Quietly, Nick Young slid into the locker room hoping no one would notice.
He arrived to Staples Center Friday night shortly after 6:15 p.m., an hour and fifteen minutes before the Lakers would tip off against Golden State and at least an hour after most players fit in their pre-game treatment and their pre-game warmups. But he couldn’t help himself.
Young showed off the outfit that appeared to be a mix of Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller, including black zipper pants, Air Jordan 7 Raptors, a hoodie, two gold chains and a red leather backpack. He gloated about GQ recently ranking him 19th on this year’s “most stylish athletes” list.
Even though Young hardly looked prepared for work, his never-ending smile put everyone at ease. A team official remained more than happy to accommodate Young’s ticket requests. Lakers forward Shawne Williams continuously congratulated Young for making the GQ list. Reporters nearby endlessly made small talk on his fashion choices, his infinite shoe collection and his on-court trash talking with Kobe Bryant during practice.
Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, a former high school club teammate that, soon approached Young’s stall and sternly interrupted Young’s good times.
“What are you doing?” Farmar asked.
“I’m having conversation,” Young said.
“It’s time to get to work,” Farmar said.
So they did, a never-ending ritual where the two participate in pre-game warmups. Two hours later, the two are leading a second-half charge that personifies the endless energy displayed in the Lakers’ 102-95 victory Friday over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.
For Young, that entailed posting 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting, two steals and a whole lot of energy that earned him the nickname “Swaggy P.” Welcome to Young’s world, where his energetic personality has translated positively on the court. He entered Friday’s game against the Warriors as the league’s fourth-highest scoring reserve, averaging 17.2 points in his last five games.
Will he clamor for NBA’s sixth man of the year?
“I’m just trying to get wins,” Young said. “If it happens, there’s some more bragging rights for me to just talk trash and just have fun with it.”
Young sure had fun Friday against Golden State.
Young threw down a dunk off Farmar’s alley-oop pass. Young ended a 12-0 third-quarter run by spinning away from Warriors forward Marreese Speights before hitting a three-pointer. Seemingly after every other bucket, Young jumped up and down showing the same giddiness as a child does on Christmas morning.
“My first love is being a dancer,” Young joked, “so it just came out of me today.”
Young continued to show energy.
Every time Farmar scored one of his 13 points, Young jumped up and down. Every time Young scored, he jumped up and down.
“He’s a fun guy to play with. He gets the energy going and the crowd going,” Farmar said. “Once he starts smiling and feeling good about himself, he’s contagious. You try to get him going and ride the wave.”
For a Lakers team looking for anything to offset the uncertainty over injuries in Kobe Bryant (left Achilles tendon) and Steve Nash (back) and a competitive Western Conference, Young’s genuine spirit has paid off.
The former Cleveland High standout joined the Lakers this offseason to a two-year year at the veteran’s minimum, namely because he could finally fulfill his lifelong dream in wearing the purple and gold, eventually playing with his idol in Bryant and having a definitive role on the team. And even if he hardly anticipated having a bench role, Young’s doing it all with a smile.
“He has a great personality and he’s fun,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s always laughing and he’s always up. Plus, he’s playing defense, which makes his jokes a little funnier.”
The Lakers didn’t respond well to smiling last year from Dwight Howard because they sensed it reeked of attention seeking and masked his passive-aggressive frustration. Young didn’t respond well in his previous six NBA seasons on defense because it interfered with his love for scoring. But with by going up against Bryant in practice this week, there’s no way Young’s letting his defense slide.
“I’m playing with energy. That’s all. Playing with energy and trying to have fun out there and get some dunks,” Young said. “When you get steals, somebody gets an easy bucket and a highlight reel. There’s nothing like a highlight reel in L.A.”
Every part of Young’s night seemed to be a highlight reel.
He chatted with pop singer Rihanna as she sat courtside.
“I seen her end up saying ‘Swaggy P,” Young said. “She called my name.”
Instead of complaining about losing his starting position, Young has openly embraced talking about winning the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. So much that Farmar and Young have jokingly started an open competition for the award. Considering Young entered the game as the NBA’s 4th-highest scoring reserve, his chances seem high.
“I’m most definitely going to get it,” Young said. “It’s already in my pocket. He’s mad I said that. He said, ‘How are you going to get it when I’m going to get it?’ I told him it’s already mine.”
He’s not just settling for that. Young embraced a question made in jest on whether he will go for NBA’s defensive player of the year award.
“I might get that too with the way it’s going,” Young said. “Oh man. At first I couldn’t play defense. Now I’m the defensive player of the year.”
And apparently one of the most well dressed.
That’s why Lakers forwards Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry openly suggested afterwards that Young publicly sent GQ a portfolio of his wardrobe. to ensure a high ranking. Underneath the trash talking revealed the affection the Lakers have for Young.
“He is unique and definitely special,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “He’s a guy who feeds off his own confidence. When he feels good about himself, he becomes a very effective player and great scorer. Tonight he got it going and he hit some big shots. HE’s a very skilled offensive player. He definitely has the personality. You have to embrace it.”
Gasol literally did just that after the game, hugging Young for a job well done while delivering a serious message.
“You can’t get too comfortable,” Gasol said. “You can’t get satisfied with two wins in a row. Now you have to work to get the next one and take the next step. That’s what it takes to be a winning team. We can’t be satisfied just by putting two good efforts together.”
But at least for one night, Young remained satisfied. Hence, why he believed his fashionably late entrance reflected more in his grand performance than inexplicably getting stuck in traffic.
“That’s my routine!” Young said.
And with that, Young walked out of the Lakers’ locker room this time hoping everyone noticed him.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org