Halftime Sports

How DeMarcus Cousins made me a Kings fan, again

February 23, 2017

via Wikimedia Commons

I put on my DeMarcus Cousins t-shirt with a blissful ignorance that all Kings fans experienced Sunday morning as I prepared for Boogie’s third All-Star game. I said to a friend that he was going to get a triple-double, only half jokingly.

Boogie hit a three pointer, but then the Kings went for a hail mary. DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans in exchange for a grab-bag of guards and future assets. I was shocked when I saw the Woj bomb on Twitter later that night.

I could write this whole article talking about the basketball impacts of thetrade and why I don’t like it. Setting aside the fact that the Kings clearly did not get an equal return in the deal, if the point was to change Sacramento’s culture, why do it now when a move like this seems only to reaffirm a culture of instability?

Now on the other hand, the Kings had no future (due to the fact that they wagered their future for a revolving door of average “win-now” type talent) if Cousins couldn’t bring them to the promised land of the playoffs. As an irrational Kings fan – so just, as a Kings fan, I wanted nothing more out this season than to see us get swept by the Warriors in Round One. I recognize, though, that this plan would land the organization seven-ish years from now in the exact same spot it was in before (and after) they drafted Boogie: a bottom-dweller in the Western Conference.

So from a basketball perspective, this trade is at best confusing, but with DeMarcus, the issue was never about basketball talent. It was always personal.

I have a strange timeline of my relationship to the Sacramento Kings. From around 1999 (when I became a conscious individual and not a drooling child) to 2008 then 2013 to the present day are really the only periods I can say I was a true fan.

I was born and raised in California’s capital, living there until I was 14 years old, and for my entire childhood life, I loved the Kings unconditionally.

The glory days of the Sacramento Kings ignited my youthful passion for basketball. I was (and still am) a horrible player, but I love the sport. I spent countless hours in my backyard imagining what it would be like to hit a game-winning three for the Kings in the NBA Finals and bring a championship to franchise.

My dad’s office had season tickets, and I spent countless nights in Arco Arena. Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac were my heroes. I was an encyclopedia for Kings stats and a crowd favorite in my 200-level section of Arco where I shouted at refs and booed opposing players. I still remember this jittery sense of excitement every time I walked from the parking lot into the arena with my dad.

Two things were certain about me and my Kings fanhood, too: I loved Chris Webber and I hated the Lakers. I still believe that every replay of Big Shot Bob’s three in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals should be prefaced with a trigger warning for Kings fans, and I occasionally watch conspiracy theory videos set to Coldplay’s “Fix You” to make me feel better about the Game 6 loss.

My sister won the Miller kid lottery in 2002. She got to go to Game 7 of the series. I was too young to remember much from that night, but I recall frantically pacing around my living room as the Kings’ hopes slipped away in overtime. Turns out it was a pretty shitty lottery ticket to win.

I can’t remember how I reacted to the 2003 Kings’ loss to Dallas because I think I’ve permanently blocked it from my mind, but it was a turning point for the franchise. Chris Webber, my favorite King of all time, tore a ligament in his knee in Game 2 of the semifinals, ending his and the Kings’ playoff run that year and forever shaping his and the Kings’ future.

The next year, I do remember sitting on my parents’ bed as the Kings lost to the Timberwolves. I can’t remember if I cried (I probably did), but I know my dad was there to console me after the loss.

Then came the end of the era.

Vlade went to the dreaded Lakers in the offseason to finish his career. In January, my dad woke me up for school one morning to tell me that Doug Christie was gone, and I wanted nothing to do with this Bonzi Wells guy. Then the next trade hit me in the gut. My dad read me the unthinkable news: Chris Webber had been traded. We were in a hotel – I can’t remember what city. Again, I’ve probably blocked it out of my memory.

I stayed a Kings fan for the rest of my time in California, but the passion began to fade. Kevin Martin became my new favorite player, but after a while, the team’s declining talent matched my declining interest. I could no longer read off every stat about the team. My dad and I started showing up to games late. I didn’t shout as loudly any more.

The Kings began to float off into NBA irrelevance after a few years of being one of the most exciting teams on the court, and shortly after, they became irrelevant in my life too.

I moved away from Sacramento after 8th grade. I hated it. Anyone who knows me well, knows that the first year or two in Baltimore were extremely tough. I had lost the comfort of my home and felt like an outsider across the country. No one at my high school even cared about the NBA. They were too busy cheering for the Ravens and playing lacrosse.

I tried to keep up with my team freshman year, but the late tip off times on the East Coast made it challenging. My dad and I went to down to D.C. for Kings-Wizards game that first year, but the Kings lost. We didn’t go back next season.

I had stopped following all together by sophomore year, and the Kings had become just a box full of childhood memorabilia in my basement.

I get a sense of guilt as a Kings fan when I think about turning away during that period. Those were the definitive years for Sacramento’s relocation saga. Today, it’s incredible to read stories and watch clips about how hard the fans fought to keep the team, and while it’s a somewhat trite refrain on Kings’ blogs – yes, things are bad, but at least we have a team – the sentiment remains true. It almost became a reality that the team I loved and cared about so much as a kid moved away without me really realizing. I almost lost one of the most important things from my youth without batting an eye because I had turned away from Sacramento while I was 3,000 miles across the country.

So you may be wondering: what does all of this have to do with Boogie Cousins?

When I got to college, my friends were all pretty active fans of their hometown NBA teams. My roommate Mike had just come off riding the Pierce-Garnett-Allen train in Boston. Jeremy got the gift of four seasons of LeBron in Miami. Josh had a few successful Denver Nuggets years to cheer for under the leadership of (ironically enough) George Karl. And Neil … well the Knicks were okay for like one year, but for the most part Neil was sort of screwed basketball-wise, too.

I had a lot to learn if I wanted to keep up in dining hall conversations about the NBA. For starters, who were the players I was going to start cheering for again? I assumed the Kings had stayed mediocre-to-bad since I hadn’t heard much about them, but I knew nothing about the Kings’ center who had just signed a four-year $62 million deal.

Josh and I sat at my desk in Village C West to watch the regular season opener as the Kings faced off against the Nuggets. In the opening ceremony to that game, I was reminded of the near relocation, and after tip off, I quickly learned $62-millon center name who dropped 30 points and grabbed 14 boards in the Kings’ win: DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins.

As a fan, I was instantly drawn to Boogie. I could go into the specifics about his numbers, about his raw talent, his physical ability, and often forgotten – and quite frankly above-and-beyond –  community work off the court, but I think DeMarcus’ tenure as a King speaks for itself. Yes, Cousins came with his flaws, but his talent and passion for the game and Sacramento always outweighed the bad in my books.

My connection to DeMarcus’ time as a King was never about only basketball, though. For the three and a half years I watched him play, he connected me back to my home. Had the Kings not had a true star to cheer for, I doubt I would have cared as much about the team again. Don’t get me wrong, the Kings were a bad team that first year (and for all the years since, unfortunately), but DeMarcus provided a hope. When I watched Boogie play, I got that childlike excitement I had felt for Chris Webber.

The truth is, without cheering for the Kings, I have no real ties back to Sacramento these days. I haven’t spoken with most of my friends in years, and I chose to go to college on the East Coast when I had the option to return to California. When people ask me where I’m from today, I’ll often just say “D.C. area” to make things easier, instead of explaining my family’s move to Baltimore then again a move to Alexandria during my sophomore year at Georgetown.

Rooting for the Kings, and specifically for Boogie, constantly reminded me of my Sacramento ties. My fanhood for Boogie forced my connected feeling back to Sacramento to persist through my larger Kings fanhood. DeMarcus always loved Sacramento, and it’s sort of fitting that even up the final days, he declared his desire to retire there. He felt like a true Sacramentan, and in a way, allowed me to feel that, too.

Now, I know. It honestly seems silly to write that the only thing allowing me to feel as if I am still a “true Sacramentan” is a 26-year-old man from Mobile, Alabama who always screams at referees, often gives up on defensive plays, and occasionally curses out reporters, but as I reflect on Boogie’s time as a King, he helped bring back something I had lost in my identity.

Loyalty is DeMarcus’ motto, but it’s a tough word as a Kings fan right now. The guy who I grew up cheering for in the nosebleeds of Arco is the same guy who traded away the player that reignited that excitement for me.

Vlade, who publicly declared earlier this season that DeMarcus would not be traded any time soon, dealt Cousins without even giving him fair warning that a trade was coming. Under the new collective bargaining agreement in the NBA, he also cost DeMarcus millions of dollars given Boogie’s desire to re-sign with the team. Maybe Vlade, and Kings’ ownership, just didn’t think DeMarcus was worth the millions.

The three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA Second Team center averaging nearly 28 points per game and 5 assists, both career high numbers this year, almost had the chance to enjoy an All-Star weekend free of Kings chaos and drama. Instead, he was stuck on a runway in New Orleans trying to decide if he should fly back to his transplant home or stay put in his soon-to-be new one.

DeMarcus showed a loyalty to the fanbase and the city of Sacramento that sparked my loyalty back to the Kings. It’s sad to see the guy who brought me back in as a fan move across the country when he clearly didn’t want to leave, just like I did years ago, but as a Kings fan, I’ll have to move on. After three and a half years of renewed passion, I’m all the way back in on the Kings. Another five years of rebuilding isn’t going to turn me away again.

Besides, that wouldn’t show the Kings the one thing DeMarcus ever asked of Sacramento: loyalty.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller is a former news editor of The Georgetown Voice. Follow him on Twitter @MILLERdfillmore for unabashed tweets about the Sacramento Kings.

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