Winning a title is the greatest dream of both NBA players and coaches. It’s also the single most difficult goal to achieve. Even just making it to the Finals is a rare occasion, one that eludes plenty of guys in the league. LeBron James is a huge exception among players. A lesser-known name on the coaching side of things is Lakers’ assistant coach Phil Handy.
Handy has achieved an impressive run of six consecutive NBA Finals appearances as an assistant coach. He recently sat down to do an interview with the sports website The Undefeated. Here we recap Handy’s coaching career before zooming in on some highlights from his interview, including a revelation about the best advice he ever received from the late Kobe Bryant.
Phil Handy’s coaching journey in the NBA
Handy played college hoops at the University of Hawaii before pursuing a professional career in the minor leagues and overseas. His first NBA coaching gig came in 2011, when he took a position as a development coach for the Los Angeles Lakers under head coach Mike Brown.
Handy spent two years in LA before following Brown to Cleveland, where he became an assistant coach for the Cavaliers.
While Brown lasted just a single season in Cleveland, Handy ended up sticking around for five, riding LeBron James‘ coattails to the NBA Finals for four straight years.
Handy then spent a season as an assistant coach with the championship-winning Toronto Raptors, before coming back to the Lakers at the start of this season.
The best advice Kobe Bryant ever gave Phil Handy
Handy got to know Kobe Bryant during his first coaching stint with the Lakers. He arrived in LA just a year after Bryant won his fourth and fifth championships with the Lakers, going back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. Handy likely got to soak up an enormous amount of basketball wisdom in his time around Bryant, who was a true student of the game.
Yet when Handy was asked about the best piece of advice he ever got from the player known as the Black Mamba, he gave a surprising answer — one that wasn’t specifically related to basketball at all.
Instead, Bryant told him to always just be himself, and not to worry about what kinds of expectations other people placed on him. As Handy put it in the article:
“His advice to people was always like, ‘Man, stop caring about what people think about you. If your heart’s in the right place, and you have a purpose in what you’re doing, do it.’ That’s always stuck with me.”
That mindset of just being genuine is a big part of what allowed Handy to build honest and trusting relationships with some of the greatest players in the league, including LeBron James.
Other insights from the interview
Handy’s interview covered a lot of other interesting ground as well. He admitted that, while he doesn’t specifically harbor aspirations of becoming a head coach, he wouldn’t say no if the opportunity presented itself. Yet the most important thing for Hardy is to remain focused on being the “best coach I can every day,” regardless of the specific job title he holds.
He also circled back to the topic of Kobe Bryant a couple of times. At one point, he acknowledged that he hasn’t really been able to grieve for Bryant’s death in the way he would have liked. First, it was the regular season keeping him busy — then the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — and now the NBA bubble.
Handy also revealed that, since he has been in Orlando, his older brother Kevin passed away of multiple complications. Handy admitted how hard it was not to be there for his brother, and how it strengthened his resolve to make his time in the bubble count. And at the end of the day, that means just one thing: coming away with a title victory. At that point, Handy will be more than ready to get back to the other aspects of his life.