Derek Haas can’t remember which game it was exactly, or whether it was a trademark tomahawk dunk or deep 3-pointer that set this crafty concept in motion, but he remembers where he was: On his couch, writing an episode of his NBC drama series, “Chicago Fire.”
The co-creator of the show took a quick break from typing away, took a peek toward his TV, saw Donovan Mitchell make a play and dared himself to do it. A character in the show needed a prom date, so while Haas was watching a Jazz game earlier this season, he baptized the random prom date character with a name now synonymous with the Utah franchise.
And that was just the beginning.
Haas is a devoted Jazz fan, but isn’t a lifer. He watched nearly every game this season, because a good friend from his college days at Baylor University is the architect for one of the young, up-and-coming teams in the NBA. Haas, 47, and Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, 49, were at Baylor together and were in the same circle of friends.
As “Chicago Fire” was approaching the end of its sixth season on NBC, Haas admittedly hit a wall.
“On these shows, I’ve done 140 something episodes at this point, I think, and you’re always looking for character names,” Haas explained. “It wasn’t like I was using the players themselves or their likenesses or anything like that. I just called NBC and said, ‘Hey, I want to use all these names in the last few episodes,’ and they’re like, ‘Go for it, we get Easter eggs for the fans.’ ”
“Easter eggs” is screenwriter code, obviously. And these eggs were designed by Haas and specifically for Jazz fans. Haas said he wanted to keep it quiet, but when the Jazz were in Los Angeles the last week of the regular season, Haas met up with Lindsey and showed him what he had planned.
“You know Dennis,” Haas said, “he was laughing.”
This week, Haas finally unveiled his list of cast characters for the “Chicago Fire” season finale, and well, there was no shortage of Jazz love. Sure, the Bulls owned Utah in the 1990s, but the Jazz took over the city’s fictional fire department, police department and even law offices for nearly 90 minutes.
There was Officer Joe Ingles, whose police badge read “Ingles,” but just like here in Utah, he’s known as Joe.
There was Detective Udoh.
Firefighter Alec Burks.
Firefighter Dan Exum.
Defense attorney Rick Rubio.
One character was “Rudy.”
Haas went far down the bench, finding a way to dub a season-finale cast member “Jerebko.” Haas has known Jazz center Ekpe Udoh for some time. Udoh, like Haas, Lindsey and rookie teammate Royce O’Neale, is a Baylor guy. Udoh actually had a cameo in an episode of the “Chicago Fire” spin-off “Chicago P.D.” Udoh was the first to hear from Haas after the show’s co-creator decided to make Chicago ablaze with Jazz.
“I just thought ‘you know what? I’ll just put them all in the finale,’ ” Haas said. “I just went down the list.”
Haas grew up in the greater Dallas area and had never, until now, gone full Easter egg hunt on one of his shows. He has, occasionally, looked up names from the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys, but admitted he could never name a character something as prominent as Staubach or Aikman. Honoring this year’s Jazz team, he said, was worth it to him because of his connection with the franchise and how he was, like so many, sucked in during their fantastic run to the postseason.
“It was like the whole thing caught fire,” Haas said.
In November, Haas flew to Salt Lake City to attend his first Jazz game at Vivint Smart Home Arena. He isn’t a guy comfortable asking for handouts, so he didn’t ask Lindsey for tickets. He bought his own. But when Dennis Lindsey’s wife, Becky, found out Haas was in town with his wife and two sons, they got a thorough tour of the arena when the Jazz hosted the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 3.
“Awesome,” he said of the arena. “Incredible.”
The “Chicago Fire” season finale aired last week, so Haas is enjoying his downtime. But he implored Jazz fans to watch his show, because there are some names he’s yet to use. And the show is returning for a seventh season.
“You never know what I’m going to do next,” Haas said.