Nick Young is an NBA champion, one who got off the Warriors’ flight back from Cleveland to Oakland Saturday without a shirt on. And J.R. Smith could not be more proud of him.
Smith, of course, became famous for his disdain for above-the-waist apparel after his Cavaliers upset the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, as he went shirtless for seemingly all of his team’s celebrations. In fact, in a congratulatory call to Cavs Coach Tyronn Lue, then-president Barack Obama told him to “tell J.R. to put on a shirt.”
Thus it was no wonder that, on Sunday, Smith posted a photo to social media that showed a shirtless Young getting off the plane while spraying champagne. Smith offered congratulations to his “lil bro,” saying he couldn’t “tell you how proud” he was of Young, who has nicknamed himself “Swaggy P.”
“They don’t like to see people like us on top so enjoy it like no other! First they hate you now you win they love you!” Smith added, appending a hashtag in which he described himself and Young as “No Shirt Brothers.”
Following Golden State’s title-clinching win over the Cavs in Friday’s Game 4 of the Finals, Stephen Curry came off the flight home with the champions’ Larry O’Brien trophy, while Kevin Durant displayed his Finals MVP hardware. Young wore shorts from the apparel company Most Hated that were emblazoned with the trophy, and he was more than happy to greet some of the dozens of Warriors fans who cheered for the team’s arrival at the airport’s tarmac.
“Nick is definitely in charge of the celebration,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. After sweeping Smith and Cleveland, Kerr’s team reportedly popped an estimated $400,000 in champagne bottles.
Of course, the series might not have been a sweep, had Smith made a better decision in Game 1 after grabbing an offensive rebound with seconds left in regulation. Instead, the veteran swingman made what was widely regarded as one of the biggest blunders in recent NBA history, dribbling the ball away from the basket before passing it as time expired, appearing for all the world as if he thought his Cavs team were ahead, rather than tied with the Warriors.
As stunning as that moment was, the least surprising part was that Smith played a central role. The 14-year NBA player has been known to lack focus, including in a 2016 game when he took a moment to greet Milwaukee’s Jason Terry at the Bucks bench, giving the man he was supposed to guard an open lane to the basket for an all-too-easy dunk.
Little wonder, then, that when the Cavs reached the Finals later in that season, Smith’s young daughter said of her dad, “I’m just proud of him, because he made the championship without getting kicked off the team.”
In that sense, Young is very much Smith’s “lil bro,” except that the Golden State player is actually three months older. For years, Young has been renowned as one of the NBA’s true free spirits, which has made him a fun teammate and a great interview but didn’t necessarily make him a leading candidate to contribute to a championship squad.
After all, this is the same player who gave us one of the most laughable moments in hoops annals, when in 2014 he turned away from the basket to celebrate a three-point shot — just as the ball bounced away from the net.
So if anyone on the Warriors was going to make the kind of costly, boneheaded play Smith did for the Cavs, it would have been Young. However, while he didn’t contribute much to the Finals effort, hitting just two of 13 shots in around 30 total minutes of playing time, Young could ultimately say that he was a champion.
Naturally, the irrepressible player couldn’t actually just say it that simply, without cracking some sort of joke. In the immediate moments after Golden State completed its sweep, Young chose to frame his career-capping triumph with a reference to the video then-Lakers teammate D’Angelo Russell surreptitiously took of him in 2016, in which Young discussed cheating on his then-fiancee, pop star Iggy Azalea.
“I’ve came a long way, haven’t I?” Young asked amid a joyous scene Friday in the Warriors’ locker room. “From getting snitched on, to putting a ring on.”
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