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Trae Young is the cultural icon that the city of Atlanta needed.
When most scoffed at him being drafted fifth overall while other rookies got off to a quicker start, I knew the Atlanta Hawks had made the right decision. Young is more than a basketball player. The 6-foot-2 point guard is on his way to becoming an ambassador of sports for a city that so desperately coveted one.
Look around the sports landscape in America, and you’ll find someone that represents nearly every city. In Atlanta, a city known for being hip and fun, there has been no valid sports symbol.
In fact, in the sports world, Atlanta is known for being a perennial loser that comes up short in big moments, like the Super Bowl. I’ve always found the situation to be so strange when so many current and former athletes choose to live, visit or work out in Atlanta.
The last icon the city had was Michael Vick. He was transcendent. There was no player to ever play in the NFL like Vick when he burst on the scene in 2001. People tuned in to watch him at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, which was directly adjacent to the Hawks’ arena. He played an exciting brand of football that was unique and represented the culture of Atlanta.
He was someone who embraced the city, and when people thought of Atlanta, they’d think of Vick. Unfortunately, in very Atlanta fashion, his time in the town was cut short due to a two-year prison sentence in 2007.
Suddenly there became a hole again.
Young has brought a lot of the same flare and excitement that Vick had everyone rumbling about in 2001. His unique style of up-tempo play combined with his generational passing ability and elite shooting have people wanting to watch the Hawks.
They want to watch the Hawks, because of him. The team probably had the most highlights of a team not to make the playoffs in the history of the NBA.
In Vick’s first season in Atlanta, the Falcons were also a young team that had come nowhere close to hitting its peak. They finished 7-9, but everyone knew they had no ceiling. The sky was the limit. Furthermore, the Hawks finished this past season 29-52, but anyone who follows the team knows that this is just the beginning of a long journey that might lead them to the top.
Just like Vick embraced the city, so has Young.
“I think the city has really embraced me and I’ve really enjoyed the city as far as the culture and all the people here and how much they really support their teams,” Young told me in March.
HAWKS ON RISE
When a person becomes synonymous with a place, something as simple as what he is wearing is very important. In picture after picture Young can be seen adorning Hawks gear. Just something as simple as that can be important because he is representing who he plays for and where he plays.
Most people expect the Hawks to miss the playoffs again, but I think there is a good chance they find themselves right in the mix for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They already have the talent, and ESPN came out and ranked Young as the 28th best player in the NBA for next season, ahead of players such as Devin Booker and Tobias Harris.
At just 21-years-old.
There is a long way to go before seeing how everything ends, but right now, he is on pace to being the sports icon that Vick was supposed to be for Atlanta. The hope is, Young finishes the job and brings the Hawks their first championship while calling Atlanta their home.
Thankfully, there is plenty of time.
“This is a place where I could see myself being for my whole career,” Young also told me in March.