New York Knicks fans may be surprised to hear that their franchise’s most notorious enemy of the 21st century–Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young–once believed he might end up playing in the Big Apple.
Young recently discussed his experience as a member of the 2018 NBA Draft on his new “From the Point” podcast, and it was revealed that he had no idea Atlanta would make the controversial trade to snag him at number five.
“I always thought it was going to be Orlando at six, or I think Chicago was at seven, or maybe New York was going to trade up,” said Young. “I thought it was going to be those three teams before I thought of Atlanta.”
Young’s name is now infamous in New York City due to his performance in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs in which he torched the fourth-seeded Knicks en route to a five-game, largely uncompetitive Atlanta victory.
The first game cemented Young’s status as a New York villain when he hit a floater over the outstretched arms of Julius Randle and then proceeded to shush a hostile crowd that had been chanting expletives at him all night for no apparent reason.
A week and change later, with the Hawks on the verge of closing out their first series win since 2016, Young took a bow at center court of the world’s most famous arena. The game ended the Knicks’ most successful season since Carmelo Anthony volumed-scored his way to a couple of second-round exits in the early 2010s.
These two moments solidified Young both as an iconic NBA villain and as the marquee player Hawks fans had been dreaming of since the Dominique Wilkins days of the 1980s.
Atlanta would go on to outlast the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in seven games before bowing out to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals (Young was injured in Game 3 of that series with Atlanta on the verge of going up 2-1).
The series against the Knicks was a far cry from the first time Young stepped on the Madison Square Garden floor in his NBA debut, a game in which he scored 14 points and his team lost by 19.
The previous season, Young had generated national headlines as a member of the Oklahoma Sooners, where comparisons to Stephen Curry were naturally made due to his love of the long-range three-ball. Young became the first player in college basketball history to lead the nation in both points and assists and skyrocketed up NBA draft boards.
However, this onslaught of attention also caused skepticism about Young’s skinny frame, inefficiency, and how his game would translate to the NBA, which perhaps would explain his surprise at being drafted all the way up at 5 by Atlanta.
While Young had already established himself in the upper echelon of NBA point guards prior to the Knicks series, it was ultra-gratifying for Hawks fans to see him blossom into a true star player in front of the league’s most bitter fanbase, especially considering that most NBA “experts” not familiar with the Hawks predicted that New York would win the series.
Of course, in the present day, Young and his Atlanta Hawks have largely gone downhill since the peak of 2021 and have their fair share of problems that need addressing.
It’s still an interesting tidbit that the Knicks’ big brother once thought he’d spend his career in an orange and blue uniform.