60 Voices: Dominique Wilkins and Trae Young on leading the Atlanta Hawks

"When you’re a competitor like we are, it’s not a burden to carry a team. It’s not a burden to take some of the heroics or the criticism, because that’s what we signed up for."

Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins

Photograph by Alex Martinez

Dominique Wilkins is an Atlanta Hawks legend and a 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Trae Young 2021 playoffs
Trae Young drives to the basket against the New York Knicks during Round 1, Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

Photograph by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Trae Young is the Hawks’ star point guard and the quickest player to make 400 three-pointers in NBA history.

Atlanta magazine: Dominique, you were the face of the Hawks franchise in the ’80s and ’90s. Trae, you’re currently the face. What’s it like to have that weight on your shoulders every night?

TY: For me, I’m still learning. Obviously, I’ve got good role models that I can look up to. Playing with Vince [Carter for two seasons]. Playing with Danilo [Gallinari] now. I know I can learn so much. I just embrace it. This city is so unique and so cool, and they’re looking for excitement.

You look back in the day, and you see the excitement that ’Nique brought to the city. And I just try to do the same thing and, at the same time, win. I know I’m still learning, and there are things I have to get better at as far as being a franchise guy. I mean, ’Nique is a vet at being a leader and a franchise guy. He’s been through it, so I want to hear how it felt for him.

DW: Well, you know, Trae, I agree with a lot of things that you just said because that’s what it takes to be a leader. But when you’re a competitor like we are, it’s not a burden to carry a team. It’s not a burden to take some of the heroics or the criticism, because that’s what we signed up for. That’s who we are. And watching you every night, I see the strength that I played with and the confidence—never letting anyone tell you what you can’t do. That’s what makes it worthwhile, when you can have all that pressure—what other people see as pressure; we don’t see it as pressure—and embrace it. That’s what keeps us alive and vibrant out there on the floor. When I’m watching you, [I see] a lot of stuff [like] back when I was playing. You’re still learning, but you’ve learned so much in a short period of time. It never ceases to amaze me each time you go through a tough spot, you’re able to prevail later.

AM: ’Nique, you stopped playing in Atlanta in 1993. What kept you here?

DW: You know what? I went through a tough time coming out of North Carolina because I made a decision to further my education at Georgia. The state of North Carolina basically ran my whole family out of town in 1979 [because I chose to play elsewhere]. Atlanta embraced me. The University of Georgia embraced me. It was the first time I actually felt like I had a home.

We traveled all over the place. My dad was in the military. It never felt like we had a home. It wasn’t until I came to Georgia that I really realized that I had a home. It was a very depressing time when I came to Georgia. But when I got here, the city just treated me like I was their native son. I never left, after all this time. It’s just a special city for me because of the way it treated me. Even to this day, the things that the city still does—I can never, ever fill that void with another city.

AM: Trae, in your short time in the city, what have you loved most about it?

TY: For me, I’m just very, very thankful for the city of Atlanta embracing me the way they have. Coming in, 19 years old, it was just a culture shock. I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. I grew up in Oklahoma City. Everything was Oklahoma for me. And getting drafted and coming to Atlanta is like the first time living away from my family. First time being in a big city. It was a culture shock, but also it was fun. It was me. I walked into Atlanta, and everybody I met [embraced me]. Quavo and all the [rap] artists reached out. The way they embraced me was very welcoming. I can never thank them enough. We have a lot of memories so far, just being in Atlanta these couple years. I don’t plan on stopping for a while.

DW: I can tell you this, Trae, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a star player here, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you in this city. To pass that torch on and say, Hey, this is the guy. You’ve proven time and time again that you are worthy of all the stuff that you get and so much more to come. I am glad I’m here to be a part of that.

AM: Talk about the day-to-day mental and physical stress of the pandemic.

TY: Obviously, there are a lot worse things going on. But for me, it’s been the same thing since the beginning of the season with the testing. We test twice a day. On game days, it’s early in the mornings, between 8 and 8:30, sometimes 9. On back-to-back [game days]—we just finished one—it’s testing in the mornings, come back in the afternoon, test. So, you’re constantly, even on game days, trying to figure out times to get naps in; if you end up not getting enough sleep the night before, you have to find a way to get your rest and things like that. I think, for us, we’ve all had this mentality that everybody’s going through this—it’s not just us. It’s not just a couple teams. For us, we’re not going to let that be an excuse.

DW: I think [the NBA has] done a tremendous job. Your back is against the wall, so to speak. And to be able to come up with different ways to bring people joy from this great sport has been nothing short of a miracle and amazing to me. I’ll tell you, I applaud these guys because I don’t know how they stay in the rooms every day and you can’t go anywhere. It would be hard for me, man. I know a lot of guys like to move around, like me. And for them to be as disciplined as they’ve been is amazing. The league has really put great measures in place to ensure that the players are safe and the fans are safe.

AM: What are you looking forward to when we get back to some sort of normalcy?

TY: My main thing is that I’m looking forward to the fans being in the arena. This team has been looking for excitement for a long time, since the ’Nique days. I’m just looking forward to getting everybody back in the arena.

DW: For me, I’m just looking forward to going to a really nice restaurant with the family. But to be back on the floor and locker room around these guys—I love being around these guys, even when we are traveling and on the road.

TY: I know you miss those road trips. I went from seeing you every day to not seeing you at all anymore. It’s crazy.

This article appears in our May 2021 issue.