NBA Summer League.
That was when I first approached Demarcus Cousins about a sit down interview. He said yes.
Of course, things got in the way. He had zero demands, I had a couple. I didn’t want it to be on the phone. I didn’t want it to be in studio. And I didn’t want it to be in a public place. In fact, I really didn’t want it to be an interview.
Ever since Cousins was taken out of Kentucky in 2010, I’ve been fascinated by him. His play, his demeanor, his attitude, his brain. He is the most polarizing athlete I’ve ever seen in this city, including Chris Webber, and man as equally charming as he was frustrating. But Cousins was a different animal all together.
Whereas Webber sometimes came off as phony and aloof, Cousins can come off as an absolute bear. Perhaps too direct, his seemingly boiling-under-the-surface emotional instability seemed to intimidate many an inquisition. I had to talk to this guy.
Many years ago, I had the honor and pleasure of getting quite close with another mercurial King, Ron Artest. What started out as a one-off visit to my old night show at KHTK turned into the Summer of Artest. Ron went from show guest to co-host, and found an avenue to express himself on our radio airwaves. During his initial visit, I was not only a bit on edge, but trying to stifle the fear that he would stab me in the neck at any moment.
I learned a powerful lesson that summer, that sometimes our perception of an athlete is nowhere near reality when the lights and microphones are dark. Artest was a funny, caring, and disarming individual. Raised in the hellish Queensbridge, NY, he was way too young mentally for the rigors of the NBA. By the time he got to Sacramento, he was 26 and his maturity level had begun to catch up to his NBA talent.
Demarcus Cousins turns 26 this August. Perhaps I’m biased, a homer, or blind, but my experiences with Ron Artest, and watching firsthand as he resurrected his reputation in Sacramento make me believe the same can happen for Cousins.
But let’s not get carried away. Cousins is twice the talent Artest was, and he shares none of the off-court (or sidelines) drama Ron had prior to (or even during) his stay in Sacramento. But Cousins is more polarizing. He creates more debate than Artest did. Many people love him one day, want to trade him the next, and are back to loving him the following.
99% of our glimpses of Demarcus Cousins come from his play on the floor, and the NBA-mandated post-game interview. That’s not enough. From talking to teammates, coaches, friends, front office types, and many others- they all said the same thing: no one sees the “real” Demarcus Cousins”.
So I didn’t want an interview. I wanted a conversation. Not a broadcast, not a 60 Minutes-style inquisition, with pointed follow-ups and gotcha moments and sound bytes, I just wanted to talk. That’s all.
So on a Sunday late afternoon I arrived at his home, and waited with his manager Andrew Rogers as he finished up a stint in the sauna. When he finally emerged into his living room, there was no brooding. No long sighs and rolling eyes. We spoke briefly, I thanked him for his time, and he sat down on the couch across from me and put on a headset.
For the next hour, we covered a lot of ground. Many listening to this interview may be off-put by the pace, or lack thereof. Again, this isn’t a broadcast. I was hoping to recreate the sound of two people talking, with you as the eavesdropper. I believe we accomplished that. You may wonder why I didn’t hammer him harder, why I seemed overly friendly. Simple. I wasn’t there to give him the inquisition. I asked questions, he answered them. Occasionally his answers would spawn other questions, organically.
Also important to note- nothing was edited from our visit. More importantly, there were no “rules and/or conditions”. No question was off limits, he never once asked me to take something out or refused an answer. There may have been some silence and uncomfortable laughter, but that in itself answered the question asked.
As I said on the air, if you weren’t a fan of Cousins before hearing this, one hour of a conversation likely won’t change your mind. If you WERE a fan of his, the interview will most likely reinforce that love. And if you’re somewhere in the middle? I expect you may remain there, but with a new appreciation for the subtle nuances to his personality. He may be a bear sometimes, but he’s a Thinking Bear. He’s aware of himself and his surroundings, and he’s frustrated.
I’m as fascinated now as I was before we sat down. I look forward to doing it again. If at the end of our visit you feel like you have a little more knowledge and background of the man, then the mission was accomplished.
Listen to the full interview here: