Let’s put blame where it rightly belongs: The Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t been fined and suspended by the NBA for spitting on a little girl. That would be Charles Barkley, back in 1991.
Barkley and Cousins, however, are both notorious for being surly troublemakers who fought with teammates, took cheap shots at opponents, yelled at their coaches and amassed high numbers of technical fouls.
These are hardly credentials that should merit either player representing the United States in international basketball competition, but a talent for scoring and rebounding can sometimes overcome good sense. Barkley was selected in 1992 to play on the U.S. “Dream Team” that won gold in the Olympics. He embarrassed the team by intentionally elbowing an Angolan player in the first game, but brought his emotions under control for the rest of the competition. He led the team, filled with pro players for the first time, in scoring and became a popular figure with foreign crowds off the court.
Barkley has been seized as a role model for Cousins by Bee sportswriter Ailene Voisin, who has been eager to promote Cousins’ career and his ascent to manhood during his stint with the Kings. She sees his selection to the U.S. national team, which will play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning Aug. 30, as vital to salvaging his tawdry reputation.
Although Barkley loudly proclaimed that he wasn’t paid to be a role model for anyone, his combination of poor character and basketball talent is similar to Cousins’ makeup. But the unsavory Barkley had a couple of things beyond talent going for him that might explain why U.S national team officials took a chance of him. First, he didn’t go bananas on the court. In the eight NBA seasons before he was selected for the Olympic team, Barkley, then with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged a shameful 19 technical fouls a season. Still, he wasn’t ejected from a single game.
By contrast, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins has averaged 14.7 technical fouls a season in his four years with the Kings and has been kicked out of eight games. When Cousins’ emotions heat up, he becomes a time bomb with no regard for his team.
Second, Barkley was much more of a winner than Cousins has shown himself to be. From his rookie year in 1984 through the end of the 1991-92 season, Barkley led the 76ers to 371 wins against 285 losses – a 56.5 win percentage.
With Cousins as their leader, the Kings in the last four seasons have won a mere 102 games while losing 210 – a win percentage of 32.6 percent.
In may also be instructive that Barkley averaged 4.1 assists a game in his first eight years compared with Cousins’ 2.4 assists per game, and that Barkley played for three coaches in his first eight years while Cousins has run through four in four years.
It’s unfortunate that good character takes a back seat to talent when it comes to representing the United States in international competition. But Barkley at least had self-control and a winning mentality. Cousins has displayed neither with the Kings, and the odds are high he would be a divisive, unsettling presence on the national team.
It’s bad enough Sacramento has to put up with his self-indulgent behavior.