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Carl Johnson Reflects On ‘Killer Bees,’ The Documentary

By Calin Riley

On a dreary and rainy Saturday, with a crush of cars crawling their way west down Montauk Highway into Bridgehampton’s main street, Carl Johnson pulled two office chairs out of a nearby classroom and into the empty gymnasium at Bridgehampton High School. Less than 24 hours earlier, the small gym had been packed with fans, alumni and family members of the school’s varsity boys basketball team, there for a community screening of the documentary film “Killer Bees,” made by brothers Ben and Orson Cummings. There was plenty of pride and plenty of action, with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal (an associate producer on the film) in attendance, along with “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon. The following day, in the absence of that fanfare, Mr. Johnson, the program’s longtime head coach and former standout player, took time to talk about the film and its impact on the community, and share more about his own story.


Unexpected Turns

Mr. Johnson emerged as the focal point of the film, sharing his wealth of knowledge about the community he’s lived in for more than 40 years, and the unique basketball program he presided over for more than a quarter century.

He said he did not initially expect to have so much screen time in the movie, but he emerged as a focal point both for his willingness to open up and because he was willing to fill in the gaps when others either weren’t available or weren’t comfortable sharing their stories in that way. And of course there was the simple fact that Mr. Johnson has a compelling story to tell. The movie details his rise from star point guard on Killer Bees teams in the 1980s to what ultimately was a 26-year career on the sidelines, maintaining and adding to the legacy of former coaches like John Niles with four more state championships.

But basketball stardom—and love of the Bridgehampton community, for that matter—wasn’t always in the cards for Mr. Johnson. When his mother, Martha Johnson, decided to relocate to the area when he was just 9 years old, he said he “resisted at every turn,” unhappy to leave his friends in North Carolina.

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