DeMarcus Cousins finally made Team USA. The Sacramento Kings forward/center made the cut and has been productive early on for Team USA in group play. He's still trying to shed the label of being a problem child, despite having no off-court incidents to be concerned with.
It's true that he's clashed with teammates and coaches, that he's been petulant in games about touches and officiating. But he's also, underneath it, a thoughtful guy who has a lot to provide in terms of perspective. And Cousins told NBA.com that after everything he's been through, he sees himself as a role model.
“Me and my mom talk about it all the time. My story is crazy. Anything that I've been through, anything that I have accomplished, it was always the hard way. Nothing ever came easy for me, and that is just something that I have kind of accepted. I know it's never come easy for me, and I think that is why I am the way I am.
“I just learned to accept that, and it's just going to make my story that much better.”
How he is, could be summed up as determined.
“I'm just not the type of person that gives up. I accept all challenges, and I feel like I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. That's just the fire within me. I don't think I can ever be stopped.”
That attitude is why he says people do and should look up to him.
“I am a role model, absolutely. There are different types of people out there, and I come from a different type of place. So, I absolutely think I am a role model.
“I come from a place where there are not a lot of opportunities,” Cousins explained. “People there, they don't ever really dream big because they don't think it ever really exists. Like the things you see on TV, they think it's just a false world. And them seeing me make it, they believe it is possible. Those people grew up with me; they have seen the struggles; they have seen me fight and work my way to where I am now, so I absolutely believe I am a role model.”
The comparison of Cousins to Charles Barkley only gets more interesting with this. Barkley was a brash, powerful, big-bodied big man when he began his career, outspoken and emotional. Barkely, of course, had a famous commercial where he said the exact opposite about being a role model.
And then there's Cousins, saying boldly, "I am a role model." And while that comment is sure to raise a number of snarky jokes on Twitter, something I myself was tempted to respond with when I saw the quote ("That's a bad sign for the youth of today on the court"), he's right. Cousins came from hard circumstances, a blue-collar background, like so many players.
From a 2012 Sporting News feature:
As a member of a large extended family, DeMarcus was a playfully mischievous bundle of energy as a child. Reared in a humble home in a blue collar pocket in the city of Mobile that may have been small in physical dimension, the love and support inside was immeasurable.
“I come from a family of educators,” says Cousins' mother Monique, a tall, radiant woman with smooth caramel skin who emanates an inner strength that belies her soft, soothing voice. The melodic, comforting tone of her words fall out of her mouth in a syrupy, pronounced southern drawl that make one feel immediately at home.
“My mom was an elementary school teacher and my father was a high school teacher and football coach,” said Monique. “Education was always an important factor in our home. As I raised the kids, when they got a report card, I got a report card. If they weren't coming up to par, it was always, ‘Well, what are YOU doing and what didn't YOU do?'
Working as a licensed practical nurse, she constantly re-arranged her work schedule depending on the needs of DeMarcus, his brother and three sisters.
Sometimes, she crammed a forty-hour work week into two days. Others, she worked the day shift so she could be home when the school day ended. When hospital shifts became too regimented, she worked in home health care or picked up assignments in nursing homes that offered more flexibility.
So he's got a lot of pride in where he came from. And that's part of what's always rubbed people the wrong way. Cousins is phenomenally proud of what he's accomplished. And he should be. But because he hasn't accomplished anything in the NBA, that comes off as brash. Add that on top of the long and lengthy pile of problems he's had in-game with behavior, and you have why Cousins has that reputation.
But things genuinely seem to be changing. Cousins objected to calls less and his defense made monstrous strides no one seemed to notice. He still was tied for the most technicals last season with 16, but Blake Griffin (16) and Kevin Durant (15) have huge numbers and no one tags them with the same reputation. He delivered a monstrous season last year with a plus-26 PER and one of the most efficient scoring season for a center in the post-Shaq era.
He's getting it. He's improving, he's maturing. And just as calling yourself a role model is a bold move, backing it up by being one, something he seems genuinely interested in doing, is an even bolder one.