(Editor's note: DeMarcus Cousins granted Bleacher Report a sit-down, all-access interview in his Sacramento home in early April. His goal? To set the record straight and show the world he's more than what we see in highlight and lowlight reels.)
Of post players his age or younger, Cousins is the highest scorer (16.8 points) and second-best rebounder (9.8). He also has the second-most assists (2.64) of any young big man in the NBA. His potential is scary.
But so is his rap sheet. He tops the league in both technicals (15) and flagrant 2 fouls (two). He's been suspended three times this season—twice by the league and once by his team—in addition to multiple benchings by his coach for detrimental behavior.
But in this moment, leaning back into the couch of his Sacramento home, Cousins is neither of those caricatures. He's DeMarcus.
If this is supposed to be the lion’s den, Cousins isn’t in the mood to feast; he's desperate to explain the truth. That perception is just perception. That his passion is real. That his future is bright.
What follows is a fascinating, untold story behind the NBA's greatest enigma.
Cousins, the Perceived Villain
Still just a third-year player, Cousins is seen as a symbol of wasted potential—an immense package of skill and size that’s eventually going to punch and pout his way out of the league.
Though he’s never faced serious off-court issues, the shallow narrative exposes the dark side of Cousins—the emotionally unrestrained version of a young NBA star who wrestles against authority and assaults opposition.
His reputation has become a nightmare, but Cousins says it’s not the complete reality. He says he owns his actions, that he is maturing, but he also blames a league and media that picks and chooses its evil-doers.
For Cousins, the NBA is a stage and he’s been cast as the villain.
“They make you who they want you to be,” said Cousins, his voice sometimes muttered and morose, other times clear and confident.
“What people don’t realize is that this is the entertainment business. That’s entertaining. You draw up a big storyline of this is the bad guy and this is the good guy. If I am a bad person, let me do those things to be a bad person. Don’t make me into one."
Cousins said it’s his image that provokes officials, and the quick whistles are a consequence of that. He says he is held to a different standard than other players.
Cousins has been suspended three times this season. He was suspended for a game on Dec. 12 for hitting O.J. Mayo in the groin. In November, Cousins was suspended two games for a verbal, hostile confrontation with San Antonio Spurs announcer Sean Elliott.
The clashes between himself and Sacramento coach Keith Smart have been apparent through on-court disagreements as well as in-game benchings. At the end of December, Cousins was suspended by his team for what Kings general manager Geoff Petrie called "unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team."
Cousins perpetuates a sense that people are out to get him, which, in his mind, is the truth. Still, he won’t relent or fake an image that he feels isn’t real. Cousins is going to be himself and maintains that he won’t succumb to phoniness.
So instead, perception becomes the only truth to the observer, and Cousins is seen as abrasive, short-tempered and impossibly immature.
When asked what are the craziest things he’s heard said about him, Cousins coils with a sense of stunned perplexity.
"Wooooo,” he let out, shaking his head. “That I need a psychiatrist. I have a mental problem. Things of that nature. That was pretty wild to me."
The Authentic, Unfiltered Cousins
In the smaller market of Sacramento, Cousins is a shark in a fishbowl, uninterested in playing politician in California’s capital city.
He was raised by a single mother in an Alabama household where emphasis was placed on telling the truth. It’s that same transparency that gets him into trouble today.
“We never did it the political way or that type of thing,” Cousins said. “That’s kind of where, as you can see, I get in trouble. Sometimes, I am brutally honest instead.”
Cousins is acutely intelligent, and he isn’t numb to his burgeoning notoriety.
In his words, the national interpretation of him is, “A talented, immature big man—that’s crazy.”
He says it with a chuckle, but when asked what the truth is, he gets serious.
“I'm a guy with a big heart who cares about people. I'm goofy. I like to have fun. I'm always joking around. The complete opposite.
“I’m human. I mean, I’m not always happy.”
It’s not a facade, but it isn’t a hyperbolic tale of gentleness trapped beneath a misunderstood exterior either. The truth is that Cousins is both a good guy and an emotional enigma.
"I am a 22-year-old man; I could be going crazy right now,” Cousins said. “So saying that I'm immature—that's ridiculous. I feel like I'm very mature. It's just I'm an emotional person when I'm on the court. I am very emotional. If I'm happy, I'm extremely happy. If I'm angry, I'm angry. It's finding a way to balance it out."
It seems like the only metaphoric lion ready to be unlocked is his true, calming character. He is still emotionally immature, but that doesn’t make him dissimilar to many young men.
The only difference is, he said, that most men in their early 20s aren’t being baited by opponents or having the media drown them in disapproval.
“It’s frustrating. At times I feel because of the situation I'm in, I don’t get the credit I deserve. You see, so many of these other guys doing half the work, but they get so much praise. It’s frustrating.”
Though he is beloved in Kentucky, where he played college hoops, Sacramento hasn’t been so welcoming.
Cousins said he cannot even walk through the city without being targeted by hecklers. If he doesn’t give in to taking a picture, for example, profanity-laced attacks are sometimes launched. All Cousins can do in response is laugh and shake his head.
DeMarcus Cousins @boogiecousins
Love my real fans!! ✊2013-3-20 05:30:27
It has to be painful for a guy who is really still just a kid to bear the brunt of verbal assaults.
Cousins wears his reputation like body armor. There’s a stubbornness that dwells in his spirit. He says he doesn’t want you to know he cares about what people think.
But of course he does.
"I would like people to know the real me, to know I am not this crazy person—what I am drawn out to be. I would like that to happen, but at the same time, I can't really worry about it. If I stress about what people think of me, I won't make it. I'm still going to live my life."
Cousins has heard the negativity for so long; before he ever set foot on an NBA floor, he owned a reputation as immature and irrational. He said he’s learned to just tune it out. But later in the interview, he admits to being sad because people don’t see the real him.
"I mean, it is [sad]. Of course I would like people to know the truth,” Cousins said. “But every person that says something, I can't run up to them and try to tell the truth, 'I'm not really like this.'
"Think what you want to think, but at the end of the day, as many people that think negatively about me, there's some that think positively as well. Some people think I'm a good person. I appreciate all that do, and those who don't, oh well."
Cousins 2.0 and His Future in Sacramento
Cousins sees a pattern that has existed between love-and-hate relationships with players and fans. He recognizes the periods of hate that guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James endured, and while he doesn’t compare himself to those names, he has seen that winning cures all ills.
But losing has become culture in Sacramento, especially in recent history. The franchise is 74-155 (.323) through his first three seasons.
From the outside looking in, it seems like a change of scenery would be alluring. But Cousins—even now under the powerful agency of Dan Fegan—insists he is not interested in being traded.
“No, I am loyal to this organization,” he said. “The biggest reward to me would be, at the end of the day, hearing them say, 'He turned this around. He stuck with it through thick and thin and he made it happen.’"
He isn’t lying—his demeanor is too candid. When Cousins says he wants to stay in Sacramento, he means it. He can be offered an extension this summer and he will be a restricted free agent after the 2013-14 season.
The losses do have an effect on him, however, and he is growing more and more impatient. He doesn’t just admit to being part of the losing—he admits to being the problem.
“It's hard to deal with,” he said. “And also being a young player and the reason for losing is you. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. Every year I come in and say, 'I'm going to do whatever I can do to turn this thing around' and it never comes out that way.
“I feel like I'm the centerpiece of this team and it goes as far as I carry it. But it's hard to deal with."
The problem is, Cousins is lost in the uncertainty and failure of the Kings. The franchise is caught between staying in Sacramento or moving to Seattle. That’s a frustrating dynamic to blend into the already unsteady beginnings for Cousins.
"I'm not giving an excuse for my actions, but it's just as hard for me to deal with. Some people have families, never know where the team is going to be. Every year, the accusation is we are not going to be here. I mean, you don't know. We are dealing with it just like they are. We are human just like they are. If they're frustrated, how do they think we feel?"
Though his professional career is still young, Cousins reveals another side of himself when asked if time is moving quickly.
“That’s another thing that bothers me,” Cousins said. “I feel like I’m running out of time. I want it now. I want everything now.”
He has an appetite for the moment. It’s his impetuous nature that makes him both charming and nefarious, a paradox that’s not easily digested in a culture that desires to pigeonhole all athletes with labels.
For that, Cousins may always be a prisoner of his personality.
He isn’t a misunderstood villain. He is naked emotion, and not everyone likes that.
View the full interview here:
Jimmy Spencer is an NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him at @JimmySpencerNBA