washingtonpost.com
If Wizards' Young Is Happy, He Shows It

Thursday, July 16, 2009

LAS VEGAS

Last week, Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said that Nick Young needs to smile less. Michael Jordan, he pointed out, wasn't known for his happy-go-lucky good cheer. It was an irresistible topic, because Young smiles more than Jack Nicholson's Joker, and because his earnest response to the criticism was delivered with a five-alarm smile.

"I feel like I'm serious," Young argued, "I just happen to smile all the time."

Word of his alleged excessive happiness, of course, trickled back to his parents, Mae and Charles. Now, I've heard of plenty of parents who wished their children acted happier (Hi, Mom and Dad!), but you don't often hear of parents who wish their children frowned more. The Youngs are no exception, so I asked them about Washington's second Smiley-gate of this sports year.

"But that's what we do," Charles said.

"How can you change someone when he's born with that?" Mae asked.

In fact, the Youngs said, Nick was born with a little tooth in the front of his mouth, which sort of turned his infant face into a smile. His dad said Nick has smiled his whole life, but his mom brought up the family's tragedies, including the death of Nick's older brother, Charles Jr., in a drive-by shooting.

"You've got to remember, a smile is just a frown turned upside down," Charles said.

"We joke and jive about our pain," Mae said. "We joke and jive about a lot of things. We make fun of it after we went through the process. Okay, that's how we deal with it. That's how we move on."

"If you don't laugh, you'll go crazy," Charles said.

"That's not happiness," Mae said. "That's just a cover up for not wanting [people] to get into your world. That is not a real smile. Look at me, I'm doing this," she said with a fake grin, "but [people] don't know what's behind it."

They admitted that their son has a basically happy personality, but they also explained that there are different angles to his facial expressions. His mom, for example, said Nick doesn't smile when people treat him badly.

"If he didn't smile, you was gonna have to get out of the way; he's gonna seriously do something wrong, okay?" she said with a chuckle. "So when he stops smiling, know that it's time -- Nick's gonna do something real bad. As long as he's got that fake smile on his face, that means that you're all right, he'll still tolerate you."

Both parents also noted that other NBA greats have been smilers.

"Magic Johnson, nobody could touch him, and he kept that big Kool-Aid smile," Mae said.

"Wait a minute, have you ever heard of this guy called LeBron James?" Charles asked. "You see the antics he do on the sideline? If Nick did that, y'all would run him out of Washington."

It's true. I'm no coach, but I don't want a preening, grimacing superstar in my city. And just so no one gets any wrong ideas, the Youngs were just having fun with this whole topic.

"When he smiles at somebody, that means he's taunting you," Mae said after her son erupted for 36 points in Tuesday's NBA Summer League opener. "Like, 'You can't deal with me, you can't handle me, I can terrorize you.' That's what he's doing. He's not really smiling. See, if he's laughing out loud, that's when he's happy. Like that," she concluded, pointing to her son, who was surrounded by friends and doubled up in laughter.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company