Even though NBA games haven’t been played since March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, former University of Hawaii men’s basketball player and current Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy remains active in the game of basketball.
Through Handy’s 94 Feet of Game app and social media accounts, he continues to hone the crafts of young hoopers everywhere via live training sessions. Although 94 Feet of Game derives from the length of a standard NBA court, Handy’s organized virtual workouts are designed to be done from one’s home. During his workouts, he’ll even select lucky winners to be called live into the session to receive one-on-one attention.
It’s all part of a desire to continue growing the game globally and pay it forward, even at times when almost all courts remain closed. Handy was a journeyman during his professional playing career, as his hoop travels took him to France, England, Australia, Israel, Italy and the United States.
“I’ve always looked at myself as someone who has wanted to be a real ambassador to the game of basketball on a global scale, and so that means not just professional athletes,” Handy told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Being able to take this time during the pandemic, a lot of people are having tough times. These are tough times for us so being able to do some things through my app and reach back out to kids, it’s recentered me. It’s reinspired me.
“I’m growing from them just as much as they’re growing from me. I’ve enjoyed every minute of being able to do this the last few weeks.”
Handy played for Hawaii from 1993 to 1995, where he helped guide the ‘Bows to a WAC Championship and NCAA tournament appearance in 1994. He believes his years in Manoa laid the foundation for an extensive basketball career.
He’s been on NBA coaching staffs since 2011, back when he joined the Lakers as a player development coach. From there, he was an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2013 to 2018 and the Toronto Raptors during the 2018-2019 season.
Handy has two championship rings, winning the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers in 2016 and the Raptors in 2019. His finals streak is five and counting.
“It wasn’t always just rainbows and sunshine. I had a lot of difficult challenges there that helped me grow up and helped me become a little bit more mentally tough as well on and off the court,” he said. “My time in Hawaii definitely played a big part in what’s happened along my journey.”
Handy has worked closely with bona fide superstars in each of his NBA stints. The late, great Kobe Bryant was the featured player of his first tenure with the Lakers. In Cleveland, Kyrie Irving was later joined by LeBron James when he signed back with the franchise in 2014. In his lone season with the Raptors, Handy was credited with enhancing the ballhandling skills of 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. In Handy’s first year back with the Lakers this season, James is the centerpiece of a franchise that it seeking its first championship since 2010.
“I learned so much from Kobe. I learn still from LeBron. I learn from Kyrie, I learn from Matthew Dellavedova, I learn from Kawhi,” Handy said. “They teach us so much because of the way they approach the game. There’s something you can take from every one of these great athletes in helping them remain successful. Their drive, not just NBA guys, youth — they teach me a lot.”
Despite having a hand in the tutelage of some of the NBA’s biggest stars, Handy still considers himself a student of the game. He’s a rising star in the coaching ranks who some believe will get a head coach opportunity soon.
But for now, his focus remains on the current season, where optimism towards the league’s return is growing by the week. Handy is also confident the league will return in some capacity. The Lakers were 49-14 and atop the Western Conference standings when the league shut down. If the 2019-2020 NBA season were to resume, Handy would be going for his sixth straight finals appearance.
“I’m very organic. For me, it’s all about being present where you are. I’ve taken that mindset when I was in Cleveland, when I was in Toronto, when I was with the Lakers the first time,” he said. “I’m not trying to look ahead, I’m not trying to look behind, I’m absolutely present in my job every day. I just want to be great at my job and that’s how I perform. When that opportunity comes, when that time comes and someone thinks I’m good enough to be the man for their organization, I’ll be prepared for it.”