Sunday marks the annual celebration of Father’s Day.
But the spirit of that occasion played out at the United Center during almost every Bulls game last season.
That’s where, more often than not, the same postgame scene would unfold. Thad Young would exit the Bulls locker room and stroll down the hallway towards the family room. Suddenly, his two young sons would sprint towards him, eating up the distance to envelop their father in a group hug.
And if Thaddeus Jr. — or TJ, as he’s known — and Taylor Young weren’t there, that merely meant they likely left at halftime with Young’s wife, Shekinah, his high school sweetheart.
“They always want to stay and watch the whole game. Sometimes, we do let them stay,” Young said in a phone conversation. “But we tell them as soon as they get home, they have to get in bed and get their rest. Most games, they leave at halftime so they can get home at a decent hour and are fully rested for the next school day.”
Young’s sons were as omnipresent a sight as Benny the Bull at the United Center last season. During the pregame warmups that take place well before the gates open to fans, they’d often be on the court, rebounding for their dad.
It’s all part of Young’s plan to both set a positive example and maximize time with his children in a job that inherently features travel that takes him away.
“I’m on the road a lot. So whenever I have a chance to have them on the court and going through the process with me, it feeds energy into them and it puts us in a better place,” Young said. “They get a chance to see my work ethic and what got me to this point. They also get a chance to hang out with me. We get that father and son bond. I love having them around me.”
It also extends the continuum of lessons handed down to Young from his father, Felton. The 7-footer played collegiately at Jacksonville (Fla.) University, the same school that spawned Artis Gilmore, and was an eighth-round pick of the defunct Buffalo Braves in the 1978 NBA Draft.
But a knee injury curtailed Felton’s career. Ten years later, Thad was born.
“He didn’t want me to follow his footsteps. He wanted me to create my own path,” Thad Young said. “He laid the groundwork but said I had to do the work. He showed me about work ethic.”
A longtime educator and coach, Felton told Thad he’d retire when Thad finished high school in Memphis, Tenn. Instead, he stayed another five or six years because, in Thad’s words, he “didn’t want to get bored.”
But the truth is, he also knew how many lives he could impact. Finally retired, Felton now helps with the budgeting for Thad’s AAU program based in Memphis, Tenn. Thad said they talk every day.
“I grew up having a very, very close relationship with my father. I played AAU for my dad for one season. And I hated it. I was used to him getting on my case not as a coach but as someone who will give you a few pointers. Having him as a full-time coach was very hard. I had to get used to that,” Thad said. “There were times when me and my Dad got into it at practice and I’ve walked out and told my mother, and my mother got on his case. When I got older, I realized he was just loving me in a different way.
“That development of our relationship actually made us grow closer in the long run. A lot of what he taught me came to fruition later in life. His guidance really helped me focus in on carving out my niche in the league and who I am as a player.”
Just as Felton wanted Thad to forge his own path, Thad said he and his wife support their kids in any endeavor they choose.
“We don’t try to put them in a box. We want them to explore each opportunity. If they say they want to be a doctor, cool. If they want to explore the world, we’ll buy them a map. And then we’ll research it with them and talk about it,” Young said. “Obviously, we know we’re very fortunate. Our kids have been to France, Greece, Spain, Africa, Dubai. We want them to be able to be diverse and try anything they want to try.
“My father has a college degree and valued education a lot. He was very tough but also very present. He did a great job of instilling that in me and that’s what I want to instill into my boys. Be who you are. Don’t try to be someone else. Be your own leader. Stand up for what’s right. Be respectful. Make sure whatever you do, when you set your heart and mind to doing something, do it to its entirety. Make sure you complete it. That’s my motto with my boys. Always complete what you set out to do.
“My dad put a lot of time and effort into helping me get to where I am. He took me to different places. He weeded out bad individuals that come around. He built a very good circle of people I can trust that helped me.”
Thad said TJ is more like him and also more interested in basketball. He’ll not only watch games once but rewatch them, looking for little pointers. Taylor is more reserved, like his mother.
“That’s maybe the only thing that has surprised me about fatherhood a little you’re dealing with such different personalities,” Young said. “You have to be very, very diverse to show them the same type of love but in a different way.
“But I love everything about being a father. From being able to love my kids to teaching my kids to watching them grow to even disciplining them, which helps create balance, I love it all. Seeing them love you back and their growth? That’s the best.
“I love hearing from other parents about how respectful and nice my kids are. We’ve had people watch our kids and they’ll say, ‘Your kids say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am.”’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, they better.’ We’re teaching them to have values and morals and stick to those values and morals while being respectful and handle yourself in a manner with which you can be proud.”