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A return to basketball was all that DeMarcus Cousins wanted

After a year on the sidelines, the All-Star made his Warriors debut. That was all he wanted.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

When DeMarcus Cousins awoke on Friday morning, the imaginary ticker floating above his head read, “Days since last NBA game: 357.”

When he went to bed on Friday evening, that number was finally reset.

January 18 had been circled in red ink for a while, and when the day finally came, Cousins acted the way any human would act after their passion was cruelly stolen from them for nearly a year. He was giddy. He was nervous. He was relieved. He was vigilant.

And he was comfortable.

At Friday morning’s shootaround, eight hours from his Golden State Warriors debut, Cousins was asked what the first thing that ran through his mind was when he woke up. His response? “Basketball.”

He then laughed and said what he really was thinking about was the new Future album.

“It’s been a long journey - I’m in the last phase of it,” Cousins remarked. “I’m just happy to be back on the floor.”

There was an air of caution about Cousins as he went through the menial task of an NBA shootaround. The kind of caution that comes from being so close to something and not wanting to embrace its arrival lest a last-minute change of plans strip it all away.

He looked like a person awaiting a loved one at the airport - delighted, yet not believing it until he could lay eyes on the person. Like he’d won the lottery, but was waiting in line at the bank, unwilling to pop the Dom Perignon until the check cleared.

And when the moment finally came - when his return was solidified by 15 minutes of play, 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists - the joy was palpable.

Cousins said he “felt like a kid on Christmas” playing his first game since tearing his Achilles. He looked the part of his own description.

If Friday’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers was Christmas, then his first points - a thunderous, rim-rocking dunk off a pick-and-roll with Kevin Durant - were the biggest present under the tree.

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins said, grinning ear to ear. “It felt good. I never would have in a million years thought that would have been my first basket playing ball again. I like how it happened - I wouldn’t have changed it. I liked it.”

A year’s worth of angst, frustration, and difficulties seemed to wash off of Cousins as he sat in the recesses of the Staples Center, only a hundred feet or so from where Durant and Draymond Green had argued a mere two months ago. And with every smile he cracked and every joke he landed, Cousins made the “Warriors Are in Trouble” headlines that accompanied the last LA trip a distant, laughable memory.

How could the Warriors have chemistry problems when their newest player was mocking his opponents for their inability to guard him?

How could they be compromised when a visiting arena gave Cousins a standing ovation, only for him to call it “probably the fakest love I’ve ever received”?

It’s more than a little poetic: A player with a (fair or not) reputation for bulldozing locker rooms was the shining emblem of a fully restored one. The team is finally healthy, and judging by the atmosphere in the locker room before and after the game, the chemistry passed its physical with flying colors as well.

Speaking of poetry, that’s exactly how Steph Curry described Cousins soaring dunk. As evidenced by the bench reaction, this meant something to the team - as much as Klay Thompson’s record-setting shooting performance earlier in the year or Durant’s 20,000th point a season ago.

Cousins wasn’t asked to be a savior, and the Warriors didn’t need one. He was simply asked to work his way back to doing what he loves to do most - what he does better than nearly any human who has ever lived.

He called Friday one of the best days of his life, and the size of his smile allowed his message to resonate.

All he wanted was to play basketball again.

And he did.

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