When Trae Young was an NBA rookie he borrowed my phone to watch the end of the OU-Texas football game. He didn’t enjoy the finish, but Young taught me a lesson about the way the rivalry gets in your blood.
Editor’s Note: Sellout Crowd’s Coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Trae Young sat on the scorer’s table at a mostly empty BOK Center in Tulsa, and though I was standing behind him, he held an iPhone nearly at arm’s length in front of him so that I could see the screen.
That was kind of him. And reasonable.
It was, after all, my iPhone.
It was 2018, and Young was an Atlanta Hawks rookie practicing a day ahead of a Sunday preseason game against the Thunder.
But he was also a kid a few months removed from his one year at Oklahoma. And that practice was winding down just as the OU-Texas football game was.
I was the only reporter there to interview Young — you’ll never guess where most of the Oklahoma media was that afternoon — and, as is customary in the NBA, I’d been allowed in the arena for the final few minutes of practice, mostly players sticking around to get up some extra jump shots.
Young was doing that, too, but from the court, he saw me standing near the stands, glancing back and forth between the floor and my phone screen.
“My man,” he said. “Is that the game?”
It was the game.
And so Young asked for my phone, and I handed it over, and that’s how what you might know as the “Dicker the Kicker Game” became, to me, “The Trae Young Game”, a finish that’s stuck with me since.
It’s likely less memorable for Young, who, like a lot of OU fans, would just as soon forget the final seconds of Texas’ 48-45 win.
But I got some insight that Saturday that I’ve always appreciated.
I’ve lived in six states and been to 49, but I’ve spent more of my life in Kentucky than anywhere, growing up and writing a lot about sports in a place where basketball was king, horse racing was a cultural force and — with apologies to Kentucky and Louisville — the most important football rivalry game of the year often was between a pair of Catholic high schools.
It was new to move to a place where a football game like OU-Texas mattered so much, where it was a circle-your-calendar event that packed a venue with a split of each team’s fans.
It reminded me of the basketball games Kentucky and Indiana used to play at Louisville’s Freedom Hall and the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis, a border battle for bragging rights where half the building lived and died on every play.
I understood OU-Texas.
Or I thought I did.
But when Young cut short his shooting time to borrow a stranger’s phone and watch with rapt attention as Texas drove in the closing seconds, when he nervously watched the Longhorns line up for Cameron Dicker’s 40-yard field goal with 9 seconds to play, when he let out a loud expletive as it sailed through the uprights, I found a new appreciation for the rivalry.
Young is an Oklahoma kid, sure, a star at Norman North who went to Thunder games as a kid and was a one-year sensation as a Sooner. But the first time he met Kevin Durant, Young told him he wanted to play for Texas, just like KD had.
His appreciation for OU came later.
But that day in Tulsa, it was clear how completely he’d converted.
His reaction taught me something about how (and how quickly) the rivalry gets in your blood and how much it means to either side. Young’s reaction didn’t feel performative. In the moment, he seemed genuinely gutted.
The Thunder is scheduled to take Saturday off, and with no ex-Sooners or former Longhorns on the roster, I’m unlikely to have replicated that long-ago Saturday scene with Young anyway.
So I’ll sit in front of the TV and soak in the broadcast.
And I’ll do it with a genuine appreciation for what the game means to you.
He took my phone, but Trae Young helped give me that.