VIFF 2021 Review – Handle With Care : The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew

The Vancouver streetball team ‘The Notic’ are the centre of Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew.

If you’re a fan of streetball, you should know who the Notic are. The documentary Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew tells the story of their formation, rise, fall, afternath and reunification. There more than meets the eye in this film.

The story begins with two Canadian-born brothers from Uganda: Jonathan and David Mubanda. Growing up in a country like Canada, they feel like outsiders. Feelings also shared by Joel ‘Joey’ Haywood, son of Jamaican immigrants. They discover they have a love for basketball and they’re dazzled by watching NBA games and the tricks of the players. They succeed in making their high school’s basketball team and they recreate some of the moves. However even if they play well, it gets on the nerves of their white coaches. One of them tells one of the boys to stop playing ‘jungleball.’

Streetball and 3-on-3 tournaments was something new at the time. That caught the attention of Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. They were a couple of teenagers graduated from high school and undecided what to do with their lives. Their first dream was to start a punk rock band. However when they saw streetball and the play from these boys, it changed their attention and they saw a new use for their video cameras. Within time, their group of boys who gave themselves the name ‘The Notic’ would grow and include Mohammed Wenn, Jamal Parker, Dauphin Ngongo: also immigrants of first generation Canadians. In 2000, their first video of their play, entitled ‘The Notic Mix Tape’ was released.

The video was intended to just be a video strictly for them and their friends. Over time, they would sell copies of the video on the street. Little did any of them know at the time the sales would skyrocket. But while the popularity of the Notic was growing, so was the size of the group. One was discovered at a 3-by-3 tournament. His name was Andrew Liew: a Bruneian immigrant who went by the name ‘6 Fingaz’ because he had a sixth finger on his left hand! They were also joined by Rory Grace: a white boy with delayed puberty who came from a troubled family background, but delivered some mad skills on court. Rory was nicknamed ‘Disaster.’ Actually all the boys had unique nicknames: Johnny Blaze, Where U At?, David Dazzle, Delight, Kinghandles and Goosebumps.

Next tournament was a streetball tournament in Vancouver in May 2001. That’s where the Notic really got their breakthrough and wowed the crowd. All of them were strutting the stuff and sure enough, Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas had their cameras in hand. They were catching their every move. They also caught their moves as they were ‘chillin’ out by the Surrey Skytrain Station or in the gymnasiums or in their houses. Then they caught a big break as they were invited to a tournament in Seattle. There they stole the show and it was Disaster that blew everyone away with his trickery.

Soon the Notic phenomenon was born. As Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas were busy making their next video, the Notic caught the attention of ESPN and Slam magazine. They were given interviews and Slam! magazine dedicated a seven-page article that included the players and the filmmakers. A website in the UK that promoted streetball had the Notic video on and it got over 100,000 hits a month during its heydays in 2001-2002, kids were coming up to members of the Notic and getting their autographs, even EA Sports recuited them to be the models for their streetball video game where they were paid $5000 each.

Then the Notic 2 was released in 2002, but that’s when the friction was starting. Jermaine was unhappy he was not included as part of the Slam! article. Many of the players were unhappy that their videos were getting a ton of views but they weren’t seeing a single cent for themselves. On top of it, all eight boys were teenagers growing into adults. Soon they were learning that streetball was no way to make a living as an adult. They all had to find their own direction.

Only Joey Haywood took basketball into the colleges. When he didn’t make it into the NBA, he was signed to a Danish basketball league. Joey now holds coaching sessions. The other boys, they found careers or paths of their own. One found work at a mosque in Edmonton, one is a contractor for interiors, another found work in promoting a charity. Rory is the one who had the most trouble since as he felt lost after the split-up of the Notic. He first dabbled in drug dealing and became in addict himself. He spent time in jails and in rehab, but lost custody of his sons. We see as he’s being reunited with his second son. One thing that hasn’t changed with the Notic is they still dazzle and inspire young players from around the world. The spirit of the Notic lives as Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas screen for all members Notic 3 made from kept videotape of Joey.

This is quite a story. It’s the story of a group of boys who were able to dazzle the world with their play of ball. It’s commonly called ‘streetball’ but I’ve often called it ‘freestyle basketball.’ You can look at this story many ways. You could even see the Notic as a group of ‘Next Generation Globetrotters’ straight out of Vancouver. This is a story of young boys who were either immigrants or first generation Canadians trying to find themselves where they felt like a misfit elsewhere. They either felt like they were substandard in school or they were dealt with racism around them. Basketball was their escape. Basketball made them feel like they belonged. Streetball was where they stood out. Their experience as part of the Notic proved to most that yes, they do have what it takes to make it. Eventually they would have to learn they were able to succeed without streetball as adults. However it was being part of the Notic that gave self-confidence to most when they needed it.

The story reminds you that not everything is grand. Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas did acknowledge they were young filmmakers who did not know how far their grainy videos would go. They didn’t know bootleg copies would find themselves around town. They didn’t know uploaded versions of their video would make itself worldwide on the internet. They were young filmmakers who didn’t know about the obstacles and pitfalls of the business. And the eight boys that made up the Notic, you can understand why they would become angered and feel like they were done wrong. Jeremy and Kirk do acknowledge the wrongs they did and that they weren’t as transparent. I guess that exlains why the main title of the documentary is Handle With Care. Also it shows that as Rory saw the Notic as a way out of his troubling family life, it was his everything. When the Notic split up, he was lost and that’s what led to his downward spiral. It’s a story you hear over again of young starts who hit the big time, see it as their everything, and then are lost when the big time disowns them. That was Rory’s case.

This is an excellent documentary from directors Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas. In a lot of ways, it’s a case of a documentary as they are preparing to make the Notic 3. It stars as a case where the two meet with Haywood and come across old videotapes not shown in any previous Notic videos. We shouldn’t forget Notic 3 was never made; the Notic split up before it could be made. At the same time, making Notic 3 was not easy. They had to confront former members who felt they were ripped off in their fame. Jermaine is especially angry. However he makes peace with the two as they acknowledge their past mistakes. In the end, all eight of the former Notic players meet on a basketball court in 2019 to see the screening of Notic 3 and they celebrate reminisce of the old times. When you watch the documentary, you can see it as one of three things. You can see it as the Notic members telling their stories, you can see it as the documenting of the making of Notic 3, or you can see it as Jeremy and Kirk trying to make amends for past business mistakes and trying to make it up to the boys. Either which way, it’s inciteful to watch.

Handle With Care: The Legend Of The Notic Streetball Crew is a documentary worth watching. It will remind you of the heydays of basketball in the 1990’s and early-noughts. However it’s much more. It’s about a group of lost boys who opened doors for themselves by doing something they loved to do. Also it’s two filmmakers set up to make right past wrongs.

Len Bias Remembered

Len Bias was drafted by the Celtics during the 1986 NBA Draft. He was expected to be one of the greats. But all promise ended in tragedy two days later.
22 year-old Len Bias was drafted by the Celtics during the 1986 NBA Draft. He was expected to be one of the greats. He was even compared to Michael Jordan. But all promise ended in tragedy two days later.

Today is the birthday of basketball player Len Bias. He’d be 50 years old today. It’s one thing for a life to be cut short early but it’s another to see how much has happened since.

Bias was born in Landover, Maryland and grew up there attending high school in Hyattsville. His nickname since childhood was ‘Frosty.’ He then attended the University of Maryland upon graduation. His freshman year didn’t start well and most coaches saw him as raw and undisciplined. The 6’8″ Bias would develop into an All-American player in the latter years. His junior year proved impressive as he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring and was named the ACC’s Player Of The Year. His senior season was highlighted by a performance against top-ranked North Carolina where he scored 35 points including 7 in the last 3 minutes of regulation and 4 in overtime. At the end of that season, Bias collected his second ACC Player Of The Year award and was named to two All America teams.

Right in his senior year, basketball fans were very impressed with Len Bias. His most impressive traits were his amazing jumping ability, his physical stature and his ability to create plays and was considered one of the most impressive players in the United States. NBA scouts in 1986 already had seen him as the most complete forward of the Class of 1986. Even Boston Celtics scout Ed Badger said of him:  “He’s maybe the closest thing to Michael Jordan to come out in a long time. I’m not saying he’s as good as Michael Jordan, but he’s an explosive and exciting kind of player like that.”

On June 17, 1986, the 1986 NBA Draft took place at Madison Square Gardens. Bias was the second overall pick and he was picked for the Boston Celtics. He admitted that he always wanted to play for the Celtics: “and my dream’s come true.” He and his family returned back to his home in suburban Maryland later that day. The following day, Bias and his father flew to Boston for an NBA club draft acceptance and a product endorsement signing ceremony with the Celtics coaches and management. Bias was also in talks with Reebok for a five-year endorsement package worth $1.6 million. It seemed like it was all uphill from there.

After returning home to Washington, Bias retrieved his newly leased sports car and drove back to his dorm room at the University of Maryland campus. He left campus at around 2am on June 19 and drove to an off-campus gathering, which he attended briefly before returning to his dorm in Washington Hall at 3am. It was at that time Bias and his friends used cocaine. According to friends accounts, Bias felt pains in his chest, had a seizure and collapsed around 6:30am that morning while talking to teammate Terry Long. At 6:32am while friend Brian Tribble made the 911 call, Bias was unconscious and not breathing. That was echoed in Tribble’s haunting 911 message: “This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die. Seriously sir. Please come quick.” All attempts at resuscitation from paramedics in the ambulance were unsuccessful. Additional attempts to revive Bias were made upon his arrival at Leland Memorial Hospital in the Emergency Room but it was all to no avail. At 8:55 on the morning of June 19, 1986, Leonard Kevin Bias was pronounced dead. He was only 22.

Len’s death was a shocking blow to those who knew him and those who followed basketball. Four days after his death, more than 11,000 people packed the Cole Field House at the University of Maryland for a memorial service. Speaking at the service was Celtics manager Red Auerbach, who said he had planned to draft Bias with the Celtics for three years. Michael Jordan sent the Bias family their first set of flowers: peonies, Larry Bird sent the second set of flowers, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy sent sympathy cards as well as other heads of state, athletes called the Bias house. The popularity of Len Bias surprised his mother. The Celtics honored Bias with their own memorial service on June 30th that year. At that service, Len’s mother Lonise was given his never-used Boston Celtics jersey with his Celtics number 30 on it.

The reason why I’m focusing on Len’s death has a lot to do about the year he was born: 1963. 1963 was also the year a lot of legendary NBA greats were born: Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Spud Webb, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, and most notably Michael Jordan. The era in which they played in from the late-80’s to the 90’s would be an era that would change the NBA forever.

Without a doubt, Michael Jordan was king. He was not only famous for his playing style and his NBA record breaking but for his immense endorsement marketability. Everything Jordan touches, everything Jordan wore, everything Jordan ate saw sales reach impressive totals. He was Madison Avenue’s dream. Even his shoe endorsed by Nike, the Air Jordan, sold large enough to make the company the top athletic wear company. Hey, I don’t call the Air Jordan “the shoe that changed the world” for nothing. The shoe was originally meant to be an athletic shoe but Michael’s popularity eventually turned it into a staple of streetwear. I remember the popularity of Air Jordans too well. I wanted to be different and wore L.A. Gears with snazzy-colored triple laces hoping to make Air Jordans wearers envious. It didn’t work because it wasn’t how cool your shoes looked; it’s whether they were Air Jordans or not.

Michael Jordan may have been king during that time but it also worked magic for the whole NBA too. In the few years just before Jordanmania, the NBA was already doing well with the star power of Larry Bird, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Julius ‘Dr. J.’ Erving and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. However it was Jordan who created the revolution with a superstardom that even surpassed the best baseball players and football players at the time. His popularity catapulted the NBA from simply being a third major sports league to even rivaling the popularity of baseball and football. Seven new NBA franchises have since started up since his popularity. Sportswear and athletic uniforms, especially basketball jerseys and anything with Chicago Bulls, were a men’s wear phenomenon. Other basketball teams also sold a lot of sportswear like the San Antonio Spurs, L.A. Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets. I remember I did the Phoenix Suns because I was tired of all this Chicago Bulls stuff and also because I liked Charles Barkley.

Also Jordan may have been the Babe Ruth of his time but his megastar status helped promote other basketball stars like David Robinson, Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Isaiah Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal to superstar status. Yeah, basketball players sure got the rock star treatment back then. We should also not forget the Dream Team. That was the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team whose twelve team members consisted of eleven NBA greats. That was when NBA professionals were allowed for the time to compete in the Olympic Games. Since Jordan’s retirement, the NBA still thrives well but still lacks the glory days of the late 80’s and 90’s. Even today’s top NBA star Lebron James isn’t able to fill Jordan’s shoes.

Okay, now that I’ve talked of all this, you may wonder what does that have to do with Len Bias? As I mentioned, Bias was born the same year as a lot of NBA greats including Jordan. Ever since I saw the 30 For 30 documentary Without Bias, directed by Kirk Fraser, it left me wondering what would have happened to Bias had he not taken that fatal dose? It’s not just how well Bias could’ve excelled in the NBA that had me thinking. Sometimes I think it could’ve been the Celtics who could have most rivaled the Lakers and the Bulls for major NBA championships during that time. The Celtics could have had the power duo of ‘Bird and Bias.’ When I think of all those sneakers that were advertised during that period of time, I wonder what type of Reebok posters Len would’ve had? Even in thinking of the Dream Team of 1992, I wonder would Len have been part of the Dream Team? Those are questions no one will ever know the answer to.

A tragedy like that is always a sad occasion leaving me and others asking ‘why’ and ‘what if?’ You wonder would any good come out of it? Good did come out of it. One thing we should remember is Bias’ overdose came while cocaine was the biggest problem in the War On Drugs at the time. The basic powdered cocaine was already an epidemic and crack was already starting to create its own problems. Tribble was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Bias’ University of Maryland teammates Terry Long and David Gregg were charged with possession of cocaine and were dropped from the team. Tribble would later be convicted of drug dealing and be sentenced to ten years in prison. The University of Maryland came under huge fire including cover-ups in Bias’ cocaine possession to Bias’ academic status. Bias’ father called for investigation of the University of Maryland and the NCAA responded. Athletics director Dick Dull resigned soon after.

In 1988 U.S. Congress passed a stricter anti-drug law known as the ‘Len Bias law.’ Even the NBA got involved with having its stars promote anti-drug messages. In fact one person said Len Bias never tested positive for drugs but had he done so, it wouldn’t have affected his NBA recruitment back then. The NBA was that lax about it back then. Len’s death changed all that. Another thing that came to light over Bias’ death was that he was credits shy of graduating college and even failed courses in his last year knowing he was about to be signed to the NBA. Back in Bias’ day an athlete could be signed on to a sports league without graduating via a letter-of-intent. The NCAA system of athletes had to be revamped and reformed with stricter minimums for college entry and regulations for graduation.Nowadays no athlete is signed to a letter-of-intent without a review by the office of admission.

The Bias family would once again experience tragedy in December 1990 when their youngest son James Bias III was shot to death in his car in a shopping mall parking lot. The Bias parents, James and Lonise, have become involved in causes involving their sons’ deaths. Lonise became an anti-drug spokes person visiting schools, telling the story of Len and giving the message “Peer pressure destroys, peer pressure kills if you don’t know who you are.” James has lobbied for stricter handgun control. Another footnote: Seven years later the Celtics would lose one of their own, Reggie Lewis, to a heart attack caused by cocaine use.

Some of you may think that it was the 30 For 30 documentary that inspired me to write this on this day. True, just like it inspired me to write the 9.79 articles of the big run and the aftermath. It’s one thing to be reminded of a moment in sports like this while watching a 30 For 30 documentary. It’s another to hear the moment and even learn of who Len Bias was from the people that knew him best. Len Bias didn’t come across as your typical cocaine abuser. Actually in watching Without Bias, you’d think that Len was a sweet kid. He loved his parents terribly. He was close to his family. He even had a friendship with his church pastor Rev. Gregory Edmond. Even hearing of Len’s excited reaction on the day he was out promoting sneakers made me think he must have been a sweet kid. That doesn’t sound like your typical cocaine abuser. Just as shocking was how it was top-of-the-line cocaine he tried. It’s like one said, how social cocaine users could get cocaine that pure and that potent is unheard of. Normally it’s bought by people higher up the social ladder. Hearing it all just makes me want to shake my head.

27 years have passed since that tragic day. The NBA has seen its fair share of talents own the spotlight for many years. For the Bias family, they’re left with memories of a son and the heartbreak of missing him. For the University of Maryland, they’re left with regret over letting such an incident go overlooked until it was too late. For the Boston Celtics at that time and even the NBA, they’re left with the wonder of what Bias would have been like. We’ll never know. Watching Without Bias really made me think. Seeing his mother receive the Celtics jersey at the memorial service was a gripping moment. Even hearing the quotes from people who remember him really make me think: “He had the purest jump shot I’ve ever seen… and it was a work of art.” “Both Jordan and Bias played with a rage. A controlled rage.” “Len Bias as a player as I remember him was a consummate  inside/outside force. A truly exciting player.”  Makes you wonder.

Happy 50th Birthday, Len ‘Frosty’ Bias. You’re gone but still remembered by many. It’s unfortunate you’re best known for your untimely death but many remember you as a great player. That’s as it should be.