Nick Young is not your typical ballplayer. His style and personality are about as atypical as it gets in the Association.
This unconventionality makes sense for the Los Angeles Lakers, the most unconventional NBA franchise. Kobe Bryant seems to respect Young more than the other 13 players on the dysfunctional 8-17 team, while Byron Scott has taken a liking to his young playmaker as well, laughing off his eccentric hijinks and calling him “Nicholas” when he does something to the coaches’ disapproval.
The man who says he was given the nickname “Swaggy P” when God came to him in a dream and suggested it is obviously a fan favorite as well. He’s a style icon in the NBA, with a trademark haircut a cult following is emulating, flashy clothes like you’d see on the red carpet, and so many shoes he has a “Shoekeeper” to organize and clean them. Did I mention he’s dating rapper Iggy Azalea? The two are now a power couple in Hollywood, even headlining Forever 21’s winter campaign.
Young is insanely popular off the court, but his game on the court is steadily improving as well. Sure, he takes some wild shots and his defense goes missing at times, but this season he appears to be at the top of his game. The return of Kobe Bryant has led to fewer points, but his three point percentage is his best so far in his career and he’s limiting turnovers at an impressive rate (only 11 in 15 games).
Friday’s game-winning shot against the Spurs was quite possibly the biggest and most unbelievable moment of Young’s career. With the shot clock running down in overtime, he received a pass from Jeremy Lin and let a prayer fly over Manu Ginobili, who was playing the best defense you could play in that situation. It swished, giving the Lakers the lead for good with seven seconds left in the game. The team finally needed him to shoot one of those crazy jumpers, and he responded. It was an unpredictable play from the league’s most unpredictable player.
After the shot, Young was his typical self, saying in the locker room interview that, “You know, I just do what I gotta do when I gotta do it you know so, basically it’s just doing what I gotta do every time i step on the court and do what I gotta do, so I’m just doing what I do.”
Lakers fans are fine with a little confusion from the 29-year-old as long as it leads to a rare spot in the win column, and the fact that the “W” came against the best team in the West made it even sweeter.
But some radio hosts and TV commentators are a little less thrilled with “Swaggy P.” Most of what these talking heads take issue with is the self-assigned nickname. Giving yourself a nickname is seen as tacky and self-centered, caring more about personal glory than team achievement. ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy was quick to take a shot at the moniker last Christmas, when he said, “Well P doesn’t stand for pass, I’ll tell you that much.” Many people refuse to use the nickname, seeing it as unprofessional.
All of this criticism over a harmless nickname seems ridiculously trivial to me. Shaquille O’Neal gave himself countless nicknames in his career: “The Big Aristotle”; “Superman”; “The Big Shaqtus”; “Shaq Daddy”; “The Diesel”; “The Big Cactus”; and “The Big Shamrock,” just to name a few. Whenever Shaq changed teams or achieved something worthy of a new nickname, he took full advantage, yet no one criticized him as much as they criticize Young. Critics may say Shaq is a poor example because he’s a future Hall of Famer and Young hasn’t even made an All-Star team yet, so I’ll toss in the example of Austin Rivers, who called himself “Subzero” before he even got to Duke.
Your status as a player does not determine how good of a self-appointed nickname you have, either. Remember when Dwyane Wade called himself “WoW,” or “Way of Wade?” At least “Swaggy P” has a nice ring to it, and many people seem to agree if it has become such a household name. Old-school sports personalities can balk at the name all they want, but it’s just a waste of breath.
Another criticism of Young is that he simply doesn’t care enough, that he’s always this smiley guy who doesn’t take losses as hard as he should. It’s easy to think that, because he is a generally happy-go-lucky guy. However, his demeanor after losses is certainly downtrodden, behavior consistent with a player who is affected by defeat. After a blowout loss against Boston on December 5, Young responded to most questions with, “I don’t know, man,” and cut the interview short by leaving in the middle of the questioning. After the blowout loss last time out at Indiana, a game they trailed 60-27 at the half, he was disappointed again, showing no semblance of his usual self.
After losses, Young looks like a kid who just got his ice cream cone snatched out of his hands. Those who say he doesn’t care or doesn’t take the game seriously are a little misguided in their analysis. Is he cursing people out like Kobe or kicking over chairs like a maniac? No, because that’s not his nature. But everyone shows their disappointment after a tough game differently, and his way is a more laid back approach. There is nothing wrong with that, despite what some of his detractors may say.
All in all, Swaggy P is good for the Lakers and good for basketball. His personality and theatrics are helping keep the Lakers’ spirits high despite being in the Pacific Division cellar, while the entertainment value he provides on a nightly basis is raking in the dough for television networks every time they broadcast a Laker game. The fact that he’s dating Iggy only adds to his celebrity. Maybe he should call himself “The Big Moneymaker” next?