By Michael Kinney
The 2018 NBA draft will take place Thursday at the Barclays Center in New York City. At some point in the first round, Oklahoma native Trae Young will be selected.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard is projected to be a top-10 lottery pick.
When Young is chosen, it will be just over a year since he graduated from Norman North High School as one of the premier players in the country. He will have gone from an everyday teenager living with his parents to being on the verge of becoming a millionaire with his first NBA contract.
Twenty years ago that would have been all any professional athlete would have wanted. Throw in a shoe deal and a few commercials and they were set.
But now, in this new generation of young men and women gaining instant wealth and fame before they can even legally take a drink, the team contract is just the starting point.
For athletes like Young, the aspirations aren’t just to conquer their sport. It’s also to build their own brand and create a business empire.
“I dreamed of it. You ask me a year ago if I wanted to do this in a year. I would tell you that I’m gonna work my butt off to get to this point,” Young said. “But you never know. All I can do is focus and control what I can control. That was just playing and trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win. Ultimately that got me to this point. I envisioned it, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s reality … my dreams all come true on Thursday. It’s definitely something that is a blessing.”
While the verdict is still out on who will be the best player in the 2018 draft, there seems to be very little debate on who has the potential to be its biggest star. Earlier this month ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell said Young would be the most marketable player in this year’s draft.
Young seems to agree with the assessment.
“It means everything, courtside, on the court, off the court. Being able to attract fans, attract people,” Young said. “As far as on the court, make my teammates better, my overall skill set, you know, shoot the ball, spread the floor, but also be able to get in the lane, get my teammates involved, stuff like that.”
But Young knew that was a possibility early on in his basketball career. When he started getting recruited as an eighth-grader, he had his eyes set on creating a brand that others would want to be involved with.
“Well that was something that I knew I needed to do,” Young said. “ Back in the day there wasn’t social media, you weren’t as marketed like players are now. Even some of the best players weren’t. But, I think that’s something that I’ve learned … I think that I’m very mature at, is knowing that there’s always someone watching. Just making sure I’m doing the right thing at all times, is something I’m focused on.”
Part of that brand building meant staying away from trouble. He knew if he was going to be the face of multimillion-dollar corporations, he couldn’t give them a reason to have a second thought about his character.
“It involved just making sure that I have a clean brand, everything about me is clean,” Young said. “I’m not perfect by any means, but just trying to make it as clean as possible. Trying to do things the right way. Give back to my community. Do different things like that. Just making sure that my off the court is just as good as on the court.”
So far the plan has worked. Young has already inked deals with NBA 2K19 to be one of the featured players on the game. He also signed endorsement deals with Express, the fashion retailer. It will be their suit he is wearing when he crosses the stage on draft night.
Young is also part of Footlocker’s One and Done campaign. Other new partners include Panini Memorabilia, the watch company Tissot and New Deal Custom Hats. According to his father, Ray Young, he was the only player in the 2018 class to have a deal in place with Panini.
Since the day Young said he was turning pro most fans and sports business analyst were waiting to see which shoe company he would join. That wait came to an end Tuesday when it was announced that Young would join the Adidas family. He and Miami’s Lonnie Walker were the only players to sign a footwear and apparel endorsement deal with the 69-year-old German company.
“After seasons of holding down highlight reels, Trae and Lonnie are both heralded for their elite skill set and creativity on-court,” Adidas said in a statement. “Their path to the NBA started with loyalty to family and community and further solidified by their character, passion and dedication to the game. Trae and Lonnie will play an instrumental role in driving performance insights, in addition to creating deeper connections within basketball communities across the globe. They will also be featured in upcoming brand campaigns and activations.”
While the numbers sound great, Young is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for him in building a global brand. He is now basically a CEO and that means being involved in every aspect of his business dealings.
“Well, that’s something I’ve looked into. I’m very involved on the business side of my brand,” Young said. “Wanting to figure out who I’m going to sign with. Just little things like that. I’m very involved and every part of Team Young. Especially the business side.”
Young relies heavily on his parents, Ray and Candice Young. One of them is normally with the 19-year old wherever he goes while the other is back in Norman with his younger brother, Timothy, and two younger sisters, Caitlyn and Camryn.
“They are going to be a big a big factor to that,” Young said of his parents. “The way they feel about things is a big determining factor on certain things. They are going to be very involved in it. I talk to them all about what they think on certain deals and certain marketing opportunities, different things like that. They’re involved heavily.”
Others who have had an influence on Young have been the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who he has known since his high school days. Both have turned their names into global brands and helped paved the way for what Young wants to accomplish.
However, there is another player who Young is trying to pattern his business path after.
“I really like Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers). How he controls everything. He’s branded,” Young said. “The way he carries himself, he’s a big role model for me. He’s a big person that I look up to like that.”
Young isn’t looking to be a flash in the pan on the court or off. He building his brand for the long term and that means making smart decisions on who he associates with himself.
“Every decision I make now is going to affect me in the future,” Young said. “ Focus on what I can do now to make sure my brand is right, make sure my decisions going forward are looking good. Everything that I do now effects ultimately affects your future. I’m looking at everything, not just on a short-term basis, but long term.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth