Streetballers are fraudsters. At least, I used to think so.
Sit tight for a minute and let me explain. It was some eight years ago at the tender age of ten that I first came across the game as I rode my bike through a neglected corner of the local park. Although already acquainted with indoor basketball, I hadn’t before seen anything even vaguely resembling what was happening on the cracked, uneven asphalt of that dingy court. Awed into silence, I sat cross-legged on the grass and watched as this different breed of baller played with an arrogance, flair and apparent disrespect of the rules that was entirely new to me. Finally managing to pull myself away from the action, I pedaled home that afternoon with the impression that streetball was about faking, being faked and, ultimately, beingfake. “These guys even make up new names for themselves,” I told my grandma over dinner. The idea that players hid behind a nickname and the corresponding steelo was one that immediately implanted itself in my brain.
Speaking to King Handles, however, quickly knocked that notion clean out of my head. Our interview showed me that, while other streetball monikers are part of a persona, "King Handles" is no mere nickname; it’s a title. Here was a player whose game truly reflected his personal manner. The lilt in his speech brought to mind the bounce in his step as he makes his way down the floor to ruin a would-be defender. In conversation, his transition from one topic to the next is as swift as the crossover which has broken more bones than most ultimate fighters. More than anything, there’s a pervasive exuberance that he can’t suppress whether giving an interview or working his magic on the blacktop.
As nice as he is on the floor, he may be even nicer off it, with a wit sharp enough to back up the game that has made him one of the most popular Canadian ballers in the world. If I haven’t yet made it clear, I’ll state it flatly: King Handles – "Joey" to his boys – is one of the coolest cats you’ll ever talk to, displaying none of the ego that makes some of the other big names on the streetball scene inaccessible to the public and, consequently, unmarketable. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Vancouver’s favourite son has been approached by everyone from SLAM magazine to EA Sports, with a couple of calls from Hollywood along the way.
Recently, we caught the man in one of his rare quiet moments for an interview. Read on below to see what he had to say about his movie projects, Bone Collector and the DVD set to "change how mixtapes are going to be made."
C.Y. Ellis: A lot of people have asked exactly how it is that you got involved with the Air Bud project back in ’97. What’s the story behind that?
King Handles: Air Bud (laughing)? I was in grade seven, twelve years old, and these guys came out, these directors, and they wanted to find players for the movie, so I tried out for it and I got the part.
It has also been rumoured that you have a part in the sequel to Like Mike.
Oh, that was crazy, man. We just finished the movie, been doing it for about a month and a half. I’m an actor-slash-choreographer. It’s going to be a big movie, man.
So you’re moving up in the industry, getting a reputation.
Yeah, man, but it took a lot of hard work.
What has your involvement been with the video game industry?
EA Sports? I did MoCap for NBA Street 2 and 3. I did all the moves for it. Me and the Notic guys did all the moves for it.
How do you think coming from Vancouver rather than a traditional basketball city like New York has affected you?
It makes everything unique because if I lived in The States and I had the same game, I think it would be much harder because there are so many players like me. But I’m Canadian, and there’s not really a lot of Canadian streetballers out here, so me being a good ballhandler, being a streetball handler, is really odd.
Does that give you extra pressure? I mean, other guys rep their area, their ‘hood or their city maybe, but you’re basically playing for a whole country. What sort of burden does that put on your shoulders?
I think it doesn’t put too much pressure on me because I don’t need it right now. I don’t need to show anybody my game because people know who I am already because I was in SLAM, and I’m doing a lot of things right now. So I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on me when it comes to that. I think it makes my game better actually.
Who or what was it that first got you playing basketball?
My brother actually forced me to play basketball. I used to play hockey and I never used to like basketball, but my brother forced me into basketball. But, at the same time, I used to play soccer, too. So I had to pick between soccer and basketball, and I picked basketball because there are less players and soccer has more positions, so I didn’t get the ball as much, so I decided to play basketball instead.
There are actually rumours going around about that. A lot of people on the internet are trying to get hold of a tape of you playing soccer.
I was sick at soccer, man. I was sick, dog. I could have been somewhere playing soccer, but I chose basketball because I like it. I think I got some tapes maybe, man. Somebody has some tapes of me playing soccer. I’ll try to find some of those.
How was it that you first came to be associated with the Notic phenomenon?
I was playing at "Hoop It Up" one time – it was my second time playing "Hoop It Up" – and I was with my boys, like Goosebump and all those dudes. Every year we played at "Hoop It Up" and we were playing these dudes in our first game and we pulled a couple of tricks on them, and after the game these two guys with cameras, Jerry and Kirk, they approached us like, "We’re trying to do this mixtape." So I was like, "Cool, man." We’re not doing anything better at seventeen. So that’s how I got involved with Notic, just like that.
How did you come to be involved with the YPA?
I got invited to play in an All-Star game with YPA. The All-Star game was with Hot Sauce, Silk from the And 1 show, all those dudes. So I went down there, and before the game, the day before, I played against Roberto one-on-one, and me and him were battling like crazy. So I did really good and showed them I could hoop, so they told me, "Yo, man, you should get on with YPA."
We heard Roberto recruited you.
Yeah, he did.
What are your plans for the future? Are you going to try to get a contract abroad, perhaps in Europe?
Yeah, I plan to play overseas and try to make it to the NBA. That’s my main goal. Possibly do a bit of acting, because right now I’m doing acting, doing a lot of stuff. My main goal is to make it to a league, play overseas somewhere like Japan, anywhere I can really get on and make a team.
There’s been a lot of talk about your game against Bone Collector in New York…
(King Handles laughs.)
I thought you might not want to talk about that!
Me and B.C.! I tell you, man, that dude is the rawest dude I’ve seen play. I think the top streetballers right now are Roberto – of the guys that I’ve played against – Roberto and Bone Collector. Bone Collector, he’s nice with it, but he just talks a lot of shit. He just talks so much shit. I can tell you, man, when I got there, we had this practice and I played good. So then I went back to the hotel, and we’re on the same elevator, so he looks at me and he’s like, "You showed all your moves, dog. Now I know what you’re going to do, I’m going to fuck you up." I was like, "What? What’s with this dude? Who does he think he is?" So I just started laughing, and he’s like, "Why do you dribble when you blow so much?" He’s making fun of me, so I’m like, "What the hell?" So he got off and started laughing and shit, him and Baby Shaq started laughing. So the next day he was talking mad shit. He got me. He put it through my legs, so I can say that he got me, did his thing, but I didn’t let him score. But when I got that ball, he didn’t want to guard me at all. Even his mans said he didn’t want to guard me.
That’s exactly what everyone says. You look on the internet and people are saying that Bone Collector was afraid to step in front of you.
Oh, he couldn’t guard me, but one time I got him with this raw cross. They have it on tape, too, because I saw it. His manager has it on tape. I crossed him up, then after he tried to recover, I put a step on him. He leaned one way, and it was crazy, man. But they don’t have that footage. I don’t know where that footage is, man, but we were trying to call to get it. But that footage is lost somewhere. He didn’t want to guard me, but he got game, though. He’s got mad game.
Why did you ultimately decide to go for streetball rather than organized basketball?
I didn’t actually choose it. I didn’t choose streetball, but my first time ever playing basketball was on the street. It really just came to me. They see me as a streetball player, but I’m really just a basketball player. I probably just add a little flair to my game. Me, I’m an entertainer. I’m kind of like Jason Williams. I like to entertain. I didn’t really pick it, but it just happened.
Streetball chose you.
Yeah, it chose me.
There are a lot of NBA teams out there which are lacking in the point guard department. Do you see anywhere you could make a contribution?
I think so. I think I could do my thing if I get in the NBA. I think I could do something if I get in the league.
When did it first dawn on you that you were famous, that people knew your name everywhere you went?
Ah, man. When it really, really hit me was the second Streetball SLAM. That really had an impact. Everybody was like, "Come on, King Handles! What about King Handles?" To tell you the truth, I’m not really used to that. Now, it’s just funny to me. It’s really funny (laughing). But, at the same time, people are stepping to me and playing me harder and harder, so it’s a good thing. But I don’t have to prove to anyone that I got game because people already know who I am. Now, I feel real comfortable, more than before. I play when I want to play. I can do whatever I want to do.
You’re known mainly for your ballhandling skills. Are there any areas of your game you think people are sleeping on, things you don’t feel are appreciated enough?
My jumpshot. People are sleeping on that. It’s really hard to guard me because I can play with my defender every time. Some people get mad at me sometimes when I beat one guy and I come back again because I want to make them look stupid. It’s that streetball mentality. Some people get mad at me because I dribble too much, but I’m a streetballer so I got to do something for the crowd.
Is there any area of your game you feel you could improve upon to help your transition to the professional game?
Probably my mental game. My passes are getting a little bit better, but probably my mental game and how to play. Now I’m getting a lot better. I’m getting older, so my mental game is getting better.
A lot of people criticise streetball as something which hurts basketball because it teaches kids poor habits. What’s your response to them?
I think, straight up, we don’t live in the ’50s, man. It’s 2005, and you really got to accept it. Like back in the day people used to wear those tight pants and now nobody’s wearing that any more. People are wearing baggy pants now. The game changes, and people have to accept that. In the NBA, people pull streetball stuff. People putting it off the glass and dunking, like Tracy McGrady. Highlights are different now. Vince Carter’s doing three-sixty layups and everything. The game is changing, and people are saying "Streetball, this and that." There’s streetball in the NBA, too. You’ve got Anklebreakers. That’s a streetball DVD, but nobody realised that, though. Streetball does help a lot of kids, too, but it depends how they take it. Sometimes kids take it overboard, but it actually helps you with your ballhandling, makes you feel more comfortable with the ball. It made me more comfortable with the ball, me and my homies, the Notic guys and other streetball players more comfortable with the ball. Doing tricks, they have more confidence. It’s all in how you use streetball, how you take it.
Is there anybody on the streetball scene that you haven’t yet faced that you’d like to match up with at some point?
Ah, man. I think I’ve faced everybody, man. I’ve faced Hot Sauce. I was in Chicago, and I faced Hot Sauce and dropped thirty points. On that "Killer Crossover Tour" team, I dropped thirty and we won. We played three games, and we won two, in a high school that was packed like crazy. I think I’ve played against everybody, but really, I want to go against Bone Collector again. He’s the only dude I want to go against. You know what? Maybe Tru Baller, too, because he talks a lot of shit.
He’s coming up now.
I don’t know if I want to play against him. I don’t mind, but he talks a lot of shit, so maybe him.
So you’re calling Tru Baller out then?
Yeah, I’ll call him out. Play against me. I don’t care.
Who’s the person you’ve most enjoyed playing against so far?
It’s Roberto, man – the Young One, Exile – and Ghostrida from YPA. It’s fun to play with those guys, man.
Everyone knows that you’ve got a lot of highlights, but what would you say is the best play you’ve ever pulled off in your career?
Man, I’ve pulled so many (laughing). I can’t say.
Tell us about some of your future projects.
Right now I’m working on a mixtape. I’m trying to put that in stores for 2006 in the fall, so that’s going to be off the chain. It’s going to be just like a movie. I’m going to change how mixtapes are going to be made. It’s called King of the Street, and it’ll be out next year, 2006.
People are going to be happy with that. A lot folks were wondering when something you’ve fronted was going to drop.
It’s going to be featuring Roberto, guys from The Notic and some YPA dudes, so it’s not just going to be me in it. It’s going to be my project, but it’s going to feature all of those guys, too, and how everybody came together, how everybody met up.
(At this point the transcript has to be edited as King Handles speaks of a project which is currently top-secret. I can’t reveal any further details, but, needless to say, it sounds like it’s going to be hot. As soon as the information is declassified, we’ll be the first to let you know all about it.)
Who are some of your streetball heroes and how do you think they’ve influenced your game?
Let’s see, man. I think Rafer Alston and Bone Collector. Those dudes and Allen Iverson. They influenced my game a lot – how to break down a defender, how comfortable they are playing against a defense and controlling a game.
Did Iverson influence your crossover?
Oh, my crossover’s from Iverson, man. It’s all him, dog. The body motion and everything is from him. Him and Kobe Bryant were my first dudes, and then after that I saw Rafer and I was like, "Damn!" I pick from each player and try to make my own style.
What are your aims for your life outside of streetball?
Probably acting, man. I want to get into acting a little bit. My major goal is that I want to get into real estate – buying houses and selling – because I don’t want to work a nine-to-five job.
What do you do to relax when you’re not playing basketball?
Chill with my girl, chill with my homies, my family. I don’t do too much. I work part-time in a carpet store sometimes to have a little bit of extra money on me.
Finally, do you have any messages or shout-outs?
To my fans: thank you for supporting me when I was down. Thanks to The Notic and YPA; I really appreciate it. I came a long way. I was in Vancouver, down in the gutter, and nobody really knew about me until now. At the same time, I love And 1 and everything, but people were talking about, "You need to be with And 1 to be famous." I don’t really need to do And 1 to be famous because I’m doing it solo right now. But much love for And 1. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be playing streetball, because they started the whole thing. Did you hear about that game, though, where we beat And 1, the Vancouver team? You heard about that?
Yeah, I heard about that.
I’m going to put that on my mixtape. It’s going to be hot, man. It’s going to be sick.
Thanks for your time, man.
Props to Yash at KingHandles.ca for the images and video.