For Hawks, including star guard and GM, roots of the YMCA run deep

Players Trae Young and Kobe Bufkin and general manager Landry Fields, got their start at local organizations
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) works against Philadelphia 76ers guard Jaden Springer (11) during the first half of an In-Season Tournament NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) works against Philadelphia 76ers guard Jaden Springer (11) during the first half of an In-Season Tournament NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

For several members of the Hawks, the programs that the YMCA provides helped to lay the groundwork for their love of basketball.

When the Hawks had the chance to partner with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta to sponsor their new jersey patch, among other initiatives, it felt like a no-brainer. To help facilitate the Hawks’ new venture with the Y, the team partnered with Excel Sports Management.

On Monday, the team announced the multi-year partnership in which the signature ‘Y’ logo of the YMCA will feature on all Hawks uniforms as well as the uniforms of College Park Skyhawks, the team’s G League affiliate, as well as both the virtual and physical uniforms of Hawks Talon GC, the organization’s NBA 2K League affiliates (Hawks Talon GC).

The YMCA has served greater Atlanta since 1858, providing essential programs and services that address critical needs, builds the spirit, mind and health of individuals and fosters communities where everyone belongs.

Within the Hawks, several people have felt the benefits that the YMCA has provided, including Hawks guards Trae Young and Kobe Bufkin, as well as general manager Landry Fields. All share fond memories of getting their starts in basketball on the courts of the YMCA in their respective hometowns.

“The YMCA means a lot to me,” Young said in a statement provided by the team. “It was a place for me as a kid I got to go to a gym and just be a kid and just play basketball and live my dream out. And it was just playing with all the kids there and then as I got older, trying to jump on the main court with the older guys when my dad was playing and it was just always a place for me (where) I can go and escape and be a kid.”

For Young, the Cleveland County Family YMCA was called “the gym that built” him.

Not only did it provide Young with courts where he could hoop with older players and refine his game, but it also was a place to build his strength training routine.

Like Young, Fields and Bufkin also used the Y as a place to hone their craft. For Fields, it’s where his love for the game grew.

The Hawks general manager began going to the YMCA after watching many games with his father. During one watch session where the Lakers were on, Fields told his father, who was drafted by the Trail Blazers in 1975 but did not play, that he wanted to play basketball. His dad signed him up for a league at the Lakewood Family YMCA in Lakewood, Calif. and for a kindergarten-aged Fields, the experience was amazing.

“I loved it so much that after our first practice or game, I went to my dad and I showed him my hand and I said, ‘Dad I have a play for you that I’m going to run,’” Fields said while holding up his palm to demonstrate the play. “Naturally, I was the one getting the ball and it was absurd because I said, alright, there’s me with the ball and then all my teammates are all going to be pushing their guy away from the hoop and I’m just gonna go in and score.’”

As Fields made his way through the Y, he got feedback and eventually its director told his father that he needed to play up a division.

“So that was in an unconscious way communicating like, ‘Oh, you kind of have a grasp on this game,’” Fields said.

But the Y provided Fields with more. He did summer camps there. He learned to swim there. Plus, as he grew older, he recognized it as a place where he could go when he needed to work out or play.

“I was able to find my way in through unconventional means,” he said.

Though he does not remember all of the names of the staff and coaches he learned lessons from, some of them, as well as some memories have stuck with him.

Fields remembers a moment as a fourth or fifth grader when he struggled to shoot from long range. But his coach at the time encouraged him to keep shooting. Fields said the coach wanted him to hit the first 3-pointer of the season.

“And I finally hit it and then when I did hit it, I looked back at the bench and he had the biggest like, ‘Yes!’ towards me,” Fields said. “And so whoever that coach was, he was awesome.”

Around that time, Fields met his AAU coach, A.C. Diaz. Fields credits Diaz for seeing the potential of several players on different teams and bringing them together to create Lakewood Hoops. Fields said Diaz played a huge part in his basketball journey, using some unconventional means that didn’t win over many parents.

Diaz often had Lakewood Hoops play teams a couple of grades up to build up their skills. By doing that, Diaz prepared Fields’ AAU team for when they played groups their own age.

“And he was dead on,” Fields said. “We were just better. As soon as we got to eighth grade, there was just nobody that could keep up with us. And so he was very strict. He had us working very hard, doing push-ups, doing plyos, had us running around parks and stuff, (in) like fourth, fifth grade and middle school.

He added that Diaz taught him and his teammates what it meant to work hard and it cultivated his love for the game and dream to make it to the NBA.

Like Fields and Young, the YMCA allowed Bufkin to observe some of the older players and it helped to build character. He saw how they approached everything and it gave him a blueprint for where he wanted to go.

“Yeah, you see where you need to be. I was blessed enough to take it to another level after that. And then yeah, it was a good foundation.”

Now, through the Hawks’ partnership with the YMCA, the next generation can see how the organization can provide them with a pathway to their own goals. Members of the Hawks will help draw attention to Y’s youth programming. Stories like Young’s, Fields’ and Bufkin’s can help inspire the next generation.

On top of that, the Hawks will help the Y with several different causes including urgent community needs, promoting social responsibility and uplifting inclusive communities with strong DEI values. The Hawks will also launch several campaigns to help drive new YMCA members, as well as raise funds to support the Y’s mission by using the in-arena experience and their global marketing assets.

For president and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Lauren Koontz, the partnership works out perfectly since both organizations look to remain entrenched in the community of Atlanta.

“We really feel like the story of the Y inventing basketball and then this partnership here in Atlanta to provide more access and opportunity for youth to get involved with basketball through this partnership and to really introduce the why to maybe to a whole new community or to kids that are coming to the Y,” Koontz said.

“So, I don’t know, for us it just honestly makes so much sense and there’s just really something beautiful about the symmetry of two organizations that have been in the community, that are committed to the community coming together to do something so good and so powerful.”

The Hawks will debut the new jerseys on Tuesday night during their In-Season Tournament game against the Pacers.