In his five-year NBA career, the former Oklahoma Sooner has managed to make an enemy out of several cities, most of them in the northeast, including New York City, Philadelphia, and most recently Boston, just to name a few.
On Saturday, Young was in Las Vegas to watch his Atlanta Hawks partake in summer league action, and while he was there, he helped the NBA announce the newly introduced in-season tournament.
As Young, alongside fellow NBA-ers Cade Cunningham and Paolo Banchero, read from a card to help list off the groups of teams for the tournament, which will begin in November, someone from the crowd screamed a vial taunt in the Hawk point guard’s direction.
Young promptly responded, saying “I like that,” with a wry smile.
This isn’t the first time Trae Young has been taunted
While he has been documented antagonizing road stadiums since at least his high school days, Young got his first big league introduction to just how toxic NBA fans can be in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, in the 2021 playoffs, when New York Knicks fans began berating Young from pretty much the opening tip of Game 1 with a series of NSFW chants.
Young turned this unfounded hatred into fuel and made quick work of what was one of the worst teams to ever net a top 4 seed in the modern era, sending Julius Randle and company packing in five games.
The vitriol continued the next year in the Play-in Game, when Cleveland Cavaliers fans taunted Young with vial taunts, and Young once again responded by dropping off their team with a virtuoso performance and then waved goodbye to the fans after the final buzzer sounded.
And most recently, Boston Celtics fans found out why it’s never a good idea to poke the bear, shouting that infamous three-word chant as Young shot free throws late in a tightly-contested Game 5 at TD Garden.
Just a few minutes later, Young would hit the most clutch shot of his career from just inside the Celtics’ logo and hit the stunned Boston crowd with his signature “shiver” celebration.
And now, whoever it was in the Las Vegas crowd has once again ignited the one player in the NBA who it’s never a good idea to curse at. At least for the fan’s sake, it will be a few months before Young steps onto an NBA court again, so there was no way for the point guard to let his play do the talking last night.
Still, the fact that Young responds to such blatant disrespect with a smile in an era where NBA players are growing increasingly comfortable having fans removed from games for far less vial offenses says a lot about him.
Since he got into the league, Young has had an outsized personality, one that seemed to be at odds with his (relatively) slight frame and stature. It was this audacity and lack of restraint that made the city fall in love with him so quickly. Consider, Atlanta has had relatively few star players across all professional sports in its modern history, and the few that it did (Freddie Freeman, Julio Jones, the collective that was the 2015 Hawks) were usually soft-spoken and lacked that superstar aura.
One would probably have to go back to Deion Sanders to find a great Atlanta player that wasn’t afraid to talk about it, and while such a personality certainly has its occasional backfires, it’s still refreshing to see a player in Young who isn’t afraid to go into The Mecca and mimic spitting on the Madison Square Garden floor, or wave goodbye to the fans in Cleveland after the heartbreak the Cavs have subjected on the Hawks over the years, or taunt the Boston Celtics fans, who have the arrogance of a perennial dynasty and the trophy room of the Toronto Raptors in the last 37 years.
In any case, moments like this remind Hawks fans why the city embraced him in the first place, despite the frustrations he can incite.
Let’s hope Young remembers this whenever he plays whatever team that fan roots for next year (it’s probably the Knicks).