Film Discussion Interviews & Profiles

Handle With Care – An interview with writer and star Joey Haywood – VIFF 2021

Following two era-defining VHS mixtape releases in the early 2000s, Joey Haywood and Vancouver’s the Notic gained popularity on the international streetball scene as masters of their art. Not long after, the crew broke up. Now their legacy has been revived by Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew, a new documentary focusing on the group’s rise, fall, and rebirth.

Set The Tape’s Nicholas Lay met with Joey at VIFF 2021 to discuss how the film came about, the global evolution of streetball, and his continued passion for a culture he helped define.

Nicholas Lay: The Notic first became a sensation on the streetball scene in 2002. Almost 20 years on, how did Handle With Care come about, and what drove you and the other members to get involved?

Joey Haywood: Ryan Sidhoo, the producer, was a childhood friend of mine who I grew up playing basketball with. He was basically my brother, and when the Notic crew, Hoop It Up, and the mixtapes happened, he was always there hanging around, watching us play. As my career went on we kept in touch, and after working on a couple of Notic short films, including one for Vice, he pitched a definitive Notic documentary featuring the whole crew, which I knew he’d had on his mind four to five years prior. I said I was in, he secured the funding from Telus, and away we went.

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NL: How easy was it to get the crew together for the project… did any members need convincing to participate?

JH: I’d say it was a pretty smooth process. I personally thought it was a great idea and from there Ryan contacted the directors Jeremey [Schaulin-Rioux] and Kirk [Thomas], who needed some convincing due to project and family commitments. Ultimately they made it work as they had so much footage to share from their days with the crew, and they knew that people wanted to know what really happened to the Notic. The film also presented them with the opportunity to finally finish The Notic 3 [the previously unreleased follow up to hit mixtapes The Notic 1 & 2], which meant a lot to all of us.

The players wanted to be involved as it gave them the opportunity to come together and tell the truth about their experiences during and after the Notic, whether it be Rory’s [Grace] battle with drugs or Jermaine’s [Foster] frustration with how the money was handled at the time. The group had its problems, but the main thing is that we’re now cool with each other, and Handle With Care gave everyone the chance to tell their own unique story.

NL: How did it feel the day the crew reunited for the screening of The Notic 3?

JH: It felt great to be back together as a crew like that. Each member had their struggles over the years, and it was seriously touching to see that not only had everyone survived, but that they were still trying to do better. That’s what defines our crew: no matter how much we’re struggling, we try hard and we want to do better.

NL: Post-Notic, you were the only member who went on to play pro ball. How did your time with the Notic motivate and prepare you for that?

JH: I always believed in myself and wanted to push for personal success, but a big motivation was my need to shut down those who wanted to say “I told you so” about the Notic crew, that we were just a bunch of rec players who couldn’t play basketball. If I had stopped playing and had tried to support myself financially in other ways, then the people who hated on us and downplayed us would have won. I couldn’t deal with that, so I told myself to keep going, not only me for me, but for the crew. I took the belief of those guys and held it with me that whole time. They drove me to make it and prove the doubters wrong.

Streetball really prepared me for pro ball, and without the Notic I don’t think I would have made it. Hard work and dedication to the game helped get me there, but without that platform the Notic provided, it would have been tough for me to get noticed. My high school coaches resisted that street style and wanted to see fundamental ball, so I had a chip on my shoulder that drove me to streetball events like Hoop It Up in Vancouver. That was my NBA. I wanted to destroy everyone there, to embarrass them and show what I was about. I did that, but without that crew around me and the content from those Notic mixtapes, some of which was captured at that first Hoop It Up, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

NL: You’re a Vancouverite who still calls the city home. Considering the struggles that you and other members of the Notic faced growing up and playing basketball here as people of colour, has the city changed for the better?

JH: I think basketball has grown a lot in Vancouver. When I was young it was hard as the game and the system were very structured and coaches were more traditional. Local kids now see the likes of Steph Curry and are able to try and play like him because that mix of entertainment and street style ball has become a core part of the game, which is something this younger generation of coaches understands and is more willing to accept. If I was coming up now, within that culture, I believe I could have done really well.

As for how the city and the wider world has evolved with regards to black culture, we’ve seen some progress through the Black Lives Matter movement, but really we’re still behind when it comes to black culture and history in the curriculum and understanding what black people are all about. We aren’t just rappers and athletes, and if the contributions black people have made to society are actually taught in the classroom, that would help people to understand black culture.

NL: Would you like to see an event like Hoop It Up return to Vancouver?

JH: For sure, I would love for it to come back. To understand and thrive in street basketball you need grit, and I think some of that has been lost as basketball has grown and evolved in Vancouver. There’s so many clubs here now, and that’s great, but streetball is a different type of game and that’s where we really developed our grit as ball players. Back then there was only one academy, Basketball BC, and if you didn’t make it that meant you played outdoors. Now you have more options and can have more trials, so eventually you will get in somewhere. The edge that comes from streetball culture can get lost with that.

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NL: You now regularly attend streetball exhibitions in China and Japan, where you and the Notic are a known entity with dedicated fans. How does it feel to be back in the streetball space after all these years and what have your experiences in Asia been like?

JH: Oh man, it’s amazing out there. The streetball era stuff that happened when the Notic was around hit Asia and never left, it just keeps going and growing. They love this shit and it’s great to see because I truly fit in there. The game comes so naturally to them and new opportunities and events keep opening up, which is why I keep going back. In China we have 3-on-3s and even 1-on-1 money ball games where I play as the final big boss. If a challenger eliminates everyone in else tournament they get to face me 1-on-1, and the crowds watching are just insane. I still win too, but they’re good games and one of those guys gave me a real challenge. People think Asian guys can’t play, but they’re wrong. More people play basketball in China than they do in the United States, and those guys can hoop, but with the local internet restrictions it’s hard for them to get themselves out there and show the world what they can do. There is something interesting happening in basketball everyday in Asia, and you can have a real career making real money just playing streetball. Why NBA, right? These days you have the chance to create your own lane.

NL: Great chatting with you, Joey.

JH: Thanks a lot.

Keep an eye out for Handle With Care (a TELUS original) later this year and The Notic 3 in 2022.

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