DeMarcus Cousins: Antidote

by December 22, 2015

DeMarcus Cousins’ name rings (cow)bells.

The Sacramento Kings star has nearly 1,000,000 followers on Instagram, 600,000 on Twitter and is in the news about as much as one could expect from a player on a sub-.500 team located in one of the NBA’s smallest markets.

What’s more, when social media buzzes about Cousins, it’s often due to a Vine-able snarl, glare or shove. Worse, when the imposing 6-11, 270-pound big provides mainstream media with access, the ensuing stories are as apt to focus on his hot temper and sharp tongue as they are his skills and stats.

Contrary to a popular narrative, Cousins is no dummy. The All-Star realizes that a simplistic national media is in no rush to share his frequent on-court smiles or coverage of his five- and six-figure charity initiatives in the community.

DeMarcus, who has the body of a country-strong 25-year-old and the life experiences of a big-city 50-year-old, has learned that he can’t control the spin. He knows, too, that he can’t write the story. Still, Cousins wants to be recognized for his game. He wants people to know just how dominant he is on the hardwood.

An example: Last season, Cousins—who also goes by Boogie, Cuz and DMC, depending on who’s addressing him—averaged more than 24 ppg, 12 rpg, 3 apg, 1 bpg and 1 spg. His All-World contemporaries at the 4 and 5, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis, have never matched those numbers. In fact, in the past 40 years, only future Hall-of-Famers, like Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob McAdoo, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett, have bettered that math.

Right now, though, no one wants to hear about that, Cousins says. All fans get to read up on are his latest shoe purchases, in-game outbursts or alleged behind-the-scenes squabbles with Coach George Karl, who is hardly a wallflower.

After a highly touted high school career at Mobile (AL) LeFlore (2009 SLAM HS All-American, thank you very much), one year under the microscope as a national title favorite at the University of Kentucky, and five-plus seasons fighting for wins and love as a Sacramento King, Boogie thinks he has finally found the antidote to flip the script.

SLAM: The stats sort of tell the tale, but do you think you’re the best big man in the League?

DMC: In my mind, it’s not even close between me and the next person. I would say the next big is AD, but it’s not close, in my mind. Not close.

SLAM: So how are you going to get the credit that you think you deserve?

DMC: At this point, it’s about winning. I got the All-Star appearances. I got Team USA. My name is out there. It’s just about winning, it’s about carrying a team. I mean, from a talent perspective, I know I’m way above any other big man—now it’s just about winning.

SLAM: Everyone who knows you says that your persona doesn’t vibe with how you’re portrayed. How do you change that? Do your mom, friends or even Coach Cal have any good advice?

DMC: There’s really no advice because they all know me. In their minds, what the fuck is there to change? I’ve sat here and thought about it, I’ve analyzed other players and, shit: win, and they’ll accept you for whoever you are. You could be a fucking crackhead and they’ll love you. If you win, they sweep everything under the rug.

SLAM: What’s “winning?”

DMC: Where we are, Playoffs would be a perfect season. Sky is the limit, though—I think anything is possible. You think it, talk it, and then you can put it into existence.

Cuz curses as often as he makes opponents look silly. Over the course of three hours on a November Sunday morning in Sacramento, he drops 26 bombs in an interview. The unpolished language is endearing to his core fans—real talk, he’s 25, rich, living in the 21st century and approachable—but it doesn’t do the flack at NBA HQ any favors. Again, Cousins knows that but has decided to keep it real, to not be one person in public and another in private.

Very rare. Vey dope. And very easy to twist. 

The only thing more forceful than Boogie’s blunt-but-thoughtful words is his game.

“I mess with him as a person,” a starting power forward in the Eastern Conference told us recently, “but I hate playing against him. I need a week off before I’m good to go again.”

Thick as he is tall, Cousins punishes opponents for 34 minutes a night. He fights with his hands and torso, he plants and pushes with his legs and ass, and he hammers his defender with every ounce of heart in his chest. Throw in DMC’s soft hands and ballerina-esque balance for a man of his width and it makes sense that he either gets fouled (shoots nearly 11 free throws per) or fouls (nearly 4.5) on every single play.

SLAM: When did you start working out, like, at 12 years old?

DMC: [Laughs] That’s country strength. That’s natural strength.

SLAM: Growing up in Alabama with that strength, how come you didn’t get steered toward football?

DMC: Like everybody in Alabama, I did play football. But I was too tall and lanky. My mom didn’t want me playing, she thought I’d get hurt, and she forced me to start playing ball.

SLAM: And did you have a love for it right away?

DMC: Nah, I couldn’t stand basketball at first. But the more I did it, the more I started to love it.

SLAM: Right now, you’re totally chill. But when you’re hooping, your mentality seems to change. Are you conscious of that?

DMC: It happens. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to explain, because I’m in the moment. I’m one way on the court, totally different off of it. That’s one of the things that kind of bugs me as well: You got the guy on the court, trying to rip your damn head off, trying to do whatever it takes to win. Off the court, I’m chill. That’s basically the best way: I’m chill, I’m laid back.

SLAM: Do you get extra hype for certain games, when you play a Cleveland, a Golden State, an L.A.?

DMC: I get up for every game. I like competing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Sixers, Celtics, whatever the case may be.

SLAM: Do you like when there is a big on the other team to bang with?

DMC: My favorite team to go against is the Clippers. Well, I can say I get up for games like that. That’s a big game for me.

SLAM: For some reason, I feel like it’s good versus evil when you play against Blake and them. 

DMC: True. [Laughs] True. It’s the poster boy against the bad boy.

There’s a story that made the rounds where a young DeMarcus approaches an even younger teammate and gets in his face. In an effort to jumpstart the kid’s career, Boogie calls him out on failing to live up to his potential. While the speech might’ve worked for a hungrier dude, it left the kid in tears and, eventually, on another team.

Cousins won’t confirm nor deny the report. No matter, it’s indicative of the two truths of his stay in the League. First: DMC uses a K2-sized chip on his shoulder to fuel his fire, and second, the 61 hoopers he’s shared the court with in Northern California haven’t always been up to the task of teaming up with Boogie for wins.

SLAM: The Kings look like they’ll be in the Playoff hunt this season, but the team hasn’t made the postseason since 2006, which obviously covers your whole career. How have you kept your love for the game with so much losing?

DMC: I love doing this. I eat, sleep and shit basketball [laughs].

SLAM: Kobe, LeBron—guys like that come back every summer with one new move defenders haven’t seen. How do you go into the summer?

DMC: Man, I’m trying to work on everything. I want to get better in every area. I agree with them—there is always something I want to bring in that they haven’t seen before. This year I would say that’s shooting the three. It’s been benefitting me well so far.

SLAM: On another note, LeBron said the other day that he felt his body turn at 26. That he couldn’t eat junk food and hoop—he had to come in early, stretch, do yoga. You’re about 25 and a half—you there yet?

DMC: Trust me, I know exactly what he’s saying. I’m feeling it now, so I totally understand what he’s saying.  This is your business, this is your moneymaker, you have to take care of yourself.

SLAM: So how is this year different for you?

DMC: Longer hours in the gym. Coming in two hours before, leaving two hours after. Just constant tuning up at all times.

SLAM: By the same token, do you watch a lot of tape?

DMC: I’m actually leaning that way now. The biggest influence in that has been [King’s PG Rajon] Rondo. He’s really big on film. You know, we sit by each other on the plane so it’s just constant.

SLAM: It seems like you guys are starting to turn the page, like you’re changing the energy. Do you feel that happening here in Sacramento?

DMC: I love Sacramento. I consider this home, so that’s not the problem. The losing is.

SLAM: So are you working on your legacy?

DMC: All that comes into play. I want my legacy to be here, I want my number in the rafters here. I want that storyline to be, He changed things around in Sacramento.

SLAM: Random, but I see a lot of Kevin Garnett in you. From your leadership style to the way you move. Do you see that?

DMC: Possibly. But again, this is what I’ve come to conclude: Winning covers up everything. If KG was always losing and was the same person, they would think he was the worst guy ever. That’s basically the situation I’m in. Since I’m losing, no one loves a loser—everyone loves a winner. That’s how it goes. I don’t see a difference between me and Joakim [Noah]. If anything, I feel Joakim has more crazy moments than I do—but his is passion, mine are an attitude or anger problems.

SLAM: Have you accepted that you can’t change it, except by winning?

DMC: I’m not going to change myself—I am who I am. I’m very comfortable in my skin. Like I said, everything changes with winning.

SLAM: So the focus is on winning, and you have to move from being a great player to being a winner. How do you embrace that mindset?

DMC: The biggest thing is, it’s easy to lead when you’re winning. It’s easy to say all the right things. When you’re going through all the adversity and you’re losing and you’re at the bottom, that shows who the real leader is, in my eyes. It’s easy to lead when you’re winning. What’s tough about it?—you’re already winning. So, I feel like the true leader comes out in tough times.

After being held out for three games to rest an ailing back (with this very special photo shoot thankfully not disrupted), DeMarcus returns to the Kings’ lineup for the November 30 home win against the Dallas Mavericks with SLAM watching “from the woods.” The crowd, sparse in number but loud in roar, is excited to have their star in uniform. Despite dealing with the back pain and an underreported foot injury, Boogie is having a career-year (31, 9 and 6 on this occasion) and the Kings are within shouting distance of the Playoffs.

As the crowd bundles up to head home, stragglers hang in the inner sanctum of Sleep Train Arena to talk shop while waiting for the team to shower. One particularly knowledgeable and respected man pulls a reporter aside, unprovoked, and offers up a wild-but-telling scenario.

“If someone had a gun to my head and said pick one player to represent you in a one-on-one where if he wins you live, he loses you die,” says the man, straight-faced, “I’d choose DeMarcus over everyone else. After all, there’s nothing he can’t do—and he really hates losing.”

Now that’s a storyline Boogie could get down with.

SLAM: Is the game as easy for you as it looks?

DMC: On the court? Absolutely, it’s easy. Nobody can guard me.

SLAM: With some of the other big guys, it looks like work. Getting 25 and 12 seems to sort of just happen for you.

DMC: I hate to sound cocky, but yes, it’s easy.

Tzvi Twersky is the Head of Basketball at Stance Socks and a Contributing Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @ttwersky.

Portraits by Atiba Jefferson