Schooled: Streetball Legend Hot Sauce on Court Kingz and the Secrets Behind His Handle

On the day you talk to Hot Sauce, he’s hyped.

“Going to Taiwan tomorrow, baby!”

It’s understandable. He’s back, finally. Almost five years removed. No more spotlight, no AND1. He was away training his young ballhandling extraordinaire, his nine-year-old named Lil Sizz. But now the man with the global name is back, dropping a defender with a crossover in his first game earlier this year, then seeing the clip all over WorldStar and ESPN, getting more views than LeBron.

Last year, Sauce signed with the streetball movement Court Kingz. Victor Martinez, the tour’s CEO, wanted the movement to be about the hood, going into places like Baltimore and the South Side of Chicago and helping kids with no mentors.

“Streetball is more of a circus right now,” Martinez says. “It’s all about YouTube and who’s doing what on YouTube. It’s forgotten about the streets and where it originated from.

“There’s always going to be a kid on that playground without a father that needs some inspiration.”

Sauce was intrigued, enough to turn down a few large offers from the competition earlier in 2014 to stay with Court Kingz. They want this to be like UFC, where everyone wants to kill each other inside the lines but outside of them it’s all love.

So far, they’ve already had top plays on ESPN and SportsNation, and were in Los Angeles this summer to accept a Nickelodeon Choice Award. With the best in-game dunkers and new talent like Baby LeBron, it’s about pushing the next generation of streetball.

“Sauce wants to be the Michael Jordan of streetball,” Martinez says. “He wants to sign new people, give them a pass that he had. In the music sense, he wants to become the Jay Z of streetball. He wants to find them and give them a big career in this.”

No twists, though. Sauce is still the main draw. The biggest name. In Taiwan, he’ll host clinics for hundreds of kids, imparting the wisdom he’s giving Lil Sizz. (“He has no choice but to be nasty if he hangs around me.”) Back in the day, 20,000 people from all over the world came to arenas to witness Sauce’s hard work and dedication. Now Court Kingz is bringing them back.

Court Kingz already has close to 150 bookings for next year, but as Sauce and Martinez stress, it’s not about tomorrow. It’s about right now.

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How did you get started with Court Kingz?
Hot Sauce: I think it was back in 2008. I had played in an event with Vic, 10 games. An in-school inspirational tour. Vic said he had a bunch of streetball players. When he finally got in contact we me, he said it was a different impact. From there, we went pretty far and got to talking on a friendship level. After that, I disappeared, went off off different tours and going overseas. All of a sudden, it all stopped around 2012 as I laid back and started training my son. For about five years, from 2008 to 2012 or ’13, I was off doing my own thing.

I wanted to take off for a minute from all of the hype and the fame and just be a father to my kids because I’m always on the road and never had the time to be the father I can be to my kids. I just wanted to take a break. There’s a difference between taking a break and not doing anything. Me, I was taking a break. I was so drained from being so busy. I was training my son and now he got one of the best handles in the world at nine years old.

I was sitting at the house just chilling and got this phone call from Victor Martinez from Court Kingz and he said I could sign with him under his management team and do this tour where we go from city to city and recruit new players. I thought that was fine, being able to reach millions of kids by doing this. That was cool with me. What made sense was reaching out to the kids. There are always kids out there that need hope and need a mentor. To be successful you have to have a mentor and someone that has your best interests.

From there it was on and popping and we started to make history.

How is this tour different than anything else going on?
HS: Basketball never stops. Right now, we could go to the parks right now and go play ball with the regular guys and just having fun, guys just getting off work or before they go off to college. Basketball goes on every day. We made it mainstream when we got on the team. Just off the highlights, when guys see the videos, they think every play gotta be a move. You don’t have to do a move every play. At Court Kingz, we are trying to take it back to regular basketball but still entertaining to where you ain’t gotta do all that clowning. We are trying to take it back to the streets where it’s real basketball.

You mentioned you took a long break off.
HS: Yeah. You can’t just sit back and have my son grow up without me providing for my son. I’m gonna put my skills in my son too also, so they can have a legacy when they get older. I was doing that for five years.

Any new moves?
HS: I put all my new moves into my son. I always tell everybody you only have two arms and two legs. It’s how you look when you do your move. There are a lot of people that can do the left-to-right crossover. You got a lot of people that can do the right-to-left crossover but it’s how you do it.

My cousin, he’s nasty, he got handles. But do you know what he always asks me? “Why your man go farther than mine when you do the crossover?” When I do the crossover my man jumps far. Everyone is like “Man, you make your man go so far.” It’s how you sell it. A lot of people just do stuff in front of their man but it’s not effective. All of my moves are effective. I have a little bit of everything in my game. I’m fast. I’m quick. I can score the basket. I could clown you. I could shoot the 3-ball. Some guys they don’t have all that in their game, they just know how to dribble. I call them garage dribblers. They just get off work and go to their garage, put a camera in front of them and dribble all day and then put themselves on YouTube and give themselves a nickname and now they are nasty (laughs). There’s more to that. Call yourself a freestyler and you’ll be respected. Don’t come out there and try to play with the best of them and think you a basketball player just because you just learned a Hot Sauce move. Nah, it’s gonna take time.

I put in a lot of work before AND1 came out. AND1 picked me up in 2001, but I was doing promo for them in 2000. I still had a job and it didn’t have nothing to do with them. Everyone says “Oh, you been with AND1 forever.” Nah, I didn’t start until paid until 2002 with AND1. I still had a job, but all the time I put in work was from ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, then AND1 found me. When AND1 found me after all those years, my game was established. The whole world had seen what I had. They couldn’t fathom that “This guy got all these moves.” Nah, I put in that work all those years and then when they finally picked me up, my handles were established.

Later on down the line, guys who had my handles, they started coming on the scene five years later because it took them time to develop those skills off what the learned from me. They didn’t just come off the top with zigzags or the Professor. Nah, you didn’t see that. You saw that five years later because they had to put in work to emulate me. You can’t emulate me over night and just think “Oh, I’m gonna kill the team.” Nah. A lot of those guys it took them five or six years and then now they want to challenge me. “Oh man, I learned something from Hot Sauce. Now I want to challenge him.”

How did you develop your handles?
HS: All that time from ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, my game was established by the time the whole world saw me. My handles were way elite (laughs). I practiced every day, looking at myself in the mirror. I took the stuff that I learned on the tour with me. You’d see me dribbling in the mirror every day and me and my friends working on new moves.

Every guard got their one go-to move. I’d take his move and make it my move. This other guard over here I’d take his move and learn that move and put them all together. You take 20 broken bicycles, take a piece off each one and make a motorcycle out of that. I’m the motorcycle out of all those guys (laughs).

What were the initial reactions from fans and then even before that when you first started using the moves in pickup games?
HS: They were going crazy. It’s funny because on AND1 everybody had a nickname. I’m in Atlanta and I got the nickname already. Not off AND1 or Rucker Park where everybody has nicknames or is getting nicknames. Nah. One day I was just on fire, and I was just yelling “Sauce!” all the time. Every day after that, all of my friends were calling me Sauce.

Nowadays, do you still work on your handle or is it already engrained?
HS: I’ll work on my handle but with my son because I’m mostly on the road. The kid that was in me was walking around the neighborhood everyday. I didn’t have a job. I had time on my hands. I tell people most of the guys that dribble like me or their game resembles mine, they don’t play for nobody. You got to have no time on your hands to have a handle like me. You can’t be working 9-to-5 and think you can have a handle like me. It takes time to groom yourself and become effective, make those moves effective and eye-popping. You can’t just come out like that. You’re not gonna be working at Burger King.

Back then I was but I didn’t work long. I was so much into my craft I wanted to go to the gym every day. Couldn’t wait. Just ballhandling. “Oh, I can’t wait to go to the gym and do this move on somebody, see if it would work.” I’d try my moves on little kids around the neighborhood, try to see if they could take the ball. Then I’d go to the gym and try it on the older guys and it worked. If it works on a little kid, it can work on an older guy.

You used to play all the time at Run N Shoot right?
HS: I’m the one who made Run N Shoot what it was. I’m the one that put Run N Shoot in the video games. After I did all that, I’m VIP for the rest of my life at Run N Shoot. Run N Shoot ain’t what it used to be but I could walk in there right now and they can’t say $5 or $10. “Man, are you crazy? I done put y’all in five video games. Your talking about $5.” I would never pay to go in there (laughs).

I went from sneaking in there. Run N Shoot was so popular with Georgia Tech and the Hawks used to practice in there, guys used to try to just sneak in there. It was that bad. I even had to sneak in there. I was one of the guys who used to sneak in there, spent the night on a Friday real late so I could already be inside the gym. When the daytime follows through, I don’t gotta pay because I’m already inside this mug (laughs).

It was all a hustle, man. It went from sneaking in the backdoors of Run N Shoot to becoming a household name and then coming in for free every day. As soon as they see me walk in, “Sauce, come through. That’s Hot Sauce right here, let him in. Everybody else gotta pay $10.”

How has streetball changed or stayed the same since back in the day?
HS: It changed but God gave me a path to where my name is my money. You necessarily don’t have to have millions of dollars. As long as you have a name, you’ll be straight for the rest of your life. I have a household name and as long as you have the right representation around you, you’ll never go broke.

Right now I’m able to provide for my family with no struggles through my history and my legacy, and my legend.

I think I’m one of the only streetball players that inspire all sports. I had a guy that played cricket say “You inspire me.” He played cricket! I had a guy in football who said “You inspire me. Even though I like football, you make me want to just do these moves.” I had a guy in baseball who said I make him want to do my moves. I had an older guy say that too and these guys didn’t know each other, in different cities.

All sports. I inspire all sports, not just basketball. I had a whole football team running to get an autograph from me. You played football! Deion Sanders is supposed to inspire you. I’m just a streetballer; you’re in football. I look at that like man.

What’s the future with Court Kingz?
HS: This is the future. We started last year. We got to Taiwan tomorrow. What’s next is now, that’s what we are telling people. I don’t want to think five years ahead right now. Nah, I don’t want to think like that. You always live for what’s now, and what’s next is what we’re doing now. All that we accomplished, we talked about last year. That’s what’s next.

When I first came out, I was showing my talent, showing everyone that I’m better than you. I’m the man. I’m better than you, here are my skills. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. I break you down, make you fall, embarrass you, walk out the gym. Bam, I’m better than you.

Now the second half of me is not I’m better than you. It’s to teach and put some hope in these other kids’ lives and let them know they’re great, let them know this could be you. You could do the same thing that I did. And find new talent because guess what? When there were the Shanes and the Main Events, I was that new talent that nobody knew about. If you keep playing all the time against some of the guys who used to play, then you’re not giving nobody else a chance, none of these new cats! You’re never going to know where the new talent is if we keep playing the same old two-step, the old guys all the time. No. That’s why the second half of me is about finding another new name. He ain’t gonna be no Hot Sauce but another new name. Trust me, there’s somebody out there. I was that somebody who was out there. There’s somebody out there. You just have to find them. There are not looking for us, we are looking for them.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney