The Ice Man Cometh? Trae Young Needs A New Nickname  — And Maybe It Should Be ‘The Greatest Showman’

Trae Young
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I’m going to let you in on a secret. Trae Young may have earned his daunting nickname — “Ice Trae” (incidentally a nickname that rapper Quavo of Atlanta-based group Migos — a longtime supporter of both the Atlanta Hawks and Young himself — coined in 2017 on the track “Ice Tray” and that inevitably caught on like wildfire) — because he’s stone cold on the basketball court, but that is far from the truth.

In person, the 24-year-old, two-time NBA All-Star (who goes by Trae, though his name is, in fact, Rayford Young III) is sweet and quiet, kind and courteous. There is not one iota of diva about him, as he gamely goes where directed during our late February shoot at The St. Regis Atlanta in Buckhead. He holds open doors for women like a good Southern gentleman would and says “please” and “thank you” with aplomb. Honestly, I’m baffled that so many take his nickname so seriously … off the court.

And so, as it turns out, is he.

“There’s a difference,” he declares when we sit down to talk one-on-one post-shoot. “Ice Trae comes out when I’m in a zone on the court, playing basketball. Trae is a 24/7 person.”

“A nice person,” I remind him. “A person who holds open doors.” (Yes, I realize I’ve mentioned this twice, but only because it is not the norm.)

He nods. “That’s what happens most times when people actually meet me: they’re surprised. They’re like, ‘You’re not at all who you’re described to be.’ That’s why I say the people around me know who I really am, and that’s all that really matters to me. When you get to know me, you’ll know who I really am.”

Trae Young
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But he’ll admit it: it isn’t cool with him that he’s earned this chilly reputation, especially when it couldn’t be further from the truth. “It definitely bothers me,” he admits. “I mean, I’m not that type of person, but it’s also not my job to necessarily correct what people think about me, or this persona they’ve made up about me. If I’m on the road, I like to have fun with the crowd, and if they want to say stuff to me, I kind of get back into it, but it’s all within the fun of the game in my eyes. I’ll never cross that boundary where I’ve gone too far. But outside of basketball, I’m a totally different person.”

He pauses to organize his thoughts before continuing, saying, “I mean, I like hugs. I like saying, ‘Hi.’ I like meeting new people here and there.”
But if he’s not the stone-cold fox he’s portrayed to be, why then did he famously bow to the crowd at Madison Square Garden moments after eliminating the New York Knicks from the 2021 playoffs? Needless to say, his taunting did not sit well with New York fans.

Not so, Young says. He was merely defending himself in as polite a way as possible, considering the lobs that had been thrown at him. “That was serious. [The New York fans] were screaming ‘F-U’ alongside my name. It was pretty disrespectful. But I knew how to respond — just by playing well. And then, as I said, I was just having fun with it. We were in New York — Madison Square Garden — and a lot of shows go on there. So taking a bow didn’t seem to be abnormal [in that setting].”

He could have gone crazy on the court, said some things he would have regretted, but he didn’t — and doesn’t. A bow, to Young, was a way of retaining his integrity … and yeah, having the last laugh, too.

Check your temperature gauges, because most of all, he’s not cold. In fact, if pushed, he’d refer to himself as the polar opposite: warm, altruistic, caring. “I would describe myself as a family-first kind of person, someone who always wants to do something for others before myself, including on the court. I mean, I love giving assists before getting a bucket myself. So really, I’d say I’m a selfless person who’s just super, super competitive when it comes to basketball. Sometimes it doesn’t mix well. I have moments where I feel like I could be better, but for the most part, it’s done in a harmless, nice way.”

Trae Young
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So, despite being painted publicly as a villain, he wants to be more of a superhero (Superman, specifically, though sadly he no longer owns a costume that fits). “Everything I do is for a reason,” he declares. “I don’t want to embarrass my family, ruin my name, overstep anything, or be disrespectful in any way. So any time I’m interacting with fans — if you’re looking at it from a bird’s-eye view and can’t hear me, many people might think it’s a negative interaction, when most of the time it’s positive, or I’m making a joke. But it’s never overstepping a boundary, because that’s just not who I am.”

It’s also not how he wants to be portrayed to his 10-month-old son, Tydus Reign; for him, Young wants to be the ultimate role model. “You do see things differently when you become a parent,” he shares. “You learn to understand that certain things don’t matter as much. In the grand scheme of things, you obviously want to be the best role model you can. You want to be a leader when you know that someone is looking up to you and leave the best impression for them that you possibly can.”

Young is, well, a young parent — he and fiancée Shelby Miller, his college sweetheart, met at The University of Oklahoma in 2017, got engaged in 2021, and welcomed Tydus last June. But that doesn’t mean he’s shirking his dad duties in any way. It does mean that he’s not living that “vida loca” — late nights, women, clubs — that many of his peers are enjoying. And furthermore, he doesn’t seem to mind it (or miss it) one bit.
“Having a son, I don’t necessarily have as much free time as I would have if I didn’t have Tydus, but it’s a good thing he’s here, and a sacrifice I wanted to make — a good sacrifice,” he explains. “I’m willing to give up whatever I need to [in order to] give him as much time as possible.”

It’s been difficult during the season to find that work-life balance, but he’s managing, seeing his son in the mornings before practice and making it home for dinner when he can. And because he’s not playing the 20-something game by choice, that means when he’s not with the Hawks, he’s hanging with family and friends or watching endless movies at home.

Though he confesses his movie collection was largely made up of superhero flicks in the past, he’s an adult now and thus had to expand his repertoire to more age-appropriate films. He doesn’t reference any of those movies, but we do get into his love of Superman, mostly because

Trae Young
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I’m curious about the reason for his choice.

He looks at me with a “duh” expression. “He’s the toughest; only kryptonite can kill him,” he explains.

As we’ve already established, despite his on-court prowess — Young is unequivocally one of the best, most exciting players in the NBA, with two NBA All-Star selections under his belt — if you cut him, he bleeds. He’s bothered by the public’s perception of him, but it hasn’t crushed his soul, Beyoncé style. His kryptonite, as it happens, is Trae Young. And not in a Clark Kent kind of way.

“The only thing that could really hurt me is just my mindset,” he says, before noting, “I feel like if you protect your mental health and you’re always thinking positively, trying to do the right things, everything’s going to turn out OK. I don’t necessarily think I have a Lex Luthor, or that my kryptonite can even destroy me, though, because I know that I’ve got the right things around me to stay strong.”

Trae Young
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His game has certainly never suffered. During his senior year (2017-2018) at Norman North High School in Norman, Oklahoma, he scored an incredible 42.6 points per game while also shooting at a 49% rate, was named Oklahoma’s player of the year by multiple organizations, and won McDonald’s All American honors; in 2018, he became the only player in the NCAA’s Division I history to lead the nation in both scoring (27.4 points per game) and playmaking (8.7 assists per contest). This kind of promise led to the Lubbock, Texas, native’s fifth overall pick selection in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft by his hometown team, the Dallas Mavericks. But he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks along with a protected future first round pick in exchange for the rights to the third overall pick Luka Dončić. He’s been with the Hawks since, breaking personal best records left and right, becoming the second player in NBA history in 2021 — along with “Tiny” Archibald — to lead the league in total points and assists and also leading his team to the conference finals that same year.

And lest we forget, he’s only 24. The sky is the limit for Trae Young, who shares that he’s modeled his game after eight-time All-Star, two-time NBA MVP, and former Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash (who he feels an affinity with because they’re both moderately sized — Young is 6’1” and Nash is 6’3” — in a league of giants). And Young does want his own achievements to rival those of his hero, but he’s chill about it.

“Coming into the league, I had a lot of long-term goals and things I wanted to accomplish as an individual, as well as team goals, but now I think I’m just at a point where I want to take it day by day,” he shares, adding, “Obviously, I want to win championships along the way, but I just want to be in the moment, focusing on daily wins, and not looking too far ahead or focusing too much on the past.”

Trae Young
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While he might one day pull a LeBron and get into the movie business (he’s already appeared in the Los Angeles Laker’s 2022 sports flick collaboration with Adam Sandler, Hustle) and will no doubt have a variety of investments in the future to boot, the here and now is a good place to be … especially when you’re in Atlanta, and when, more specifically, you’re Trae Young in Atlanta.

It is Trae Young’s face, larger than life, that greets me the minute I enter the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It is Trae Young that a fan enthusiastically hand-slaps as we walk through the halls of The St. Regis with a “Great game!” as he passes. Trae Young is someone to root for, and the city has totally thrown its support behind him. Right now, there is no more important figurehead in Atlanta than Trae Young.

That being said, it’s a big responsibility to have the fate of an entire city — an entire state, really — on your shoulders … but he’s more than up for the job, even despite recent drama involving his former coach, Nate McMillan, that I need not go into — it’s been widely documented, and if you want to hear about it, you can read it elsewhere. But I digress.

“I don’t hold that weight lightly,” Young says now. “I just try to go out and represent everybody here in the best way I can. I try to be as honest and straightforward as I can, and I hope that everybody in Atlanta appreciates that. So far, they have, and their faith in me feels good. I just hope I can bring this city a championship. That’s my goal, and I’m not going to stop until I meet it. My motto is ‘another day, another opportunity.’ Meaning: every day is another day that we wake up, and so each day is another opportunity to be better at something.”

So, essentially, Atlanta, watch this space …

Trae Young
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