For some NBA players, Team USA is as much an oasis as it is a challenge. It's a chance to be a part of a high-functioning organization that has a monopoly on coaching smarts and floor talent, with total role recognition. When it all coalesces into a gleeful juggernaut every four years during the Olympics, it offers fans a pacifist, dunk-driven version of imperialism to enjoy.
In the cases of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kyrie Irving, this sort of glory is not too far removed from their usual work, as they fight annually for championships alongside talented teammates and sell hella Nikes in the states. For a misplaced puzzle piece like Carmelo Anthony—once revered as the game's best scorer, but long steeped in tragicomic New York Knicks thwartedness—dominance abroad is an accomplishment that may be better remembered than anything done in the NBA; Anthony is now lacing up for his fourth straight Olympic jaunt with Team USA, an unprecedented figure.
For a first-timer like DeMarcus Cousins, the value of the Olympics, both in gold and TV exposure, is harder to measure. Then again, everything about the man they call "Boogie" has always been hard to measure. Still, we can safely slot Cousins into the Happy To Be Here camp—after spending the entirety of his career in Sacramento's bog of dysfunction, this is the first time since college that Cousins has played for a team that deserves his talents.
How will Cousins help this team? Let's start with his size: Cousins is what most people would call "large" at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, but the origin of his nickname, which was given to him by University of Kentucky assistant coach Rod Strickland, lies in the unusually balletic dexterity with which he moves his hulky frame. He can check all the big man boxes, but Cousins is also capable of lulling defenders into hypnosis with footwork, punishing them with his perimeter skills, and generally displaying a degree of speed and touch that would be the envy of many guards. At times, he has been one of the NBA's most dominant players, and the only reason he's still remotely under the radar is that the 25-year-old's violent and graceful game has largely languished under the shitty sun of the Sacramento Kings.
Days before Cousins and Team USA arrived in Chicago for an exhibition game against Venezuela—a contest they won by 35 points, despite playing horribly while appearing very hungover—Kings teammate Rudy Gay added one more smoking Sacramento gun to a seemingly endless series. Amid swirling trade rumors, Gay spoke frankly in an interview with the blog Sactown Royalty about his confusion over the direction of the franchise, saying "I have no idea" and "we don't have anything to really build on."
Cousins, for his part, has usually prefered more coded expressions of discontent with an organization that has given him six head coaches since drafting him six seasons ago. When the Kings did idiotic things in June's draft—dealing away wing prospect Marquese Chriss to secure two more centers in Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere, all after drafting big man Willie Cauley-Stein last year and already having Cousins and Kosta Koufos on their roster—Cousins went viral by tweeting this:
And then Cousins went even more viral when he suggested that the tweet was not about his team collecting five centers in an increasingly centerless league, but rather one he made while in "a hot-sculpting class."
As a result of his Sacramento exile, many people will watch and learn about Boogie for the first time in these Olympics. As much as they'll witness his undeniable talent, they'll also get a taste of his personality, both guarded-unto-prickly and goofy as hell. At a Team USA practice, Cousins took loose hook shots in his socks on the United Center floor while teammates talked to media, seeming for all the world as if he was relaxing in his living room. When subsequently interviewed courtside, he was somewhat sullen and hard to hear, prompting DeAndre Jordan to tell him he was mumbling for the same reporters who would have a hard time transcribing him later. "This is my sexy voice," Cousins said.
Moments later, Cousins was exasperated and catching shit from Jordan and Kyle Lowry when the Kings came up in conversation. "We're just trying to get over the hump, man," he said. He went on to reveal that he hadn't yet talked to new Kings coach Dave Joerger, hired shortly after Sacramento's season ended in April. "I guess it's just part of the business," he answered when asked whether he's getting used to having new coaches.
Whether or not the crappy Kings made him this way, this is Boogie now: a transcendent player who dances between grumpy defeatism and alluring creative joy. The same man who crafted one of the league's best modern parafictions when he dubbed himself "Boogie Smooth" and led us to believe that an LP was on the way also angrily asked a huddle of reporters how they planned to "stop God's plan" before storming away.
Boogie's increasing frustration in Sacramento, presumably fueled by the organization's boundless and unrelenting ineptitude, has made him the constant subject of blockbuster trade rumors, and has kept him on perpetual watch for more "God's plan"-like eruptions of strife. His time with Team USA, though, gives us a glimpse of who Cousins could be on a team that wasn't so committed to wrecking itself. Cousins is a uniquely unstoppable force inside and outside the paint, particularly in the international game, and he's a permanently amusing personality between the whistles. When Team USA penis king Draymond Green got into another media snafu after accidentally broadcasting his junk to the whole internet, it was Boogie who dogged on him in the most grin-inducing way:
Cousins is a superstar, yet circumstances have conspired to keep that fact weirdly under wraps. If only for the next few weeks, that may be about to change. The Olympics can be a showcase, teaching the world just what's being wasted by the Kings, to whom Cousins has been loyal to a fault. In any event, he'll finally get to enjoy what it feels like to win big games with a lot of people watching, surrounded by teammates who will let him play to his significant strengths and allow him to be his oft-hilarious self. Since it may never happen again, now's the time to catch Boogie in basketball heaven.
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