Down 25 points in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, DeMarcus Cousins swung his arm backward while battling for position and struck O.J. Mayo directly below the belt. Mayo’s reaction to the hit and the ensuing fallout resulted in technicals for both players, but the real jabs were thrown after the game:
“It wasn’t intentional, but there was a lot of trash talk,” said Cousins, who had been fighting Mayo for position when he delivered the no-look blow behind him.
“Man, I was so pissed,” Mayo said after his 19-point, seven-rebound performance in the rout. “It’s just, where does that come in in the game, you know what I mean? He’s a talented player, has a chance to be an All-Star. But you do stuff like that, it takes you down a class.”
“That guy has some mental issues, man,” Mayo said. “He’s a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of that organization, but I don’t think he wants it. …
“He’s immature, man. Big maturity problem. Hopefully, he’ll grow up out of it and become great. He definitely has the talent to.”
Let’s get something out of the way first. O.J. Mayo is having an incredible season, and he seems like a very intelligent guy, but he should be the last person in the world scolding someone for being immature.
After all, this is the same O.J. Mayo who burst on to the national scene in high school by showing up his opponents during a blowout, throwing the ball high into the stands after a dunk. This is the same O.J. Mayo that was involved in heavy recruiting violations that led to USC vacating all of its wins that year. Yes, this is the same O.J. Mayo that got in a fist-fight with Tony Allen over a gambling debt, was suspended 10 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy, and bristled publicly about his role on a playoff team.
So while Mayo has learned how to stay out of trouble and be a top scorer in Dallas, it also appears he’s learned how to mount very, very tall horses. While his condescending tone towards Cousins is understandable considering the location of the blow, the projecting he does is perhaps most interesting. The same exact things Mayo says to Cousins could have easily been said to him months prior, and aside from the “mental issues” comment, it almost sounds like Mayo is doing some veiled empathizing with Cousins during his plight to stardom.
To be fair, Cousins has made plenty of mistakes during his first few years, but more often than not, they’re rooted in pride. Getting called out by an announcer, getting stomped by 25 points — these are things that attack a competitive person at their very core, and maybe it’s not the worst thing that Cousins hasn’t gone the way of so many other talented lottery picks by throwing in the towel completely. Many others would have already crumbled under the load of expectations, the scrutiny, and the constant character attacks.
Although occasionally misguided, Cousins’ passion is still evident, so the hope lives on that once he finds a more stable situation, his pride will no longer manifest itself in selfish, damaging acts, but instead will spark the great performances he’s capable of. His competitive fire needs to be tamed, not extinguished.
That’s the shame of it all, though. Often times this season, it does seem like Cousins has lost pride in his team and is playing mostly for himself. Watch him on the defensive end or when he doesn’t have the ball. He just sort of stands there, only re-engaging when directly attacked or when he’s given the ball again. Those are the types of things that can become habitual, and that’s much, much more alarming than a moment where frustration may have boiled over.
Cousins seems to be encouraged to both hurry up and wait, which makes you wonder what will happen to his dream of stardom and success that’s been deferred. Maybe it will just sag like a heavy load, like it has for so many others. Or will it explode?