Johnny Stephene, founder of HandleLife, blew up the internet a month ago when he put Teyana Taylor on skates at the Jordan XX9 release event in Las Vegas. But that’s not the only thing he’s done this summer.
The Boynton Beach, FL, native also helped 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant and Men’s USA National Team member DeMar DeRozan with their handles. He’s worked with Nate Robinson during his comeback from ACL surgery. Brandon Jennings, Paul George, Jamal Crawford and Gilbert “Hibachi” Arenas are also clients of his.
They all came to him. It started with Agent Zero.
After fracturing his shins while playing pro ball in Mexico, Stephene had to rehab for six months, which allowed him to work on stationary ball handling drills. Before he knew it, little kids started recording him.
“They were like, ‘Man, that stationary ball handling stuff you do is sick,’ right? So they put me on their social media…every day they were like, ‘Yo, can you teach me?’ So I started teaching ball,” Stephene says.
Stephene taught kids for free at first, and then he started charging for his drills. Posts featuring him on social media were getting hundreds of likes. Stephene says that the kid’s handles improved so much in just two months, that he started an Instagram account to continue to grow his brand.
“I came out when Instagram video came out, which is fairly new,” Stephene says. “I made an Instagram account and I just put all ball handling and training people on there. Then I started putting all my drills on there. Then I developed a system. I developed a system of, Hey, I’m going to do this drill at 8 in the morning, then I was going to post a picture at 10:00 while they’re at school. Then 3:00 when they come out, I’m going to do a move of the day.
“So I developed that system and then all of a sudden I started getting thousands of followers, thousands and thousands of followers. Gilbert Arenas contacted me on my Instagram and said, ‘Man, how are you doing these moves?’ And then I was, like, flabbergasted, like, Wow, NBA dudes asking me how to do moves off my social media?” Stephene says, with a laugh.
“Then Gilbert was so frustrated about the moves that he’s like, ‘Yo, when can I fly you out here to teach me how you do this move? I been trying to get my trainers to teach me and they can’t,’” Stephene says.
After that, Stephene says, he doesn’t even know how many NBA guys follow him on Instagram.
“Every NBA player I seen, told me they follow me. Blake Griffin, KD, Paul George, Amar’e, Crawford, Chris Paul, all of ‘em,” Stephene says.
Stephene’s HandleLife is bigger than basketball, though. HandleLife, Stephene says, is about how people get through the day-to-day, on and off the court.
“Any problems you have you can persevere through it if you just handle life through God first…or if you can’t be like spiritually on it, you just say whatever you choose to do, you got to handle it. You can handle it. It’s never too hard for you. You can always handle it,” Stephene says.
As for the on-court part of HandleLife, business is booming. Stephene says he gains 15,000 followers a week on Instagram. He’s up to over 487,000 followers.
“Now I have, like, 40,000 people that are copying me (and #HandleLife) and kids are actually learning how to handle the ball through my social media,” Stephene says.
Scroll through his Instagram and P. Diddy will pop up. Nate Robinson is a mainstay. Randy Foye can be found. Duke University’s Quinn Cook, and Stephene’s former teammate at Liberty University, Seth Curry, are featured. The Game makes an appearance, so does The Professor. You’ll also see all the kids that Stephene helps become ballplayers.
“That’s in the plan. I’m going to teach everybody how to handle life, which is what handling a basketball, through my Instagram,” Stephene says. “I’m just going to dedicate it. I’m never going to have a picture of food, I’m never going to have a picture of my girlfriend, never going to have a picture of this, this, that. It’s going to be all basketball teaching from Instagram for free. For free. And that was my own idea. One of the biggest things I did. I did it for free.”
Stephene will be working out with JR and Chris Smith in September. He’ll have a camp in Indiana, too. Stay up on his Instagram account to find out more details about that. He’ll take a breather in October, but before you know it, Kevin Durant is going to hit some poor defender with a vicious crossover during the NBA season. It’ll be a move he learned from Johnny Stephene.
Photo by Thai Neave