Charles Barkley, the greatest basketball player ever from Alabama, once watched another Alabaman named DeMarcus Cousins in a high school game. Barkley said he told reports afterward he was disappointed in the young prospect.
Then, Cousins went to Kentucky, where he starred as a freshman. He turned pro after one season, but Barkley said Cousins wasn’t ready.
In the NBA, the Kings suspended Cousins, and Barkley stuck up for then-Sacramento coach Paul Westphal, who also coached Barkley with the Suns.
Every step of the way, Barkley has – fairly or unfairly – criticized Cousins. You can see how the Kings center might take that personally – and he has. Cousins typically ignores Barkley whenever the two are near.
Mention that Barkley doesn’t believe the cold shoulder is merited, and Cousins responds as if Barkley is standing directly in front of him:
“I have no respect for you and I never will. We have nothing to talk about. So, yes, every time we see each other, there will never be words.”
Barkley wishes he understood why Cousins holds such a grudge against him. He acknowledges that when Cousins was in high school, he went down to see him in a state playoff game. As Barkley remembers it, Cousins complained to referees incessantly, fouled out and picked up a couple of technical fouls in the process.
“I made a very conscious effort not to be too hard on him,” Barkley said. “I said he had a chance to be really good; I just told the reporters afterward that I was a little disappointed. Since then, I’ve also said he could be the best big man in the game if he’d just grow up. He’s never had a strong coach that held him accountable. I wish he’d had a Pat Riley or Gregg Popovich or George Karl or Doc Rivers that would’ve held his feet to the fire.”
Cousins insists Barkley said much more, but what truly vexes him is that Barkley would say anything that could endanger a kid from Alabama’s dream of making it big, knowing how rare that is for anyone from the Cotton State. Barkley also later stuck up for Westphal, whom he played for in his only NBA Finals appearance in ’93, after he suspended Cousins for conduct detrimental to the team.
“Coming up as a kid and hearing that from one of the best players ever to come out of Alabama,” Cousins said, “a guy people grow up looking up to, to hear him say, ‘Well, he’s not that good…’ I remember it like it was yesterday. Then, coming into my rookie season, you take up for your ex-coach and say I’m the worst thing that ever happened to Sacramento on national TV. Yeah, I’m going to remember.”
Cousins and Barkley share similar personalities, which explains their feud. Both are extremely vocal, too often unconcerned with where their words land. That can lead to some hurt feelings, including Barkley hurting Cousins’.
But Barkley has matured since he was Cousins’ age (which, given his current maturity level, says a lot about how immature he was back then). There’s no reason Cousins can’t follow suit (and it appears he’s on that track).
It’s easy for Cousins to declare their relationship dead now, but I’d be surprised if that remains the case forever. These two just have too much in common – from their native state to their shared basketball experiences. I bet, at some point, they become cordial, if not friendly.