New York cusses out Trae Young — and he thrives

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young reacts during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks won 107-105. (Seth Wenig/AP)
Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young reacts during the second half of Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. The Hawks won 107-105. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

New York Knicks fans, who presumably kiss their children with those same mouths, have decided to work blue practically from the tip of their playoff series against the Hawks.

“I never heard that being chanted in a building about a player before,” remarked Hawks coach Nate McMillan, who with 35 years as a player and coach in the NBA should have heard every insult. But nothing like the “F Trae Young” building-wide chorus that the Knicks people started with the score only 4-2 in Sunday’s Game 1. They went right to DEFCON 1 from the jump, leaving themselves very little room to go lower. And, yes, of course, they bleated the entire four-letter word.

“It was like the third possession of the game he got that — wasn’t like he got going and all of a sudden, things changed. It was right at the beginning of the game,” said fellow Hawks guard, Kevin Huerter. “(Young) played through that noise, that hate from the beginning of the game. I think he’s prepared for it.”

“I didn’t know if I was really hearing what they were saying,” McMillan said, the scene beggaring belief.

It wasn’t clever — not when you can get the same material off the wall of any given bus terminal restroom. It wasn’t suitable for all audiences. But, most distressing of all for the Knicks vulgar crowd, it didn’t work.

Young fed off the hostility like it was nectar. No one since Eddie Murphy has gotten more mileage out of that particular word. Taking over the fourth quarter — scoring 13 of his 32 points and dishing three of his 10 assists then — Young made the difference for the Hawks in a two-point game. And then suggested that the 15,000 in attendance should be quiet and perhaps upgrade their vocabulary.

New York Knicks fans cheer during Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)
New York Knicks fans cheer during Game 1 of first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

Now, if Knicks fans were smart — and they are doing everything possible to undermine that premise — they would change tactics during Wednesday’s Game 2.

They would shower Young with their praises. Kill him with kindness.

“Hail, Trae Young!”

“Hooray, Trae!”

“Trae’s Magnifique!”

But that’s just not in their angry and bitter DNA.

For Young’s part, maybe he’d be better off not getting caught up in a shouting match with seasoned professionals like New Yorkers. Maybe he doesn’t need to become the modern-day Reggie Miller, sparring with Spike Lee at courtside (although Young would finally enjoy a height advantage over someone on the floor). Maybe he doesn’t need to egg on this hostility and possibly get lost in the distraction.

Although for being just 22, with one fine game of postseason experience behind him, Young seems to kind of take to this role of sparring partner. There is a bring-it-on confidence to him — the same kind of attitude that allows a fellow of such modest dimensions to careen into a lane filled with giants by choice and come out unbroken.

Importantly, said McMillian, “(The noise) didn’t seem like it impacted him at all. He was able to stay focused on what he was able to do out there on the floor and we were able to get a win.”

“Different players handle situations like that differently,” McMillan said. “Trae is going through it really for the first time being in the playoffs. For all of us, it was different to actually have fans in the building. Our guys responded to that. They played well. They were able to block out and focus.”

“In a lot of ways, it brought us together, made us more connected,” Huerter said.

Wednesday’s Game 2 will test the thickness of Young’s hide even more. As Huerter noted, “It’s probably going to be worse.” Like any good pro wrestling crowd, the Madison Square Garden crowd has zeroed in on its chosen heel. It is not the kind of audience that will reconsider its lack of class and conclude that everything doesn’t have to sound like dinner table conversation from “The Sopranos.”

You’d like to think that when the series shifts to Atlanta Friday, the home crowd won’t feel the need to respond in kind. That it wouldn’t sink to New York’s level. Just in case, those attending may want to bring earmuffs for the children.

But, then, what if Young hears it all again and once more goes off Wednesday? What if turns out that he’s at his best when enveloped by crudity? Might the State Farm Arena crowd want to consider appropriating the “F Trae Young” chant as its own, bellowing it only when he really needs a lift? Whatever works.

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