Screening at the 2022 Hot Docs Canadian Festival this May, Handle with Care details the journey of Vancouver streetball legends The Notic. Produced by Ryan Sidhoo and directed by long-time Notic filmmakers Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas, the documentary showcases the rise of the group in the early 2000’s, before detailing The Notic’s disbanding and the individual stories that took place in the time since. The story concludes with the group reuniting 20 years later, to make amends and reflect on the massive impact they carried in street basketball as well as for Canadian hoops in general.
Opening with crazy scenes from a trip to Asia, Handle with Care quickly introduces the audience to Joel (Joey) Haywood, a now-streetball legend dubbed “King Handles”, and how he went from a talented youngster playing around the Vancouver area to a worldwide streetball legend.
From there we’re slowly introduced to the rest of the crew, starting with Jonathan (Johnny Blaze) and David Mubanda (David Dazzle): immigrants from Uganda who were still getting used to the differences & challenges of living in Canada.
Jonathan Mubanda & Joey Haywood (Courtesy The Notic)
For many of the guys in The Notic they struggled to find their place in their youth, not fitting in to any real circles or cliques. The Mubanda’s discuss the difficulties of growing up in Africa and moving to a place where they were some of the only black kids in their school, and how desperate they were for a creative outlet to find a sense of belonging.
Some of them may have not taken to basketball right away, citing hockey as a passion early on in their lives. Due to high costs though, things eventually shifted to basketball. Sometimes struggling in school and often times struggling to acclimate to their surroundings, the guys found love in the sport of basketball, and began to turn heads in streetball courts across Vancouver.
Although the talent was undeniable, they played a style of basketball that made old-heads frown. It was flashy, it was extravagant and it was all about embarrassing the man lining up against you. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call team-basketball, and so once again they struggled to fit in. The style wasn’t accepted in high school basketball or in mainstream Vancouver circles, but it was starting to gain traction amongst the underground streetball crowd.
Especially for Haywood, who was a highly-touted high school prospect, the appeal of street basketball started to outweigh the traditional game. His coaches would often tell him that he needed to switch his style, and multiple times referred to his playing style as being “too black,” The poor-tasted comments and criticism’s only fueled Haywood further, and he continued to work on his craft, embracing the style of basketball he felt he wanted to play.
Word began to spread around the Vancouver area and a few of the eventual members met for a pick-up game in Burnaby. For the first time for many of them it was the first chance to find people that actually played the same way: it was proper street basketball. Haywood connected with Jermaine Foster (Fresh) and Mohammed Wenn (Goosebumps), as well as the aforementioned Mubanda, and before long they were playing together and creating a brotherhood.
“Even before the Notic came together I knew a lot of these guys”, said ‘King Handles’ Haywood. “We built a real family bond through streetball. We always kept in touch.”
Joey Haywood aka ‘King Handles (Courtesy The Notic)
Through the inspiration of Rucker Park and AND1 mixtapes, the guys began to fully understand how talented they were, and how they could create a path for themselves with street basketball.
From there the documentary moves to a 2001 Hoop It Up event in Vancouver, a 3-on-3 streetball tournament that had several eventual Notic members participate.
Enter Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas, a pair of recent high school grads with a passion for basketball. Through similar inspiration from AND1 mixtapes, Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas travelled to the Hoop It Up tournament in hopes of getting some footage for their friends.
The two young filmmakers eventually find Haywood’s team and start filming, sitting in awe at the level of skill and trickery coming from King Handles and his teammates. Seeing as they had nothing to lose, they shyly introduced themselves and asked if they could film a mixtape for them, and that’s when The Notic was born.
“We were definitely filming before we met those guys for about a year”, said Schaulin-Rioux. “But no one was doing any moves, we’d be excited if we saw a random block. When we got to Hoop it Up and saw Joey’s team we knew these guys were the craziest team we’d ever seen”.
From the opposite perspective, the players were just excited to have a mixtape created for them, and they happily agreed.
A little bit down the line the crew’s first mixtape is created: The Notic. The footage wasn’t always the clearest but the talent was undeniable, and the tape began to turn heads within the local streetball community. There wasn’t much infrastructure in Vancouver for street basketball, and so there was opportunity there for The Notic to pioneer the game to new heights.
Through early internet message boards, Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas spread the tape and it eventually began to make waves worldwide. The Notic quickly became underground celebrities in Vancouver, while making small waves in countries that they could have never even imagined.
“I was playing street ball for 3 years before the first Notic tape”, said Haywood reflecting. “I was just living in the moment. It was a blessing but I didn’t know it was gonna spread that quick.”
Rory Grace aka Disaster (Courtesy The Notic)
Before long there was even a Junior Notic squad made up of younger players, with one of them being a small white kid from Vancouver: Rory Grace (aka Disaster). He may have been the smallest guy on the court, but Grace had mind-boggling talent, and was able to make his defenders look foolish no matter how bigger or older they were.
Haywood took him under his wing, and before long Grace become a mainstay member of The Notic.
From there things started to get more and more surreal for the group, with bigger brands and companies taking notice. AND1 reached out to send them free gear, later leading to a 2002 AND1- sponsored tournament in Seattle where they came in contact with ESPN.
The hype train continued to roll as they managed to secure that ESPN interview, and followed the televised attention by playing a few games in front of massive crowds. One of the most heartwarming moments of the documentary is where in front of the crazed crowd, the youngster Grace pulls off a series of insane dribble moves to completely embarrass his defender. The crowd swarms the court, and it starts to feel like The Notic is indestructible.
The bond continues to grow, but back in high school Haywood is being pushed more and more towards the streetball style of play. He was a top recruit and still wanted to attempt playing pro, but coaches were becoming more and more agitated with his flashiness on the court, and this was specifically shown in a high-school all-star game where Haywood was ripped by his coach.
“Going through that situation on the court helped me”, said Haywood strongly. “I had confidence in my game, but I knew people would always want to put you down. I always believed in myself no matter what. That coach in the all-star game was never gonna stop me.”
Jermaine Foster aka Fresh (Courtesy Patrick Giang)
With the continued building energy, Haywood returned his focus to streetball where the widespread success of the group led to the creation of The Notic 2. They put more money back into the team with jerseys and branding, and started to become defacto rock stars in the Vancouver area. The Notic 2 eventually releases with a better budget and much better quality, and blows up across the world in streetball communities.
The Notic were called by EA Sports and brought in to help with hit video game NBA Street Vol. 2, where a large number of their signature moves were put into the game.
After that, The Notic got a call that every hooper dreams about getting: they were going to be in SLAM Magazine.
“I grew up reading SLAM, SLAM is like the bible of basketball”, said Haywood with joy. “For all of us to be in there it was an absolute blessing”.
Not only were the players in the final cut, but the two filmmakers Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas made it as well, which was something they couldn’t believe until they actually saw it.
“I remember me and Kirk couldn’t believe that SLAM was happening”, said Schaulin-Rioux with a laugh. “Kirk kept emailing the lady at SLAM and saying ‘but wait are we in it? Are the two white guys in hoodies in it?’ And they told us yes but we still didn’t believe it. The idea that Kirk and I, a pair of amateur hoop heads made it was unfathomable”.
The momentum continued to build in terms of attention, but there wasn’t any real cashflow coming back to the players. The crew was young, and there wasn’t much of a plan on how to develop their brand and make money in the long-term.
As time went on and they started working on The Notic 3, things began to get increasingly difficult. Some players had graduated and moved away, and others just didn’t have the time anymore to make the necessary commitment, especially considering being in the crew wasn’t paying the bills.
A few of the players became disgruntled with Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas, feeling as if they were keeping the revenue from the mixtapes for themselves and not splitting it amongst the group.
Still though, there were transparency issues with more than just money. The documentary details the moment when original Notic member Foster was left out of a SLAM shoot, something that still stuck to him today. He plainly tells Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas while filming Handle with Care years later, just how much that moment hurt him.
Kirk Thomas & Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux (Courtesy Patrick Giang)
Things came crashing down quickly, and before anyone could blink The Notic crew disbanded, with The Notic 3 never being finished.
The guys all went their separate ways, with Haywood being the only one to try and continue his basketball dreams. Haywood was a high caliber player, but he realized there wasn’t much money or mainstream notoriety in streetball, and so he tried to transition back into the organized game.
After competing in a streetball tournament in Halifax, Haywood was offered a scholarship to Saint Mary’s University. He averaged an eye-opening 28.8 PPG and proved that he could dominate in the organized basketball scene, but he was older than much of his university counterparts at the time.
Still though, Haywood had the opportunity to play oversees and in the NBL Canada for six years, something that he’ll always be thankful for.
“I would never change my professional basketball experience”, said Haywood proudly. “I got to travel the world, it made me a better basketball player and a better person. It was also nice to prove to myself that I can play at a very high level. I did well, not just okay, so for myself that gave me a lot of confidence”.
Other members of The Notic struggled without the crew, specifically the young phenom ‘Disaster’ Grace. He ran into some trouble with the law and addiction, and the documentary does an incredible job of detailing his struggles but also showing how he overcame them to gain custody of his children again. It was a standout moment.
The Notic Crew Then (Courtesy The Notic)
Flash forward to almost 20 years later and The Notic crew finally re-unite. Apologies are said and burnt bridges are rebuilt, as the entire team comes together to reminisce and appreciate the old days.
On top of that, SLAM magazine asked to do a reunion piece, and this time the previously absent Foster was included.
“You really never get to fix a mistake or get a second chance, it’s really rare”, said Schaulin-Rioux on Foster being included the second time around. “So the fact the fact that we got the whole crew together again for SLAM felt like a small miracle. It felt like a dream come true, we got to screen The Notic 3. It’s rare when everyone grows up and you still love all these people; where they all grew up in different ways but everyone is the same. It was magical, I guess I’m gushing but it was special.”
Schaulin-Rioux mentions The Notic 3, one of the most significant things to happen over the course of the reunion. So many years after the mixtape was unfinished, they were able to dig through the tapes and put it together to have a screening as a group.
“I never thought Notic 3 would happen”, said Schaulin-Rioux. “Many times, we’d get on the phone and say we would but it felt like it would always be a ‘what if’. I remember at one point going on Instagram and seeing some new streetballers and wondering if the footage would hold up. Then I popped in the old Notic tapes and was like yeah this is still incredible. There’s still so many moves and styles that nobody has done 20 years later.”
The Notic 3 surely holds up, and Schaulin-Rioux says it’s something they’re hoping to officially release this summer.
Handle with Care ends with the players enjoying The Notic 3 and reflecting on how the crew changed their life. There’s also excerpts included from basketball players around the world speaking on how The Notic influenced them and it crafts the perfect image on just how worldwide the reach was for a group of street basketball players from Vancouver.
The documentary has a cheerful close, but the real happy ending to the story of The Notic is that the doc happened in the first place. From minimal contact for almost two decades to the creation of The Notic 3 and Handle with Care, there is finally the perfect level of closure for the best streetball players this country has ever seen.
“[Producer] Ryan Sidhoo pitched the idea about 4 or 5 years ago to do a doc on The Notic”, said Haywood. “He was really the one that made it happen. He hit me up one day and said SLAM wants to be involved, making it 3 times for us. That’s a major accomplishment. To see everyone together again was so special.”
“It was like déjà vu, it really felt like back in the day again. Now we’re just a little bit older.”
The Notic Crew Now (Courtesy Patrick Giang)