SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- At times, having emotions on full display causes DeMarcus Cousins trouble. But not on Monday night at a Sacramento superstore -- because the emotion was all love at his annual Santa Cuz event.
Five years ago, Cousins began hosting the Santa Cuz holiday event to help underprivileged families in Sacramento and his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. In each location, he gives 100 kids a $200 gift certificate apiece to use for a Christmas shopping spree. Cousins' mother, Monique, hosted the Alabama event last week. Cousins says participating kids have come up to him years later to tell him thank you.
On Monday in Sacramento, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins arrives in a Santa Cuz T-shirt and sits in a chair in the electronics department to kick off the event. In front of him is a line of the lucky chosen children with unlucky circumstances -- shopping carts filled with presents purchased with their gift certificates.
"I don't know what to tell him. I'm kind of nervous," Chris Turner, 10, from Sacramento says as he waits.
"It's about every kid in the line," says Cousins. "That's the whole purpose of having it, to touch every kid and make their day better. Make them feel special."
Cousins lavishes time on them, taking pictures with them, and asking each kid what they purchased and why amongst other things, before having a picture taken with them.
"There was one little girl who bought pampers for her baby sister," Cousins says. "It's a kid. You don't expect them to think about things like that. Another kid bought supplies for the house: bed sheets, pillows, lamps. ... You don't expect that from kids, especially at Christmas. It shows you how much character these young kids have.
"It does [break my heart]. But I'm also impressed at the same time. I appreciate it. We're good. We got good kids coming up. It's impressive."
As the Kings' franchise player, Cousins has a rare well-rounded game at center and is a two-time NBA All-Star. He also is known to wear his heart on his sleeve. He has had his share of issues speaking his mind to the media, coaches, team personnel and referees. Off the court, he transforms into one of the most generous and caring players in the NBA. "Seeing the people smile" he says, "seeing the joy on their faces. This is definitely what Christmas is about."
Cousins once purchased a car for a Sacramento family in need after the father died in a motorcycle accident. He hosted 13-year-old Jonathan Harris, who has a rare form of spinal cancer, in a 25-person suite at a Kings game last season. Cousins paid for the funeral of Grant Union (Sacramento) High School football player Jaulon Clavo, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in November 2015. Cousins hosted town hall meetings with law enforcement and city officials in Sacramento and Mobile this year. And on Jan. 5, he is hosting a star-studded comedy show in Sacramento with all proceeds going to charity.
"I know I can change somebody's life," Cousins says. "It may be a small thing, but I'm going to do what I can. I'm just doing my part.
"This is something we thought of a while back. It's been going good ever since."
Cousins says his goal with Santa Cuz is to help "build back" Sacramento and Mobile the best he can. "I wanted to find a way to help," Cousins explains. "I have a weak area for kids that are 15 and younger. I am just trying to do my part to help out these families, these kids. Put smiles on their faces. Whatever I can do."
Cousins says that once he was "one of those kids." The 2016 Rio Olympics gold medalist was born to a single mom, a nurse, who worked to raise two boys and four girls. DeMarcus says his mom struggled to make ends meet, and when Christmas came around, he felt fortunate if he got just one of the presents he asked Santa for.
"I didn't get every toy, every shoe. I didn't," Cousins says. "But I spent it with my family. I'm big on family. I was raised up spending every one with my entire family, my brothers, my sisters and my mom. My mom did it to the best of her ability. She made it very special for us. We knew what the situation was. We were still grateful."