minute, the majority of them laughing together with the joke. The king of #NBATwitter has done it again. Checking what amounts to a scoreboard on his phone, Johnson is pleased.

“It’s like a drug,” Johnson says of single tweets which have generated as many as 21 million impressions. “It’s an amazing, refreshing feeling to know that something that was in your brain — that didn’t exist previously, that you simply put out — just takes off and skyrockets. But it surely’s also a drug where, when you do it enough, it becomes less and fewer powerful and now I’m always chasing that fix again; I need to get that next thing.”

He never refers to himself as a king, except in one in all his countless jokes.

His Twitter handle, @KingJosiah54, melded his love of Lakers superstar LeBron James — often known as King James — and the boy king Josiah from the Bible, in addition to the No. 54 that’s synonymous with the Johnson family.

Amongst his many projects, Johnson has spawned an animated show for Comedy Central inspired by his underwhelming basketball profession, hosted NBA podcasts and written for the Netflix series “Colin in Black & White” that depicted the fraught rise of NFL star turned social justice crusader Colin Kaepernick.

His sensibilities lean heavily toward the culture that infused his youth. Click on his timeline and you may find clips from John Singleton movies or comedy skits from the Wayans family, which Johnson knows personally as a former junior high classmate of Damon Wayans Jr.

Mostly, he’s having fun.

Josiah Johnson’s dining room or office will likely be his studio for the podcast, “No Chill with Gilbert Arenas.”

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this yr, after Phoenix guard Devin Booker complained in regards to the Toronto Raptors mascot distracting him during free throws, Johnson tweeted a “Jurassic Park” clip of a velociraptor menacingly respiratory on a window.

His caption: “The Raptor outside the Suns locker room waiting for Devin Booker.”

Johnson’s appeal isn’t confined to the NBA community. He gained tens of 1000’s of followers throughout the 2020 presidential election with clever memes, including one in all Chris Webber’s infamous championship-game timeout when President Trump wanted the vote count to stop in decisive states.

His heroes have howled in approval, validating his rise as a social media maven. James used a goat emoji on Twitter to substantiate Johnson’s preeminence. Filmmaker Jordan Peele sent complimentary messages. Songwriter John Legend called him the king of sports comedy.

Man @KingJosiah54 is the 🐐! It runs within the name 🤷🏾‍♂️🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣👑

— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 11, 2021

It’s been a rapid ascent. Johnson had around 25,000 Twitter followers in 2019 when he posted a clip from Peele’s horror film “Get Out” as an instance troubled wide receiver Antonio Brown meeting latest teammate Josh Gordon on the Latest England Patriots’ training facility. The tweet generated greater than 140,000 likes and nearly 5,000 quote tweets, including one from the film’s director.

“You win, Josiah,” Peele wrote.

Those three words crystallized Johnson’s future endeavors, his profession now not at a crossroads within the seek for a winning path. He began tweeting during his day job at a media company and slipped into the lads’s room to please within the metrics.

“I’m sure people thought I had bowel issues or whatever, but I didn’t,” Johnson said. “I’d just be sitting there watching and that was form of the one quiet place I could go simply to see the numbers run up.”

Johnson, who turned 40 in April, has gone on to outperform deep-pocketed social media teams paid to mimic his style. It’s as if he’s going one-on-five in basketball. And dominating.

“Josiah is a voice that we’re always tracking and following to see what will be relevant to our fan base,” said Tyler Price, vp of content development and production for Bleacher Report and Turner Sports social. “What Josiah has done very well is, as an alternative of breaking down the moment that is occurring, he reflects the emotion that we’re all feeling around that moment in real time.”

Josiah Johnson poses for a photo with his smartphone.

Josiah Johnson, who turned 40 in April, has gone on to outperform deep-pocketed social media teams paid to mimic his style.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A victory lap may appear so as, but Johnson knows from experience that success can turn to failure abruptly.

“I all the time live in fear of going back to that period where I didn’t work,” Johnson said, “in order that’s the s— that motivates me day by day.”

The child liked to have his say, interjecting himself into nearly all family conversations. It didn’t matter if the subject was basketball, movies or the very best spot to make a rap video.

A nickname — Dewey Centavos — was born in a nod to him all the time giving parents Marques and Jocelyn Johnson his two cents.

It wasn’t long before Marques, who played on Picket’s final national championship team in 1975 before becoming a five-time NBA All-Star, solicited his son’s input. As a 10-year-old, Josiah helped his father get reps early in his broadcasting profession. The boy would pretend to be Chick Hearn giving play-by-play while Marques provided color commentary on cassette tapes popped into the family stereo.

It’s like a drug. It’s an amazing, refreshing feeling to know that something that was in your brain — that didn’t exist previously, that you simply put out — just takes off and skyrockets.

— Josiah Johnson referring to a viral tweet

Josiah also helped his father practice lines for his acting roles, including an iconic performance as Raymond, the razorblade-wielding streetballer duped by Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in “White Men Can’t Jump.”

“I’d form of gauge, if it was a comedy scene,” Marques said, “how well I used to be doing just based on his response.”

There wasn’t much drama when it got here to Josiah’s college basketball destination. He had been a ball boy on UCLA’s 1995 national championship team that included his half-brother, Kris. For years, he even possessed a strand of the championship net.

Against the recommendation of his father, who wanted him to contemplate lesser programs where he could have enjoyed a much bigger role, Josiah committed to UCLA on his official visit. A 6-foot-8 forward known for his rebounding instincts, he wore the No. 54 that had graced the jerseys of his father and half-brother. But he never strutted around campus, as an alternative projecting a humility that bordered on shyness.

“Joe’s nature and inclination was to point out deference and respect to others,” coach Steve Lavin recalled, “yet it was clear he had a thoughtful intellect, wry humorousness and gift for impersonating. He was an existentialist of sorts and a keen observer of his surroundings, actively taking internal notes.”

Josiah Johnson played at UCLA from 2001 to 2005 averaging 1.3 points in 7.3 minutes per game throughout his career.

Josiah Johnson played at UCLA from 2001 to 2005 averaging 1.3 points in 7.3 minutes per game throughout his profession.

(Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

Those notes were mostly taken from the bench. Johnson was a bit player on teams that reached the NCAA tournament 3 times but were mediocre by UCLA standards. For his profession, Johnson averaged 1.3 points in 7.3 minutes per game.

“It was just hard not having the ability to live as much as the usual of excellence that the Johnson name has in basketball circles,” he said, “but to their credit, they were all the time there for me. Dad was all the time there, all the time a positive force. And even now we’ll have talks and [he’ll say], ‘You might have done this or that’ and I’m like, ‘It’s OK, I wasn’t that good.’ ”

Johnson and fellow scrubs Quinn Hawking and Ike Williams found humor of their plight, dubbing themselves The S— Crew while cracking one another up on the bench. Anyone listening closely may need heard a few of the same jokes years in a while Comedy Central.

The show was hailed as the following “South Park.” Comedy Central had greenlit Johnson’s “Legends of Chamberlain Heights,” about three highschool benchwarmers who were stars in their very own minds.

Buoyed by early fanfare, the show was picked up for a second season, prompting Johnson and his friends to chug celebratory 40s. But after the debut episode drew disappointing rankings, Johnson and his colleagues received a cold reception from company executives at an Emmy Awards party.

“People wouldn’t even take a look at us,” Johnson recalled.

When the second season was given an unfavorable late-night time slot, Johnson told his co-creators the show probably was getting canceled.

What Josiah has done very well is, as an alternative of breaking down the moment that is occurring, he reflects the emotion that we’re all feeling around that moment in real time.

— Tyler Price, vp of content development and production for Bleacher Report and Turner Sports social

He was right. With the show jettisoned in late 2017 and nobody within the industry returning his calls, Johnson fell right into a funk. He packed on about 50 kilos and regarded driving for Uber before the girlfriend who would grow to be his wife, Erinn Noeth-Johnson, whipped out her phone during a heart-to-heart. She hit record, capturing the beginning of an epic comeback.

“I’m like, yo, everybody who slighted me, wronged me, they’re going to pay for this s—,” Johnson remembered of his vow. “I’m going to point out them and this ain’t the tip of me.”

The seeds for that rise already had been planted. Comedy Central was either being low-cost or savvy — perhaps each — when it had asked Johnson to run the social media accounts for “Legends of Chamberlain Heights” along with his writing and voiceover duties. He would remain within the office after everyone else left, live-tweeting the show’s East Coast feed to generate interest and construct the account.

Josiah Johnson dispatches his social media missives from the comfort of his sofa.

Josiah Johnson dispatches his social media missives from the comfort of his sofa.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Along the way in which, he taught himself engagement strategies he still uses. Stockpiling images and video clips allowed him to post content quickly. He amassed a Twitter following for the show that numbers greater than 67,000 although it’s been off the air for nearly five years.

“I prefer to joke that Comedy Central created a monster,” Johnson says.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson’s irreverent style has hatched a legion of copycats. After he posted a meme of Drake in a Raptors hat bearing a robust resemblance to protect Fred VanVleet, joking that the image was VanVleet on the Raptors championship reunion in 2039, he saw a tweet on a bigger account that blatantly stole his idea. Infuriated, Johnson watched Drake and Raptors players engage with the rip-off tweet.

The takeaway: Consumers don’t care what the source is. It’s a reality that only fuels Johnson to double down on becoming the cradle of killer content.

“I’m not going to spend my time crying and complaining about it,” he said of the thievery, “I’m just going to come back to the block day by day with more heat and ammunition and that’s what’s form of gotten me to the forefront of this, because people began to acknowledge it.”

Being a one-man media empire has its advantages. Johnson often works from home, watching games within the spare bedroom — where his old UCLA locker room chair sits in a corner — or a family room alongside his wife and sons Jowie, 3, and Marquie, 5.

“Plenty of times the games are on in here and the youngsters are form of climbing throughout him when he’s doing his work,” said Noeth-Johnson, a former UCLA swimmer who first corresponded along with her future husband over Twitter. “He’s truthfully doing 15 various things as he’s putting out these tweets that thousands and thousands of individuals are seeing, nevertheless it’s great for us, it’s great for the youngsters. He’s a continuing presence of their life.”

Remaining Josiah Johnson Inc. has allowed him to preserve his editorial independence, taking shots at whatever he wants (though he’s learned it’s best to go after teams and leagues, as an alternative of players, together with his most withering memes).

The best way Johnson sees it, he’s cashing in on authenticity. He’s live-tweeted the Super Bowl for DirecTV, appeared on TNT during NBA broadcasts and took part in greater than a dozen branded campaigns, never straying from his convictions. His tweets about NASCAR, as an example, concentrate on Black driver Bubba Wallace.

What irks Johnson most in regards to the social media behemoths he’s competing against is their profiting off Black culture with staffs which are largely white. It’s enough to make Johnson contemplate his own start-up.

“To have someone at the top making decisions like Josiah — that has the knowledge he has, the experience he has and coming from the culture — I don’t think anybody has experienced anything like that,” said LaJethro Jenkins, one in all Johnson’s co-hosts on the “Outta Pocket” podcast. “I feel we’d all enroll to be a component of that.”

What higher way for the master of memes to go viral, the king becoming a kingmaker.

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