Nick Young was born on June 1, 1985 in Los Angeles. His alter ego “Swaggy P” came into existence two decades later – after God appeared to him in a dream with a few helpful suggestions for expanding the brand.
Since then, he’s done all he can to live up to the moniker, flashing through the NBA with a freewheeling, score-first style of play and a sartorial flair that leaves even the league’s best dressed looking shabby by comparison. So flawless was his game, in fact, that he was able to woo one of the world’s most famous women – rapper Iggy Azalea – on Twitter, and, after keeping their relationship secret for a time, the two recently became the face of Forever 21’s 2014 holiday campaign. In short, Swaggy P isn’t merely a nickname, it’s a lifestyle.
Now playing for his hometown Lakers, alongside boyhood hero Kobe Bryant, you’d think Young’s life would be complete. And, for the most part, you’d be right. But as he told Rolling Stone, Swaggy P still has bigger dreams – like leading the Lake Show back to the Promised Land, landing a starring role in a superhero film and finally figuring how to steal some closet space from Iggy Azalea.
So, what’s it like playing for your hometown team?
It’s a dream come true. Growing up in L.A., every kid wants to play for the Lakers. As a kid I went to their championship parades, bought a Kobe jersey – I went to the gym and made everybody call me Kobe – loved Shaq, loved the three-peat. I hated the Kings, hated Utah. When I first got to the NBA, I was still going for L.A., even when I was playing for Washington.
At the same time, it must be tough, because this season has been a struggle for the Lakers, to put it mildly.
Losing sucks. Nobody wants to be known for losing; you can’t even have fun when you’re losing. Can’t post pictures on Instagram because you’re getting killed in the comments. I want nothing more than to get back into the playoffs with the Lakers. Ain’t nothing like the Lakers in the playoffs, and I think the city misses that. I still have no doubt we can make the playoffs. As long as we have the right attitude and Kobe and myself out there, anything is possible.
You mention attitude, which is interesting. Most people think your attitude is “stats first, team second.”
Stats don’t mean too much when you’re losing. People think all I worry about is my points, but that’s not true. I try to go out there and have fun, especially on a team like this, with Kobe Bryant. I have to bring that energy, because he’s the tough cop. I’m like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs. Every team needs a mix of guys like that, a good balance.
What’s Kobe Bryant like as a teammate?
[Laughs] He’s not normal. That’s one person who’s not normal. But he’s also not like people think. He rides people, for sure – some people more than others, and some of them can’t handle that. But he was the first person who called me when I got injured, he checked in on me. I was kind of touched. He went over plays with me, told me how to recover. I thought that was pretty big.
When Kobe calls you, what does it say on your phone? “Mamba?” “Vino?”
Oh, it says “Kobe.” I make sure I show everybody that number. “It’s Kobe calling.”
What’s the most Kobe thing you’ve ever seen Kobe Bryant do?
Kobe rolls around with three security guards – one holds his clothes, and one holds his bag. He’s the real deal. We were in China, and everybody knew who he was. Everyone in the world knows Kobe. And when you get to that level, you gotta be a little off, and people can’t judge you for being like that.
Like most of the all-time greats, he has a reputation for being supremely driven. You try to have fun when you play, so I’m wondering: Do you have to be a serious player to be a great one?
As a player, you model yourself after other players. Kobe takes the same approach as Michael Jordan. But I follow someone like Magic Johnson; he showed emotion, he smiled and jumped around, he was happy for his teammates. There needs to be more players like that.
Look at Shaq; he went out and had a movie called Kazaam. I’m trying to make Kazaam 2, with me as the star. We hope to push it to the theaters, but it might be straight-to-DVD [laughs]. I watched all of Shaq’s movies. Steel, when he was the hero with the iron suit on, oh man! It’s hard to act, period. So to watch somebody that’s seven feet tall in an all-iron suit, that’s big!
Well, Shaq never starred in a Forever 21 campaign, or did interviews about Yves Saint Laurent – when did you realize you were a fashion icon?
When it comes to the fashion thing, I’m like Kobe. I do my thing out there. I’m a star, man! My teammates say I’m a model now, but I tell them, “There’s a little Swaggy P in everybody.”
My mom said I stopped having her pick my clothes when I was four years old. I didn’t like how I looked and kids would talk up on me ’cause I had alligators on my shirt. So she said, “I knew you was always going to be into clothes, because you stopped letting me pick out your outfits.” Now I have so many shoes that Iggy’s started throwing them away! She boxes them up, gives them away – even pairs that are still good! She’s like, “You’re overcrowding the house with shoes.” I have probably 400 pairs of sneakers, probably a good 100 shoes by YSL, Louboutin, you know.
Clothes are a big deal in the NBA. Who do you think is the most fashionable player?
Me. I influence a lot of people with my hairstyle, with dressing up, but nobody will give me credit. I’m not afraid to take chances, I like to look good and I have a personality. I like to see that my haircut is on a lot of people these days, people been trying to battle me with sneakers on the court – but you know what? Right now, I’m holding the crown. I won’t back down.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing?
My black leather jacket from Saint Laurent. It was a lot of money. I went and they said, “You gotta have this” and I was like, “Nah, I don’t know if could spend $5-6,000 on a jacket.” But, here’s how I got it: I had bought another jacket, but it didn’t fit, so I returned it and I had $2,000 credit that I forgot all about, so I snapped it up! I knew my teammates were going to crack jokes on me as soon as they saw it, that’s what I started calling myself “Young Mike Jackson.” It’s tough to look good in a leather jacket.
You and Iggy Azalea recently bought Selena Gomez’s mansion. How much weird stuff did Justin Bieber leave behind?
By the time I got there, Iggy had already cleaned it up [laughs]. But I heard Justin Bieber used to shoot on the basketball court outside. We might have to play one-on-one.
So who has more closet space, you or Iggy?
Right now, there’s more than enough for both of us. But we’re just getting started, so we’re going to be battling in a minute, I can see that. I have one good closet; she’s got every closet and more storage. She’s definitely winning.
I’d imagine players around the league enjoy bringing up your girlfriend during games. Does it ever cross the line?
The fans do too! It doesn’t bother me anymore. There’s a line you shouldn’t cross when you’re playing; I think you should leave people’s wives and fiancées and girlfriends out of it. But some people don’t care; talking trash is talking trash. It hasn’t happened seriously yet, people just crack jokes – I haven’t gotten the “Honey Nut Cheerios” or nothing like that – mostly I get “Ms. Iggy,” and my teammates are constantly talking to me about it. My life is an open book, I guess.
Last question: Your cousin is Kendrick Lamar. What’s up with his album?
I don’t know. Kendrick is to himself right now. He’s got a lot on his mind; it’s going to be crazy.
OK, this is the last question: What’s up with his hair?
[Laughs] I heard he wasn’t cutting his hair until his album drops. So he’s saving a lot of money right there.