By Sam Amick
USA TODAY Sports
If DeMarcus Cousins' history repeats itself yet again, it's highly likely that he'll never read this.
The talented Sacramento Kings center has a habit of tuning people out when the harsh truth is being told, meaning he'll probably see the headline on Twitter and hurl his cell phone as if it's a full-court heave. The next move - per his personal pattern - will be to send word through various channels that there's another media member to put on his ever-growing black list. Yet after the latest alleged incident between he and a fan Friday, one that was brought to light by way of a tweet from a prominent Memphis-based musician during the Kings' 91-90 loss to the Grizzlies, it's safe to say that, well, something must be said.
The root of it all goes back to Dec. 27, when Cousins was his All-Star caliber self in an impressive win vs. the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. He had 27 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists - the second time he finished with this triple threat of statistical benchmarks that has only been reached four times this season (Kevin Love and Dwight Howard were the others).
For most anyone watching that night, this was the lasting memory, that of a blossoming beast who at times looks capable of being the best big man in the game for the next 10 years. But for the fans in Section 116 of Sleep Train Arena, and even some on the second level in 218 who also saw the all-too-familiar scene unfold, their lasting memory was far less pleasant.
At some point midway through the second half, Cousins heard something from a fan whose seat was behind the Kings bench in the lower concourse that he clearly didn't appreciate. It's unclear exactly what was said by the fan, although one account at the time on Twitter indicated that the fan yelled at him to pass the ball. According to eyewitness accounts of two people on hand that night, the 23-year-old franchise centerpiece who was given a four-year, $62 million deal in late September reacted by allegedly grabbing his crotch and shouting a gratuitous expletive that was, to put it mildly, an inappropriate sexual suggestion.
The dozens of patrons who heard it had a raw and unforgettable reaction - in synchronized shock, they swayed back in their seats as if a strong gust of wind had torn through the building. It was, in hindsight, a manifestation of the unwelcome surprise that was palpable from half a football-field away.
To be clear, this story isn't about sharing old news as much as it is exploring the Cousins narrative that has been glossed over of late. Is he truly evolving as a playerand a person, or is he taking advantage of this new Kings regime that put most of its eggs in his basket and has ample reason to hide the cracks that remain in this young man's shell? The answer is as likely as complicated as Cousins himself, but the way in which he handled this tip-of-the-iceberg situation didn't speak highly of his current state.
A quick bit of necessary context: in three-plus years of dealing with Cousins, I've seen his many sides and, in this subjective opinion, have been exceedingly fair at every turn. I've done stories with him from a children's hospital that portrayed the genuine soft side of his personality. I've fielded his phone call when he needed someone in the media to make sure the details of his Feb. 12, 2011 locker-room fight with former teammate Donte Greene were accurately reported. I've sat at his old house in the Sacramento suburb of Natomas in Sept. of 2012 as he described how the birth of his son had changed his outlook on life.
In between it all, there were the suspensions and the coaching conflicts and so much negativity surrounding him that the idea of him sticking around in Sacramento seemed virtually impossible. And then, midway through this turnaround season in which he has been done such a seemingly-wonderful job as the Kings' alpha and omega, there was this ugly moment that flew in the face of everything we'd been led to believe about the supposedly older-and-wiser Cousins.
Forget the fact that the Kings never reported the incident to the NBA. Because Cousins had managed to avoid the camera that night, and because the fans who are so famously-forgiving didn't make enough noise with the organization's brass in the days that followed, this was never brought to light because of the shared interest in continued progress and perceived harmony for all involved. These are the sorts of things that can happen in a small market like Sacramento, where the relative softness of the media spotlight is perfectly suited for someone like Cousins.
For the purposes of this discussion on Cousins and where he is as a person these days, we can even forget about the technical fouls - a league-leading 10 (tied with the Clippers' Blake Griffin) that have been widely cited as evidence that he's still the same old hothead. Or, for that matter, the league-leading 148 personal fouls entering Saturday. We're talking about humanity here, and losing your cool with officials who so often affect the actual outcome of a game, or hacking opponents more than your colleagues because of basketball reasons, is far more excusable than routinely reacting to fans in R-rated ways that make all the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who pitch in on your salary cringe.
To be fair, it's not as if the fan-player-interactions-gone-wrong is a new phenomenon in the NBA. According to the Eskimo.com database that tracks NBA fines, there have been eight fan-related fines issued to players in the past four seasons (the guilty parties, in order of descending star-power? Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Caron Butler, Steve Blake, Glen Davis, Chris Wilcox, Jordan Hamilton, and Ivan Johnson). To be fair to Howard, his tossing of a ball to a fan this season paled in comparison to some of the other offenses. Those, of course, were only the guys who got caught.
Interestingly, Cousins once watched in disbelief last season as the Clippers' Matt Barnes shouted something profane and politically incorrect to a few front row fans inside Sleep Train Arena. In a moment that was comical at the time, Cousins asked reporters seated nearby if they planned on reporting the unpleasant exchange while candidly noting that he wasn't the only volatile personality in the NBA. Ironically, one of Cousins' most vocal critics in past years, Charles Barkley, once accidentally spit on a little girl sitting courtside at a March 26, 1991 game in New Jersey when he was attempting to spit on an adult fan who had yelled a racial epithet.
But to have a moment of bad judgment with a fan on the road is one thing. To do it when you're the face of a franchise ... playing at home in front of a sellout crowd on the highest-priced night of the season ... and yelling offensive material through some 10 rows of innocent bystanders? That's another. And last but certainly not least, to make this mistake and then act so indignant when someone dares to ask about it later takes this to a whole new, and unacceptable, level.
When asked about the incident after the Kings' 44-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cousins not only chose not to speak on the situation but called the question "ridiculous" and waved his arms upward as if shooing a pesky fly. His shirtless back turned toward the inside of his locker, Cousins brooding in his chair, he would eventually break the uncomfortable silence by calling for the help of a Kings media relations employee to stop this 90-second interview.
There would be no apology or acknowledgement of a mistake, and not even a few thoughts about why - as he so often claims - this was all a case of him being misunderstood.
Those who have dealt with Cousins from the beginning of his NBA career will tell you that he's better than ever, that the challenges that come with his personality remain but that it's not as bad as it was before. Those who didn't cross paths with Cousins until this season say there's still plenty of room for improvement, that there's still the occasional verbal abuse of a teammate and the exhausting disposition that drains them all - especially when the losses are piling up. Still, the agreed-upon consensus seems to be that he's headed in the right direction.
Yet whatever the true state of his being may be, there are signs surfacing almost every day that it's simply not good enough. It's time for Cousins to stop with the nonsense, to end this dysfunctional act that has never been as unnecessary as it is now. He landed the maximum-salary contract that he coveted. He was handed the keys to this team. And, most importantly for his purposes, he swapped the Geoff Petries and Paul Westphals and Keith Smarts of his world for a band of new bosses that - beyond the contract - have given him the support system he always claimed wasn't there before.
Some have suggested in the past that we were all being too hard on Cousins, that the rules of the rental car industry should be applied here when it comes to our expectations of a young athlete: responsible behavior and accountability, per their policy, comes at the age of 25. But here's the problem: Cousins took the keys to this $535 million Kings car at the age of 23, and the occasional reckless driving that has ensued since simply can't be ignored.
"Honestly, I hate the term, 'I'm immature,'" he had told USA TODAY Sports just moments before his emotional wall came down that night. "Once again, I was 19 (as a rookie in the NBA) with millions in my pocket. I could've lost my damn mind, so the term 'immature' I don't accept. I mean of course I'm not done growing as a person, but there are 50-year-old people who aren't done growing as a person, so I mean I don't really accept that label."
Call it whatever you want, DeMarcus. Just please make it stop.
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