DeMarcus Cousins used to look up to Charles Barkley. Coming from Alabama, he wanted to follow Barkley's path out of the deep South and into the NBA -- a journey few athletes are able to complete.
When Cousins heard Barkley criticizing him on televising, saying he was immature and a bad influence on his teammates, he turned cold.
That was years ago, but Cousins is nowhere close to forgiving his childhood legend. When asked about the feud, Cousins turned to a reporter and spoke to him as if Barkley was standing right in front of him.
"I have no respect for you and I never will," he said to Bleacher Report. "We have nothing to talk about. So, yes, every time we see each other, there will never be words."
Tempting as it might be to write this off as a silly sports-fueled clash of personalities, the Cousins-Barkley saga is more complex than that. Cousins grew up wanting to be just like Barkley. And Barkley took an interest in Cousins, even attending one of his high school games when he was a standout on his way to play college ball at Kentucky.
But the Sacramento Kings center took great offense to criticisms Barkley has made in public forums. Barkley, for his part, doesn't understand why Cousins remains so angry at him. The TNT commentator and NBA Hall of Famer felt that he was being careful about the things he said -- but that tough love is important to maturing in the NBA.
Barkley speaks from personal experience. As a young player in Philadelphia in the 1980s, Barkley said veterans like Moses Malone called him fat and told him to lose weight, while guys like Julius Erving said he needed to dress better.
While hurtful at the time, Barkley now sees that influence as critical to his career.
Cousins, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with the negative comments.
And, for what it's worth, Cousins is having a breakout season. He's well on his way to his first All-Star Game appearance and is even in early conversation for the MVP award. The Kings, meanwhile, have gotten off to a blistering start and appear determined to make the NBA Playoffs.
Barkley may want to congratulate Cousins for those achievements, but the fifth-year center won't have any of it. He's written Charles Barkley off.