When the Los Angeles Lakers visited Verizon Center last month, former Wizard Nick Young crossed paths with John Wall as the teams shifted in and out for the morning shootaround. The two cracked a few jokes and before walking away, Young told Wall, “Hey, let me hold some of that $80 mil.”
Young has been in search of some financial stability and security ever since his rookie deal with the Wizards came to an end and he became a restricted free agent in the summer of the 2011. He signed his one-year qualifying offer worth $3.7 million rather than take a long-term deal for less than what he believed he was worth.
The Wizards then traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers in March 2012, as part of a three-team trade that yielded Nene, and Young signed a one-year deal worth $6 million to join the Philadelphia 76ers the following summer. And last summer, Young signed a two-year deal worth the veteran minimum of $2.3 million with the Lakers that had a player option for the second year.
Though the financial payoff has been less than what he had hoped, Young is embracing the side benefits that come from playing for his hometown Lakers and being teammates with one of the NBA’s most recognizable stars in Kobe Bryant.
“The whole atmosphere is different,” Young said recently. “When we come into town, we come through the back door. Because of that man Kobe, people are always outside, every time of the day, waiting for him. The lifestyle of going to hotels, you’ve got to go to the back. It’s crazy. It feels good. It’s home. Playing at home is always fun. I got my family and stuff, being a part of a program with a winning history has been good for me.”
Young is having one of the best seasons of his career in Mike D’Antoni’s wide open, free throwing offense, which encourages players to shoot quickly and often – something Young has never had a problem doing. He is averaging 15.6 points in just 27.2 minutes and his player efficiency rating (16.04) is higher than it has ever been. He is also garnering attention as a possible sixth man of the year candidate.
“I’ve been comfortable in that role,” Young said. “It’s given me a chance to get loose out there.”
Young will have an opportunity to play on Christmas for the first time since his second season in Washington, when the Wizards went up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will once again get James, who now leads the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
But Young will have a slightly different look, since he now wears No. 0 – like his good friend and former teammate Gilbert Arenas – as opposed to the No. 1 that he had worn since he played in college at Southern California. No. 1 wasn’t available since it already belonged to his former high school rival, Jordan Farmar, but Young had already committed to the switch.
“I didn’t want to wear it anymore. I needed a change. I felt like I wanted to wear zero this year,” Young said. “You could say, Gil. You could say, Dray, Andray Blatche. It’s just something I feel like I haven’t been getting the respect I deserve over the last couple of years. So, that’s why I wear it.”
With his unique style and colorful personality, Young has attracted a following in the place where he starred at Cleveland High in suburban Reseda, Calif., and later at USC. Lakers legends James Worthy and Byron Scott recently spent an entire segment on Time Warner Sports Net imitating Young, who is known by many, simply, as “Swaggy P.”
“Going back, I get to go to USC games every now and then. Fans from SC, fans from high school be like, ‘Remember me from Cleveland?’ It’s been fun, being that hometown kid, playing with people I grew up with. It’s been cool,” Young said.
His parents, Mae and Charles Sr., also no longer have to split their rooting allegiances between the Lakers and their son. “No more of that. They at every game,” Young said. “My dad got a chance to talk to Kobe. He been a diehard Laker fan since I can remember. Growing up being a Laker fan, going to the Laker parades when they won a championship. It’s been crazy. It’s been like a dream come true. You grow up in LA, you always want to play for your hometown team and I remember playing at the park, saying I was Kobe.”
Bryant is currently sidelined with a fracture in his left knee after missing the first 19 games recovering from a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. But Young said Bryant has offered some advice from the bench.
“Little things, been teaching me different moves, how defenses play you and watching film, so he’s been trying to teach me a little bit of everything,” Young said. “You got one of the best players to play this the game, everyday in practice with you, and talking with you and trying to teach you the game, I mean, that’s one of my favorite players.”
Young has always had a unique fashion sense, but being in Los Angeles has forced him to try new extremes. He recently wore a custom-made, hooded shirt that stretched all the way to his knees. Young called it, “my Kanye fit.”
When asked what led him to try the different look, Young replied, “I’m Hollywood now. A lot’s changed. We got Rihanna at the games. Everybody be out there courtside. So yeah, it’s Hollywood, it’s a different atmosphere.”