Trae Young hasn’t watched “Tiger King” on Netflix yet, but he can tell you pretty much everything about it.
The wild documentary that centers around former zookeeper Joe Exotic mostly is set in Young’s home state of Oklahoma, so he’s fielding lots of questions and jokes these days — including from teammates in the Hawks’ first Zoom team meeting this week.
“We hadn’t seen each other, talked to each other,” Young said. “A couple of us have definitely reached out and talked to each other, FaceTimed, especially in the video-game world, we’re all playing, but besides that, we hadn’t really all gotten to meet up as a group, and so we just got to meet up and talk. They all were talking about the Netflix show ‘Tiger King’ and killing me about this Oklahoma stuff and asking me a lot of questions. It was fun. … Hadn’t gotten to do that with them in a long time.”
Young’s routine, along with pretty much everyone else’s, has changed drastically in the past few weeks. Since the NBA went on hiatus March 11, after Utah’s Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive for the coronavirus, Young returned home to Norman, Oklahoma, to be closer to family.
Every day the hiatus continues, it looks increasingly doubtful that the Hawks (20-47) will get to play those last 15 regular-season games. Young still gets shots up every day and plays pickup at his house with a few friends who are staying with him, but as the country battles a pandemic, sports are far from his top priority.
“To be honest, there’s so many things going on in this world, for me, basketball right now is probably the last thing on my mind,” Young said. “The first thing on my mind is the health of people. For me I haven’t really thought too much about when we’re going to get back playing, how many games I would want to play, things like that.
“For me it’s all about figuring out a cure for this thing and for us to be able to be around our fans and things like that without having to worry about a high-five or dap to a little kid. That’s the main thing I’m thinking about is the health and safety for everybody in this world right now.”
In the past few weeks, much of the American workforce has transitioned to working from home. While that’s mostly impossible for Young, he has a home gym in his garage with treadmills, bikes and weights that he’s using to stay in shape. He’s going on grocery runs, cooking from home and mostly trying to stay inside.
He’s competing in the NBA 2K Players Tournament (the winner gets $100,000 to donate to charity for coronavirus relief), and will take on Harrison Barnes on Friday. In his spare time, he’s started making Tik Tok videos (he previously started the #InHouseChallenge on Twitter, sharing a video of him shooting socks into a small hamper from a few yards away, with others quickly following suit).
It’s a big change of pace from the grind of the regular season, but being close to family has made the transition easier.
“I know I’m not the only one going through this change and trying to figure it all out,” Young said. “I know this is a whole world thing. We’re all learning on the fly. For me, I’m just trying to continue to talk to my family and just get my mind off of what state we’re in right now, but also be smart and understand that this is serious and to follow the proper precautions.
“I’m just trying to keep my social distance from everything and try to be smart with everything I do because I know it’s serious, but also try to find things to keep my mind off of it.”
Missing basketball is the most difficult part for Young.
“I’m not able to play in front of all of our fans in Atlanta, play in front of the road teams’ fans,” Young said. “It’s different. … It’s crazy. Just trying to figure it out day by day. It’s like, we’ve had all these off days and you’re just not used to it, so that’s probably been the hardest part for me is not being able to play the game that I love every day.”
Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk has been keeping in touch with players, and owner Tony Ressler also checked in on Young.
The season being up in the air adds a feeling of uncertainty, but there’s really not much Young (or any player, for that matter) can do to combat that other than try to stay safe and healthy as more information becomes available.
“It’s a crazy feeling, you kind of just don’t know how to prepare,” Young said. “You have to wait until everything is told to you. So for me, I’m just doing what our whole team is doing, just staying active and prepared, lifting, doing what we need to do just in case it happens sooner rather than later.”
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