Because of his slight build and willingness to take on opponents sometimes a foot taller than him, Atlanta Hawks superstar guard Trae Young has faced a variety of intimidation tactics throughout his basketball career.
From trash talk to bully ball from foes and taunts from opposing fan bases, the 23-year-old Young has already seen, heard and experienced just about everything others can throw at him on a basketball court. Hawks owner Grant Hill once playfully compared Young to famed wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and former Duke star Christian Laettner for his willingness to stand up to taunts from crowds and use it to fuel his fire internally.
Young has a little secret for the people who dare to trash talk him: He kind of likes it when others try to intimidate him, and it has a way of pushing his game into overdrive.
When a recent opponent barked at Young, the Hawks superstar guard got fired up by the trash talk and took his game to another level
During a December game between the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic, Young was surprised that opposing point guard Cole Anthony and reserve big man Mortiz Wagner had the gall to trash talk him during a game. Considering the current state of the woeful Magic, they really shouldn’t be trash-talking anyone — namely a superstar player from a division rival who can make them pay for it dearly in four meetings a year.
“I’m OK not talking trash and letting my game do my talking, but if somebody wants to play a certain way and talk trash, I can do that, too,” Young said brazenly in his postgame news conference on Dec. 15. “I’ve seen it all, and I’ve never backed down from it.”
Young backed up the talk of never backing down by handing the Magic 28 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals — despite missing a big chunk of the game because of a sore neck.
“I enjoy it,” Young said of the smack talk directed his way. “If somebody wants to talk and turn me up, that’s on them. It’s basketball, so you are going to have trash talk in every game. But I actually like it.”
Trash talk, bully ball nothing new for Young
Long before he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Young had to endure lots of trash talk and intimidation tactics — especially as someone listed at 6-foot-1 (barely) and 163 pounds (maybe) with a grown-up game.
The history of those taunts go back to his childhood days in Lubbock, Texas, and later Norman, Okla., when he followed in his father’s footsteps as a high-scoring, deep-shooting basketball star who seemed to be ahead of his time. By his sophomore year of high school, Young was already averaging 25 points in a game and hearing it from frustrated defenders who had trouble keeping him from making 3-pointers from all over the floor.
“I grew up playing up (in terms of age) and playing against older guys, and nobody respected me when I was a kid,” recalled Young, who averaged 34.2 points as a junior and 42.6 points as a senior at Norman North High School. “I always had to talk trash and let ’em know I was in the gym.
“Sometimes, you got to let ’em know,” Young said with conviction.
In his first playoff game, Young thrived off the taunts from fans and he torched the Knicks
Young and his Atlanta Hawks didn’t waste any time last spring in proving that they had the mettle to stand up to taunts and trash talk that tend to arise in the always-heated NBA playoffs.
Playing before a hostile New York Knicks crowd that targeted him throughout Game 1 of the playoff series, the superstar guard rained in shots from all over the Madison Square Garden. His final stat line that day — 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds — allowed him to join LeBron James, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose as the only players in history to record at least 30 points and 10 assists in their first playoff game.
In that series — where the Hawks demolished the Knicks, 4-1 — Young averaged 29.5 points. He had 32, 30 and 36 points in road games at Madison Square Garden, and he said those games should serve as a notice that he plays even better when opponents and fans are chirping at him.
“They should know that there are certain players who you shouldn’t be talking trash to because you are just going to get them going,” Young said. “I guess that’s why I like it so much — because it gets me going.”
Young said facing off against the NBA’s present-day king of trash talk — Golden State forward Draymond Green — in two games last spring prepared him for the barbs he would face from Knicks fans and players. Young played well the first time that Green trash-talked him, scoring 21 points and handing out 15 assists in a big win for the Hawks. The second time around, however, Young wasn’t as good (13 points on 3-of-11 shooting), and he vowed to himself to learn from that experience and use the trash talk as fuel in the future.
“I’ve had Draymond give me some (trash talk). Me and him got into it a couple of times,” Young recalled. “But, to me, it’s fun, and I think it’s a part of the game. Anybody who is a real competitor and is trying to win understands that trash talk is just part of it.”