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2016 Olympics

DeMarcus Cousins on black men and police: ‘I’ve learned about both sides’

A personal experience and a personal friendship have shaped his point of view

USA Basketball center DeMarcus Cousins remembers being “scared for my life,” when police officers’ rifles were being pointed at the then-high school basketball star with so much promise.

“I remember it being after a high school game. Me and my friends are riding home, we hop out of the car at one of the friends’ house and [the cops] pulled up on us, pulled guns on us and everything,” Cousins told The Undefeated. “The only reason we were good was because we were wearing our school hoodies that read, LeFlore High School. ‘Sir, we are just leaving our high school game.’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I’m DeMarcus Cousins.’

“ ‘You’re the young kid from … ’ ‘Yes, that’s me. We are just going home.’ I was scared for my life. We had rifles pulled on us.”

Seven years have passed since Cousins was fortunate enough to leave that encounter with police unharmed in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. The two-time All-Star has reason to hold bitterness toward police officers after such a life-threatening experience, and learning of the recent shooting deaths of African-Americans by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, probably evoked old nightmarish memories as well.

Cousins, however, doesn’t appear to be bitter, since he has learned a lot about the other side from a Mobile police officer he has been close to for years. The Sacramento Kings center said he preferred not to reveal the officer’s identity, but called him “one of the good guys” and described his job as “incredibly hard.” He recently talked to his police officer friend and mentor about the recent news of police officers killing African-American men and shooting ambushes.

“I’ve learned about both sides,” Cousins said. “I respect him. I just had dinner with him the other day in Vegas. Me and his son grew up playing basketball together … I know there are good [cops]. I know that there are not good ones.

“He told me the truth, which I respect. The truth is there are good and bad. We know that. That’s the case in a lot of situations. It’s not just with [policemen]. It’s throughout the world.”

Cousins joined his USA Basketball teammates in a Carmelo Anthony-led group discussion on racial and police tension along with the USA Olympic women’s basketball teams, Los Angeles Police Department officials, community leaders and young people primarily of color July 18 at the Challengers Boys & Girls Club in South Central Los Angeles. The 200 participants were broken up into eight different groups that included police officers of all races. Afterward, each group had to have at least one spokesperson talk about what they gained from the experience. Cousins put his arm around a teenage boy to give him support after he spoke for his group.

“The kids spoke their minds,” Cousins said. “Both sides spoke their minds. We came up with some ideas about how we can make it better. Everyone agreed on it. The group that was in there, we are all taking a step forward. That’s how it needs to be.

“[The kids] were a little nervous. We got a lot of leaders coming from just in that setting. It’s great to see kids speak their minds about where they were [in life].”

Considering his past police incident and unique police friendship, Cousins offered a unique perspective.

“We’re just trying to connect the two. We’re trying to show people it’s OK to be united. It’s OK to be a good person. It’s OK to try to better yourself every day,” Cousins said.

Cousins has a good shot of being the starting center for USA Basketball in the Olympics. He said he is excited about wearing red, white and blue and the voice it affords.

“I am extremely proud. I’m representing a lot right now,” Cousins said. “With everything that is going on in America, we’re on a platform now that shows we can unite. Everybody, we can unite. It’s bigger than basketball right now.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.