To fully understand NBA star Nick Young, one must first become familiar with the term “swag.” For the uninitiated, the word describes a certain je ne sais quoi, a person who exudes an overall air of confidence—occasionally bordering on cockiness—with a knack for style and effortless panache. It’s the kind of expression that tends to get thrown around gratuitously, in the same way as, say, “genius” or “amazing.”* Few people truly embody the essence of swag, but Young happens to be one of them. Just ask him.
The 29-year-old Lakers guard began referring to himself as “Swaggy P” a few years back, and the name stuck. (Though the jury’s still out on what the ‘P’ stands for; Young tells varying stories of its origin.) “I changed my Twitter handle [to @NickSwagyPYoung] and the next thing you know, nobody was calling me Nick anymore,” says Young, who boasts 177,000 followers on Twitter and over a million followers on Instagram.
While he hasn’t yet achieved the NBA superstar status of players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Young keeps fans talking. He’s become notorious for having a loud mouth and an even louder style, which he displays prominently on a chiseled 6’7″ frame during post-game press conferences.
It’s only fitting that the sports world’s King of Swag would have an equally swaggy counterpart: Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, a woman who is frequently referred to as the biggest breakout artist of 2014. Their relationship, like any true modern love story, began in October of last year, shortly after Young announced he had a crush on her via Twitter. He remembers being caught off guard when he met the fast-rapping, smack-talking Azalea in person. “From her songs, I thought she’d be all about going to clubs and partying, but it’s the opposite of that,” he says. “She wakes up early every morning to take care of her dogs, and she cooks for me. From her rapping, I was very surprised that she could do all that. She’s a really cool, down-to-earth person.”
Still, they quarrel like any other couple. “We fight over the TV remote because she watches TLC and the Weather Channel all night,” he says. “We argue all the time, but we get it worked out. We understand each other.”
Young’s parents recently celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary. Someday, he’d like to have a relationship as strong as theirs. “Growing up I always wanted to be married and have a family, and it’s difficult. I ask them every day how they do it. It’s a process,” he says. “Me and Iggy just bought a house. We’ve been getting really close lately. I’ve never been with somebody like this. So, I’m taking it as a challenge.”
His ordinarily light-hearted tone turns serious when discussing the prospect of marriage. He’ll say only this: “It’s come up a couple times.”
Before there was an A-list girlfriend and a catchy nickname, there was just Nicholas, a mischievous kid who, when he wasn’t busy on the basketball court, would entertain himself by unplugging his older brothers’ video game console while they were playing. His mother had a soft spot for her youngest, the baby of four boys, so he always managed to skirt the blame.
Young was raised in West Los Angeles before moving to the San Fernando Valley in ninth grade. His skill on the basketball court became apparent as a child—Young’s mother says he made his first shot when he was two—but it was in high school that his superior ability began to manifest. The story of Young’s rise to the NBA has a somewhat archetypal narrative: in high school he caught the eye of college recruiters, eventually landed at the University of Southern California and left to go pro after his junior year in 2007. Since then, he’s fathered an exceptionally adorable son (with ex-girlfriend Keonna Green), played for four different NBA teams, and just this summer signed a four-year, $21.5 million contract with the Lakers. He’s also burnished his status as one of the league’s most buzzed-about players both on and off the court.
It’s a lifestyle that’s taken some getting used to. His relationship with Azalea, which began before they’d each achieved their current levels of fame, is now the subject of tabloid fodder and paparazzi obsession. Says Young, “Somebody always wants to take your picture, and TMZ is always on your trail. We used to be able to walk the streets and no one knew who we were. We can’t do that now.”
But he doesn’t seem to mind all that much. Young knows he was destined for Hollywood; his father had once moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career, and his mother was a regular on the pageant circuit. “She used to show me all her dresses,” he recalls.
Someday, maybe when his life on the basketball court is behind him, he’d like to have a career in TV or film. It’s not a farfetched scenario. Some might say his dimpled movie star smile is ripe for a Crest endorsement deal.
In creating the “Swaggy P” moniker, Young has already established a brand for himself, complete with fan chants, posters and eponymous t-shirts. One passionate group of Lakers fans even crowd-funded a #STAYSWAG billboard this summer, in hopes of encouraging Young to re-sign with the team for the upcoming season. “Swaggy is Hollywood. Nick is chill—he’s all about business,” he explains. “He only comes out in rare moments, you know? Sometimes I just want to be called Nick.”
On the day of his DuJour photoshoot, Young arrived to the studio with his right wrist wrapped in a hard cast. He’d torn a ligament in his thumb that required surgery—an injury that will keep him sidelined for the first month of the season. Like a true connoisseur of swag, he flaunted the cast as if it were the season’s most coveted accessory. “That’s why they call me Swaggy,” he said. As if there were ever any doubt.
*If you haven’t yet heard Louis C.K.’s rant about this, do yourself a favor.