Getting to Know: Scalia Nethanial & Freestyle Basketball

In the sweaty, competitive and often testosterone-y athleticism of sports, lies a performance with its own artistry. An example of this is freestyle basketball. An individuals that rises above the rest is Scalia Nethanial.  Freestyle Basketball/Streetball has been a huge thing around the world for a long time because of brands like the Harlem Globetrotters, AND1 Streetball and more. In Malaysia, the best Freestylers/Streetballers gather to compete for an AND1 contract and also Malaysia’s best Freestyler/Streetballer title. He throttled his opponents, with 4 championship titles to his list of accomplishments and many more successes to boot.

Some education on Freestyle Basketball by Grayson Boucher, aka the Professor

Today, Scalia is the highest requested Basketball Freestyle performer in Malaysia,  the best Basketball Freestyler in the country and is commonly known for his unique style and skills which have wowed audiences time after time. Scalia is the only Malaysian Freestyler to collaborate and gain recognition/shout-outs internationally by performers from USA, Japan, Nigeria, UK, Serbia, Philippines, Germany and Denmark. More than just making appearances on TV programmes, Scalia is currently partnered with PEAK(International Brand). Now at 22, Scalia has yet to reach the peak of his career and is only seeking to expand his art form even further.

Scalia on an Astro program called Suka Lattew
Scalia on an Astro program called Suka Lattew

We had the honour of talking to him to find out the workings behind this man’s success, and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

You used to break-dance back in 2008, so what was the journey like from breakdancing to basketball freestyling?

It was a very risky thing to do, for me to transition from dancing to basketball freestyle. At the time I was actually doing pretty well as a dancer. I was on the TV show, Showdown, I was doing all of these things really. But then I was looking around and just realized that it was becoming too common. Everyone was doing it. Everywhere you go there’s a dancer now. Same thing with basketball, everywhere you go there were basketball players, but it was less exposed. I wanted to take that and take it to the next level because I noticed kids love watching it and all of that, and that was my main intention really, making kids smile. I miss dancing, but I never really stop, when I’m freestyling with a basketball in a way I’m still dancing. Just with a ball. WhatsApp Image 2017-06-20 at 12.17.20 AM

How did you first get into breakdancing?

I started dancing when I was a kid. I was going through a lot of stuff. My dad wasn’t around and my mum was working, so my mum sent us to a guardian. I was abused physically and emotionally as a kid until I was 11 so I needed an escape. I started playing the piano, dancing and then I discovered freestyle basketball.

I got into the breakdancing scene through my neighbours who were dancing as well. That was my introduction to hip-hop. I thought it was really cool, I got into underground hip hop from a young age. I grew up with it. That was how dancing came along.

How do people around you feel about your career as a professional basketball your freestyler? Do your family and friends support you?

My family don’t really support what I do, I mean they’re Asian parents. People think it won’t go anywhere. Not just freestyle basketball. It’s art in general, it’s looked down upon. When you make art, people always ask you “Is that something you REALLY wanna do?”. When it comes to my family, they don’t really hate what I do, but they never really supported it. They never come to watch my show.

As far as friends, I never really had many friends growing up. I had a bunch of neighbours that I was friends with, like my dance crew. But then I moved away from the old place. I have a few friends that are very supportive about it. I have one best friend. My whole life I’ve only ever had that one best friend. He is also a freestyler, so we grew up doing it together. Shout out to you, Victor!

Do you have any opinion as to how much hip hop has changed throughout the time?

I really don’t like hip hop anymore. Can’t even understand what they’re saying these days. As far as hip hop goes, it was supposed to expand, no doubt about it, but they kinda sucked the fun out of it. It’s very commercial, it’s all about the hype and the trend. I mean, it’s human nature to follow what’s new, and to always evolve, but nothing really beats the old school hip hop, like Biggie and Eminem. Even in Malaysian hip hop, we had Too Phat. I’m not really dissing the new, I mean they’re their own thing. But it’s not really my thing.

Scalia Nethanial

How do you train for a performance?

I don’t recommend this to anyone but I don’t really practice. I used to practice back in the day, like when I first started doing it I used to practice everyday. That was my thing. I would dribble the ball everyday in the neighbourhood like at 4 AM and 5 AM. When people were going to school, I would dribble the ball before going for school. I used to do it everyday. Repetition was my key to everything.

Nowadays, when I go to a show. I don’t really practice as much, because time flies, and time gives you priorities. I have to juggle being a brand ambassador and taking care of my mum. I have different interests now as well, I like writing poetry and playing the piano. Especially the piano. And there’s also chill things like painting and reading books. I really love the arts.

Have you ever messed up on stage before?

Dude, that’s normal! As a freestyler that’s very normal. You not only have to follow the music and dance, you also have to catch the ball back. Maybe if I practice I would actually be better at it *laughs*, but maybe I’m just making excuses. I’ve never really messed up in a really bad way, I can always cover up. It happens.

Recently I’ve been trying to work on my skills and really get into shape. Come up with new stuff, as a freestyler. It’s always about evolving. It’s important, not just as human beings, but as a performer too. Especially now, I perform with a dance crew, The Next Thing. I do practice when I’m with them, but I don’t practice on my own. The only difference is that they do it without the ball. We also choreograph it together, someone would come up with a direction and we’ll just bounce ideas off of each other.

You met your freestyling hero, Philip Champion (aka “Hot Sauce). How was that like?

That was crazy. There’s this company called AND1, it’s a street basketball company. They were huge back in 2008, like people would talk about owning AND1 sneakers. One of the guys that made AND1 popular was Hot Sauce, world champion, so I grew up watching this guy. So he never came to Malaysia before, but one time they had a tour and I heard they were coming to Malaysia. Their manager called me and said “You’re gonna bring you in for a game. Hot Sauce is here”. I freaked out and thought that was crazy. I went for the game and saw Hot Sauce there. He has a team called Court Kingz so they even prepared a jersey for me with my name and number on it.  It got crazier after that because he asked me to teach him some tricks. He passed me the ball and said “teach me some of your stuff”. It was a very humbling opportunity.

Scalia & Hot Sauce
Scalia Nethanial, and his personal hero, AND1 representative, Philip Champion aka Hot Sauce

Another idol I look up to is Grayson Boucher, aka The Professor, he’s a really popular freestyle. He’s always online. If there is a video of  a guy  in a Spiderman suit, doing tricks against people, that’s him. He used to be a judge when he came here in 2007 of the freestyling competition, and I was the only freestyler in Malaysia that got chosen by him. It’s a dream come true.

I’ve always believed in visualizing things, but at the same time I’ve always had my doubts. But now that it’s happened, I’m very humbled and grateful for it, especially with all the struggle growing up.

You’re a freestyle basketballer, a brand ambassador, among other things. How do you juggle all of your commitments?

It’s all about having a “why”. If I’m doing it for myself, I’d probably be just staying at home and just do what I want. Having a “why” is very important, like why do you do the things that you do. For me it’s taking care of my loved ones, my friends. That’s the motivation behind it.

I’ve always wanted to do something wholeheartedly, I can’t do anything with half a heart. It’s very important to put your heart and soul in something that you wanna do. If there’s anything you wanna do, you really have to show some passion for it. If you have passion, it’s going to show. Passion and hardwork is the root of everything.

Can you visualize yourself not being a basketball freestyler? What would you be doing if you weren’t one?

Right now, I work in a creative team. I come up with ideas for our brand, ways to promote it. I’ve always loved working behind the scenes really and coming up with ideas. The reason I perform and do all this is because I wanna inspire kids to do this. I wanted to be for a kid what no one was for me. 10 years from now, I would like to see the kids that were inspired by me to continue this positivity through performing arts. It doesn’t have to be freestyle. They could be inspired by it.

Growing up I was always a straight edge kid, and I was always the one who did weird things or wasn’t cool at the time. Comic books, professional wrestling, stuff like that. I was straight edge. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t do drugs. I wanted to show kids that you can escape in life through different platforms like art or anything else that’s healthy If a kid can take from me that they don’t have to smoke, drink and do drugs to fit in, or even to get high or get crazy, then I feel like I’ve done my part. Mission accomplished.

But to answer your question, what would I be doing; maybe more behind the scenes stuff. I can’t keep performing forever.

Are the crowds normally receptive at your performances?

In every show I’ve done, the crowd is very receptive. They’re very loud. At the end of the day, as long as they’re making noise, it’s all good. But at the same time I’m not pandering for admiration, I’m just being me. My job is to entertain. If someone out there is yelling “Scalia sucks” while I’m performing, then if that means he is being entertained then I’ve done my job.

Scalia teaching some spins
Scalia teaching a kid how to spin a ball

If money wasn’t an issue, what would you add to your performance?

I want it to be a full-fledged performance art piece. Like with a beatboxer, a speed painter, the whole set. Sometimes I wanna up the scale on the lighting but you know in Malaysia you don’t get many stages like. But if possible I want it to be bigger and more complete. It’s really difficult because you need to bring all the talent together in one room. Right now, my dancers add a lot to it already and it’s really fun. They’ve become my friends, we’ve gotten really closed. I love those guys.

At the end of the day, love drives everything you know. If you have love in the crew everything comes together.

It’s all about having a “why”. If I’m doing it for myself, I’d probably be just staying at home and just do what I want. Having a “why” is very important, like why do you do the things that you do. For me it’s taking care of my loved ones, my friends. That’s the motivation behind it.

Who do you look up to outside of the freestyle scene?

JK Rowling. Charles Bukowski. He really changes my mindset. Got into poetry and storytelling based upon his work. Kobe Bryant, and not just because he’s a basketball player, he’s an inspiring figure. And The Rock, because he used to trash talk so well in wrestling but he is such a respectful person.

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-20 at 12.19.48 AM

If I was a kid, and I wanted to do basketball freestyling, where would I start?

If this is your passion, you’ll know where to start. You wouldn’t need to ask me. Of course I would ask you to get a ball, dribble, watch videos on YouTube. And also get to know me *laughs*. I want a kid to come across this interview and think, “oh wow, I can be a freestyler too”. You can also go to other freestylers, but you gotta approach the right one. I’ve always believed in not just working hard, but working smart. If you keep doing the same thing, you wouldn’t go anywhere. If you wanna do it, get a ball, start dribbling, and keep doing it. You’ll get there.

If you wanna find out more about Scalia, the freestyle basketball career or just watch his performances, you can find him on Facebook.  He’s a friendly guy.

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