The Other Half of the Story: Nick Young

A drained Nick Young walked into the crowded media room before a Wednesday night Miami Heat game appearing more like a stranger than a familiar presence. He was, in his sluggish state, an anecdote. Exhibit A when your life is dragged through a social media scandal but you are still required to show up for work. His eyes were small and weary and he rarely blinked. His face suddenly looked older, as if a few days of privacy breach had aged him like the blazing sun withers a field of grapes. He was quiet when he spoke but he was also distant, as if his body was there but his soul was not. He didn’t talk much about anything important, he broke no news, there was no D’Angelo Russell olive branch for the two reported friends who are now in a chill to cling to. He said a couple of things, was brief, ended the session, and then walked out the same way he walked in, carrying the weight of this sudden curve in his adult life. His despair was overwhelming to witness.

The victimization of Nick Young is a theatrical denouement of the entire leaked video catastrophe. It just doesn’t apply. He was the injured party to be sure, and his wedding may be off, and his fiancee may not forgive him until hell freezes over, and other women may be cheering because Nick implied, strongly, he isn’t faithful- what woman wants to hear that?  Nick Young may have been betrayed by a friend for the first time in his life. In a twist of irony, the Young personality, the easy laugh, the playfulness, the comical timing that brings people to him may have just brought the wrong person to him.

It’s hard to trust D’Angelo Russell when he says he has no idea how the video was uploaded and so yes, Russell injured Nick Young, he betrayed him, he stabbed him in the heart, he may have ruined his private life. But Nick Young is an example of consequences, and what you do in the dark will haunt you in the light.

For Nick Young, this basketball season has been a waste of his time. The Lakers are a collection of youth, age, rejects, mediocrity, insipid coaching, paralyzed management and overall negligence. He’s had his worst year of his career. Always a one dimensional player, Nick Young can no longer indulge himself. His shooting has taken a dark turn down a dark road. He is performing at a worse rate than he did as a rookie, not even able to drop double digits in scoring. He has the second worst field goal percentage on the team for players who log 19 minutes or more. Only rookie Anthony Brown is worse than Nick Young. His bread and butter, the three point shot, goes in less and less. He never was a rebounder nor was he a passer and defense was something he objected to. So he’s been on the bench for days because what good is he on the court?

Last night, D’Angelo Russell talked about how he was drawn to Nick because on the Lakers, Nick was the only one like Russell, the only one not serious, who liked to play around and joke and have a good time. Russell cited instances where he and Nick would take videos of each other and watch them and then laugh. Russell didn’t have to admit that this particular video was not in the rewind and laugh loop archives.

There is no prize for being the person who got played and then had to deal with the hard consequences, just as there is no prize for being an NBA veteran that didn’t put any effort towards his NBA career and so he is frequently benched. The reason it has come to all this, a non-basketball Nick Young shame he can’t outrun with on the court heroics, is that a long time ago he failed on the court and he was seemingly fine with his own flaws, his own underachievement. His calculus was through the sentimental lens of how Nick Young made people feel. No one ever said he was great. But he was happy.

He is not happy now.

There has always been something about Nick Young that encapsulates both joy and adolescence. His career is funneled through that prism and it is an explanation of his erratic game. Still, most things in life run true to form. You are what you are. Men are sometimes small. Situations are often huge. Innocence has an age limit. Over his career, mental lapses are what plague Nick and so that leads him here, to this grand mental lapse of all time and on videotape, no less.

That Nick comes from a complicated part of the world only elevates his story of underachievement but with riches and fame. Nick is a South Central kid in a family where grief was the most important member of the family after Nick’s older brother, Charles Jr., was murdered. His family’s suffering had no ceiling and his game had no humility. He was a high enough draft pick, number 16, to thrive. But he never quite did. He had his moments here and there but mostly, in NBA circles, he is considered a rotational player who can never be on a playoff roster. His habits fluctuate between desperate and lazy.

There is something about Nick’s game in which more translates into less. Perhaps it is a flaw in his basketball character or just speaks to his destiny, his capacity to keep changing the lead. Gaps persist when you expect gaps to close. And he just isn’t that tough.

But he has to be tough now. He is forced to be. Fame and adoration is what he wanted. But he is infamous, thanks to D’Angelo Russell, a video and the social media world of narcissism.

The question every player must answer is the question every man must answer. What are you willing to sacrifice? What reward do you seek? Are you willing to give up everything? In Los Angeles, Nick is different than just about everyone else on the Lakers team because this is his home, we are his people. Because this city raised him, we want him to be redeemed. We will forgive Nick even if Iggy Azalea won’t. We will forgive Nick even if we won’t offer that same bit of charity to D’Angelo Russell. Nick was here in the tragic years of D’Antoni and Byron Scott. That counts for something.

If there is a silver lining to any of it, it is that the Lakers season will soon be over and everyone can abandon ship and retreat to their own corners. Soon it will be Drew League time and Nick will be in his glory showcasing a series of dunks and crossovers and last second shots in front of a friendly, if not ecstatic, Compton, California crowd.

There is no better advertisement for Nick Young’s talent and Nick Young’s weaknesses than the Drew League. He loves to score and he loves to show off his moves and he loves to be the center of attention. There is an irony here. What makes Young so great in the Drew League is what makes him so terrible in the NBA, something the Lakers are in compliance with even as they tried to move Young last summer but couldn’t. Every G.M. is aware that Nick Young is a fun-loving comedy act who uses the NBA as his personal platform for entertainment.

Nick Young’s best Lakers year was when he played for Mike D’Antoni. He had career highs in points scored, steals, offensive rebounds, assists, field goals and field goal attempts with free rein to do whatever he wanted without fear of punishment. On the opposite coaching spectrum, Byron Scott rewards defense and hard work and what you do off-ball and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about entertainment, something that is high on Nick Young’s motivational list. Scott wants a player who wants to rebound and set screens and pass the ball. Scott wants what every Nick Young coach wants, but all of them (except D’Antoni) have been left exasperated.

There was a pre-game moment last year when Nick Young was entertaining the media with a story about dolphins and it was one of the light moments that Nick Young loves with the assembled writers surrounding him, hanging on his every word, laughing with him, not at him. Byron Scott entered the room, gave Young the Death Stare and then announced Young was being fined for lateness. No longer smiling, Young exhaled, like cold water was splashed on his face.

That cold water is like ice now. It takes time to get over betrayal and to lose the person you love because of what you did. It takes time to reconcile the truth of it all, that your behavior is responsible for the consequences. And it takes a minute to figure out who your real friends truly are.


photo via llananba