LOS ANGELES — It was a show before the show as approximately 70-80 NBA professionals — front-office personnel, scouts, agents, photographers, videographers and writers — camped tightly along the sideline and baseline to watch DeMarcus Cousins warm up.
When Cousins emerged from the locker room to take the court and saw the massive crowd awaiting his arrival, he shook his head.
“That [expletive] was crazy,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports an hour before making his season debut Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers after being sidelined for nearly a year because of a torn left Achilles tendon. “I’ve been in the NBA for how many years? It’s never been like that for me before.”
The increased attention was uncomfortable for the 6-foot-10 center, but it didn’t end there. It extended into the game. With each field goal, rebound and 3-pointer from Cousins, the majority of the crowd at Staples Center applauded and cheered.
Despite fouling out in 15 minutes of play, his debut couldn’t have gone any smoother. Cousins scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting that included 3-of-4 from 3-point range, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists in a 112-94 Warriors victory.
“I didn’t anticipate him making three 3-pointers,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I know he can shoot from out there. We all know that, but first-game jitters and fatigue, I wouldn’t have expected him to knock down the two big shots that really broke the whole game open.”
And when he collected his sixth personal foul, he was greeted to a standing ovation.
“Probably the fakest love I’ve ever received in my life,” he said after the game. “I honestly don’t see how guys like Steph [Curry] and [Kevin Durant] do it on a daily where it’s cameras on them all day. I don’t like it, at all. So, hopefully this is the last day of this.”
As he returned to the locker room following his postgame media address, on the floor by his locker stall was the game ball the team awarded him. Cousins picked it up, and called for a team official to place it in safekeeping.
“This [expletive] scored 14 points and is talking about, ‘Put my ball up?’” Durant joked as he stood near Cousins while getting dressed. “He’s acting like he scored 50.”
Cousins replied, “I think my plus-minus was the highest in the game,” to which Durant quickly pointed out that Draymond Green actually had the highest plus-minus. Cousins started cracking up.
It only took a minute and a half into the contest for Cousins to score, and it came in thunderous fashion.
Durant called for a pick on the right wing, and Cousins rolled. Durant threaded the needle between two defenders with a nice bounce pass, and Cousins gathered the ball and exploded in the air, flushing down an emphatic one-handed dunk. And when he landed, he let out a deafening roar before casually strutting back on defense.
“I felt like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said during his postgame address. “It’s been a long journey that I’ve said plenty of times. This was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out there on the floor, playing the game that I love.”
Speaking to the media after the game for close to 10 minutes, Cousins came off humble, sincere and appreciative. But in the midst of it all, he was still the feisty personality that makes him such a polarizing figure.
He let it be known he isn’t a fan of Clippers center Marcin Gortat. Sources said that disagreement stems from past remarks from the Clippers’ big man, who said Cousins is on his list of guys he’d like to fight if the NBA adopted a 20-second fighting interlude.
“Man, y’all lucky this is my first day back, or I’d tell you how I really feel about buddy,” Cousins said about Gortat. “But I’m going to be cool and stay on this side. Wait until I get in midseason form.”
That intimidating edge isn’t going anywhere, but what has surprised teammates is what Cousins listens to that helps sustain that disposition.
Cousins got through an arduous, year-long rehabilitation with the assistance of various slow jams. His musical preferences at times featured Luther Vandross, Babyface and Aretha Franklin.
The songs crept into the Warriors’ facility before practices, which threw off some of his teammates, who prefer to sweat it out while listening to hip-hop.
“Man, you don’t know if he’s getting ready to make love or preparing to shoot a basketball,” one member of the Warriors organization told Yahoo Sports while laughing. “It’s hard to work out when your mom’s music is on.”
Cousins isn’t bothered by the differences in musical preference.
“It’s always the young guys on the team who complain,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “I’m like, ‘Bro, is this all y’all listen to?’ They’re listening to ‘Mo Bamba’ [song] and all this other [expletive]. I need to slow it down with some ’80s and ’90s music. That’s how I get down.”
While Kerr was singing Cousins’ praises to the media, Curry walked around the media in the arena corridors, playfully yelling, “DeMarcus sucks!”
If Cousins stays healthy, the rest of the Association is in trouble. The Warriors possess a true All-Star starting five, and per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Warriors became the first team since the 1975-76 Boston Celtics to play five players who were All-Stars the previous year.
The Warriors’ juggernaut became even scarier Friday night, and Cousins’ presence might make this team unstoppable. And unfortunately for Cousins, the limelight will continue to shine on him.
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