Sunday Musings: Understanding DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins finishes above the rim against the Chicago Bulls. (Photo: Kimani David)

It’s been nearly four years of covering DeMarcus Cousins, and I still haven’t found a player to whom he truly compares.  He can destroy you in the post like Hakeem Olajuwon.  He grabs offensive rebounds like Moses Malone.  He can handle the ball like a guard and knock down a jumper with ease.  In a game of uniquely large individuals, he is an anomaly of epic proportions.

That description extends to his personality as well.  No one is like Cousins.  At least, no one in the NBA.  Sometimes he is surly. Sometimes he is mild-mannered.  He is extremely intelligent and at the same time, there are moments where his mouth moves much quicker than his brain.  He is both jaded and naive.  He is a walking contradiction in so many ways.

His honesty is refreshing, but there is something more to this story.  Cousins says what he believes and believes what he says. But his view of the world around him is just that, his view.

Cousins sat down with ESPN the Magazine’s Tim Keown recently for a piece that was released this week. The resulting story gives us a little more insight into this intriguing young man than we had before.  If you haven’t given it a read, I highly suggest you do.

It is interesting to see the work product of someone who swings into town and spends a few days to write a comprehensive story on a player.  Don’t take that comment as a slight on Keown, because it’s not intended that way.

Being an outsider allows someone to look at a situation through a different lens.  Keown hasn’t had to work with Cousins through the good and the bad.  He doesn’t have the accumulation of stories that we have rehashed countless times or a bank of other stories that aren’t for public consumption.

“I’m not the first franchise guy to be suspended for a game,” Cousins told ESPN. “I shouldn’t have done it, but why does it automatically mean I’m a horrible person? Look at Kevin Garnett. I’m pretty sure he’s been suspended as a franchise guy. But when he does something, it’s ‘he’s passionate.’  Joakim Noah, ‘he’s passionate.’ You want him on your team. So how does mine come up? ‘He’s immature. He needs to grow up.'”

Keown brought a fresh, unbiased opinion that has been foreign to many of us in Sacramento.  And that new outlook opened a door to a few things that are worth discussing.

Is DeMarcus Cousins treated differently than everyone else?  Does Cousins deserve to be treated differently? Is there a way that he can be himself, without selling out his core values, but work within the confines of the NBA game to change the outside perception of him?

The first question is easy.  Cousins is treated differently than every other NBA player.  I’m not sure if that is fair or not, but it is the reality of the situation.  He came into the league with a reputation.  Through four seasons, he has done plenty to solidify that reputation.  He is not Kevin Garnett and he is not Joakim Noah, like he brought up in the Keown piece. Yes, he shares their passion for the game, but there is something that is missing.

Be it a kinship to the people around him or something more, Cousins does not connect in the way that his contemporaries do.  And it might have more to do with his history than he would like to acknowledge.

Is Jay Bilas to blame?  Paul WestphalKeith Smart?  Maybe it’s John Calipari and his handling of the big fella at the college level.  I’m not sure, but the narrative from the outside is extremely singular in its approach.

In most stories, Cousins is the antichrist.  He is the poster child for everything that is wrong with AAU basketball and the NBA.  He is a malcontent, and no one wants to play with him.  That’s the narrative that has been preached time and time again.

I’m not here to dispel any of those ideas, because they are not mine.  What I find interesting is that they are shots taken from so far away.  Many of the ideas that we read on Cousins are nothing more than momentary judgments.

Is it fair that Cousins is treated this way?

I would love to tell you that is unfair, but it is all he gives you.  That is the window of his soul that he allows you to see most of the time.

DeMarcus Cousins is an NBA player and that means so much more than bouncing a ball and throwing it through an orange hoop.

When he represents the Sacramento Kings, he represents the owner of the Kings, the general manager and front office staff, as well as the coaches and players.  He also represents the fanbase and the people of Sacramento, because every time something goes horribly right or wrong, Sacramento is attached to the story.

It’s a burden, but it comes with an astronomical payday.  It is the burden of being one of the 400 greatest players in the world and it is unavoidable.

Cousins has donned a black hat and become a villain without even knowing it.  It is the look on his face and the way that he responds to teammates, referees and fans.  It might not be a conventional choice, but he is who he is.  We have seen a better version of him each and every year, but there’s still room for progress.

Is there a way that he can be himself, but work within the confines of the NBA game to change the outside perception of him, without selling out his core values?

Yes.  Unequivocally YES.

I’m not proposing that Cousins allow a documentary crew to follow him night and day in order to create a reality show around his life.  And I’m not saying that we need a press release every time he walks into a children’s hospital.

I once asked him about his children and their role in his maturation.  The response was so quick and terse that I have not gone down that road again.

The same goes for his mother and his core group of friends.  They are off-limits.  We are not allowed to know about DeMarcus Cousins off the court.  He is a non-celebrity celebrity.

So what is left?  His numbers are incredible.  He is a top-10 NBA player.  If it was just about the numbers, he would be an All-Star, an Olympian and a Hall-of-Fame player.

But that is not what being a professional athlete is about.  It is about being approachable.  It is about smiling when you win and being a professional when you lose.  It is about being respectful of those around you every day.

In the same way that family and friends are off-limits, vocalized frustration has to go.   Attitude towards coaches, players, refs and fans has to go.

This isn’t about dancing for the cameras.  It’s not about making friends. It’s about holding yourself to a basic standard to which the vast majority of the league conforms.  That will make the exterior noise stop.  If there is no story to tell, then there is no story.

For me, Cousins is intriguing.  He is so much more than the norm, and that realization makes me walk back to his locker room stall each and every time.

He looks at me with the same skepticism that I look at him.  He doesn’t trust me in the same way that I don’t trust him. We are both puzzles and the first to figure the other out wins.

After four years, there is no winner.  But I also feel that there is no loser.

I wish I had sage advice for Cousins.  I wish that I could write a story that changed all of the negative perception of him and give him a fresh start.  But I can’t, because I don’t know that story.

“They’ll never know me” is a brilliant quote and title.  It is also something that will fit nicely on a headstone.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Not everyone is looking to burn DeMarcus Cousins to the ground.

He can be a star on the court and he can rehabilitate his image without losing his ethics.  It will take longer than the eight weeks that is quoted in Keown’s piece.  There is a different version of this story that can be written.  But it has to be real and in order for that to happen, he needs to give in to the process and give more of himself.

comments

Tags

About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also provides game day coverage for NBA.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart".