Nick Young Is a Champion, so All the Haters Can Shut Up

Swag. Champ. Forever. We caught up with NBA champion Nick Young to talk about what it feels like to be a winner for the first time after helping the Golden State Warriors win another title, what the future holds, and why he thought he might be done with the NBA a few seasons ago.

Nick Young 2018 Wide Feature Lead Image
Complex Original

Nick Young 2018 Wide Feature Lead Image

Nick Young 2018 Wide Feature Lead Image

How long would you party after finally winning something? A week? A month? The whole summer? When you claim to have never won anything in your entire life—not a high school crown, not a college conference tournament title, not even a Drew League championship—you keep the good times rolling for as long as you can. That’s essentially what Nick Young’s been doing since June 8.

Roughly a month after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the man affectionately known as Swaggy P is in his native San Fernando Valley, fresh off a hot yoga session that served as a workout since it’s early in the off-season and he’s still trying to get his body right. Young never played so deep into a season before, and the longest grind of his career took its toll on the 33-year-old. But the payoff, of course, was helping the Warriors win a third NBA title in four seasons, and the kind of immortality that comes with earning a ring despite what any social media haters might say.

When he signed as a free agent with the Warriors last summer, Young expected a legit shot at a championship. What he didn’t expect was the weight of the emotional wave that would hit him when the final buzzer went off that night in Cleveland. A lovable loser throughout his amateur and professional basketball career, Young worried during key stretches of the Warriors’ playoff run that he might be a jinx. When it came time to celebrate his eternal change of status, he admits the struggle was real.

“I didn’t even get a chance to take my picture with the trophy,” says Young. “I was so excited I just left after everybody sprayed me with champagne. I was just so geeked I didn’t know what to do.”

The celebration started with six seconds remaining in the game. That’s when Young was caught struttin’ his stuff up the court as the clock ran out—arms swinging, cheesing big time. It was unscripted, hilarious, and completely on brand. It was Swaggy P—the infamous moniker/persona Young essentially gave himself a handful of years ago—at his finest. Four days later, P was shirtless at the championship parade through downtown Oakland, having the time of his life. When he returned to Los Angeles, the newly crowned champ couldn’t ride around town with his window down without fans running up to congratulate him. Largely, they used to leave him alone.

“We should have had a parade, my own special parade in a ’64 Impala, driving down Ventura [Blvd.] for my Valley friends and then driving down Hollywood for my L.A. friends,” says Young.

Allow him, for a minute, to indulge in his own little fantasy world because, as he enters the twilight of his NBA career, Young’s just happy he’s finally a winner and still playing in the league. Because not too long ago, he seriously thought the NBA no longer wanted him around. And while you can clown on Swaggy P all you want for the antics, the crazy fits, for perpetually looking like he gives zero fucks out on the basketball court, know that he does and that you probably have him pegged all wrong.

Nick Young Wide Feature Trophy Tattoo 2018

“I’ve been in this league for 11 years, so I’ve been doing something right,” says Young.

When you ask Young if it bothers him that fans think he’s lazy, or that he didn’t earn his ring with the Warriors, or that he’s nothing but a glorified shooter, he gets defensive. And rightfully so. Anyone who can carve out a decade-plus in the NBA deserves props, and Young feels he deserves them. The idea that he isn’t dedicated to his craft, that he isn’t in love with basketball, that he’s more concerned with getting a fit off than perfecting his jumper, grates at him.

“I love basketball. I wish people could see that it’s hard to be in the NBA—not only to get there, but to stay there this long,” he says. “I know players who were drafted higher than me that are gone.”

Selected by the Wizards with the 16th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft after three seasons at USC, Young has respectable career numbers. Averaging 11.4 points per game, while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc, Young never became an All-Star the way many around him thought he would. “I heard it all the time, from, like, Gil [Arenas] to Jamal Crawford, that you’re going to be special,” says Young. His shooting ability and athleticism should have earned him more individual accolades and respect from fans, but “things happen.” Any hater on social media taking shots, especially at his reserve role with the Warriors that saw Young coming off the bench and average some of the lowest numbers of his career, can politely fall back.

“I won a championship. I’m over it,” he says. “The Warriors had to see something in me for them wanting me to come there and be part of something special. Hopefully they saw that, and if not, I’m still a champion.”

"I love basketball. I wish people could see that it's hard to be in the NBA... I know players who were drafted higher than me that Are Gone."

Spend any amount of time around him and it doesn’t take long to realize negative energy and Nick Young do not vibe. He’s the guy with a smile perpetually planted across his face, the one dancing like he doesn’t care at a community event for kids, and completely down to take a pic with random fans whenever he’s out. He’s the strong friend, the one who will pick you up when you’re down. He puts on a front even when things aren’t going his way. “That’s just for the people around me,” he says.

Nick Young at 23, who was told he had to suppress his Swaggy P persona instead of letting it shine, is very different than Nick Young at age 33. Back then he really cared about what people said and thought about him. With maturity came an attitude change. “It was more like I’m going to stop trying to be what they want me to be,” says Young. Swaggy P was free to flourish.

But for a guy who regularly has a smile on his face and lifts the spirits of those around him with his playful personality, there have been dark times in his life. Not many, but a few. The majority of casual NBA fans might not know that Young’s eldest brother, Charles, was murdered in a drive-by shooting when Young was five. The lowest point of his adult life, however, came two years ago, when a surreptitious video taken by former Lakers teammate D’Angelo Russell leaked. In it, Young infamously talked about cheating on his former fiancée, Iggy Azalea.

The media shitstorm that followed was swift and intense. Young was swept up in something he wanted no part of and, admittedly, struggled to handle. He became a fixture on TMZ and other celebrity news sites that couldn’t get enough of the drama. “It was the toughest thing I ever had to deal with,” he says. Their relationship irrevocably damaged; Young’s engagement to the Australian pop star eventually dissolved in June 2016.

“Going through that whole situation, seeing the media, dealing with all that, it was kind of messed up,” says Young. “I didn’t know if I was going to play no more after that.”

Which, strictly from a basketball perspective, sounds absolutely crazy. Privately, Young feared the NBA was going to freeze him out. “I was like, ‘The NBA don’t want this anymore,’” he says.​

The negative attention he brought to himself, his family, the Lakers, and the league, coupled with the fact he was enduring one of the most trying seasons of his career under head coach Byron Scott, who wasn’t exactly enamored of Young’s style of play, had the small forward/shooting guard thinking he was destined for the Euro League the following season. After the 2015-16 season, which saw him average a then-career-low of 7.3 points per game and shoot his lowest percentage from three (32.5 percent), his confidence was shook. The Ls were racking up.

Nick Young Wide Feature 2018 Fit 2

Luckily for Young, Luke Walton took over the Lakers the following season and had a heart-to-heart with the sharpshooter. “I’ll give you the fairest shot I can,” Walton told Young, who started the first game of the season. He bounced back with one of his best offensive campaigns, starting a career-high 60 games and shooting 40.4 percent from three.

Young was a free agent after the season, and Walton, who had just left the Warriors' bench for the Lakers coaching gig, put in a good word with his former employers on Young’s behalf. The Warriors signed Swaggy to a one-year deal, and the move was widely praised by NBA observers who felt Young would be a great fit for the defending champs. He could come off the bench and shoot at free will. Plus, he’d be surrounded by veterans and immersed in a true winning culture for the first time in his career.

“I just needed to win. I had been on a lot of losing teams. Always rebuilding,” says Young. “I feel I needed to experience [winning] and be around guys who are just really good teammates like Draymond, even though he’s crazy.”

For a minute, Young was crazy enough to think his presence would actually cost Golden State another title. When things got dicey during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in Houston, as the Warriors faced a double-digit deficit, Young couldn’t help thinking he was officially cursed. “Like I came here and they lose?” he says. “I didn’t want to be blamed for nothing like, ‘He jinxed the team.’” By all measures, the Nick Young x Golden State Warriors collaboration was a success. While his teammates regularly roasted his fits, he developed friendships with many of the guys, including Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green. Young was surprised when Curry turned out to be exactly as advertised. “I thought it was fake,” says Young of Curry’s good-guy image. “I was waiting for him to be a totally different person, but he’s that guy all the time.” Young became close enough with Green that the capricious forward invited his new teammate on a few off-season trips that ultimately were declined. Swaggy P was still in party mode, and a trip to Greece didn’t sound nearly as enticing as celebrating with friends and family back in L.A.

"The Warriors had to see something in me for wanting me to come there and be part of something special. Hopefully they saw that, and if not, I'm still a champion."

To kick off the Warriors’ run to a fourth-straight NBA Finals, Young memorably rolled to Oracle Arena before Game 1 of the squad’s first-round series with the Spurs in a silk robe and boxer shorts. It was arguably the most ambitious fit any NBA player ever tried to pull off. Young had been plotting it for weeks, and it caught the attention not only of NBA Twitter, but the league office.

“They actually called about the robe,” says Young. “They thought I really wore boxer shorts. They were like, ‘You can’t wear boxers and a robe.’”

Young rocked another robe during the parade, sans shirt—Warriors coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers told him to do it and “be full Swaggy.” Known for his affinity for truly outrageous fashion choices—like what he wore to the NBA Awards this past June—Swaggy P shines like few others when he’s walking into an NBA arena. Players have a lot of downtime on the road, and Young spends a good portion of it scouring online shops for rare shirts and other things nobody else in the league has. Sometimes he’ll sit on a fit so long that somebody else will debut it before he gets a chance. In those instances, Young says, “I can’t wear that no more.”

The love of clothes encouraged him to start his own streetwear brand, the Los Angeles-based Most Hated. Young’s all in on it and has some ideas on how to make it pop, including collabing with bigger brands in 2018. If he ever becomes a sneaker free agent—he’s with Adidas for one more season—he might look to design and release his own signature sneaker. And if you’re an eBay reseller and have a rare pair of kicks, know that Young might hit you up. Some catch on that it’s the NBA player famous for wearing crazy sneakers and ask if it’s really Swaggy P they’re haggling with.

“I don’t know whether to say yes or no,” says Young. “Are they going to give them to me for free? Are they going to stalk me? I don’t say nothing.”

Fast-forward to August, with the NBA’s free agency frenzy long gone, and Young’s still looking for a team. More than likely his time in Golden State will be one and done. The Warriors have seemingly filled out their roster without room for Young, leaving him to search for this next spot. He has certain criteria that must be met before he signs somewhere. Most importantly, he wants to play for a winner. That run through the playoffs with the Warriors has him hooked on playing on the big stage again.

Nick Young Wide Feature Vertical 2018

He was hopeful a reunion with his former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni might happen in Houston. “He's one of the best coaches I played with,” he says. But the Rockets’ signing of Carmelo Anthony likely will force him to look elsewhere.

“I just have to find that exact spot. That’s more key than anything for me than just rushing out there,” says Young. “It’s my 11th year. But I’m not used to it. I’m used to signing early. My agent’s telling me to relax and to be more patient.”

But if he had his way, he’d be signed by now. In the meantime, the Swaggy P Celebration Tour continues. The parties haven’t been endless, but more often than not they’ve been the kind where the details are hazy the next morning. A recent stop at a tattoo parlor saw him add a Power Rangers lightning bolt—for his son—and the Larry O’Brien Trophy to his already impressive collection. He also (kind of) has a new nickname, courtesy of Steph Curry, and it’s perfect for all his haters on Instagram. Asked to describe Young in three words on the spot, Curry told us this: “Swag. Champ. Forever.”

Young likes the sound of it. Paint it on the side of that 64 Impala for his mythical parade down Ventura Blvd. with YG’s “Too Cocky” blasting from the speakers. If ever there were a song that epitomized Young, it’s the Los Angeles rapper’s anthem about supreme confidence off his new album, Stay Dangerous.  

Soon as I came out the womb, I was big-headed.
Now I’m big-breaded, married to the game, big weddin

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