There is a constant debate on whether all employees can be good brand advocates, or that brand awareness and protection, solely lies on a specific team or department within an overall organization.

We learned first hand in the NBA, that you don’t have to be a member of the marketing team, to save a professional basketball franchise from embarrassment.

Sacramento Kings All-star big man DeMarcus Cousins concentration is scoring in the paint, and terrorizing defenses, while racking up the best scoring average in the Association.


Among the last things on the list of his responsibilities is worrying about what promotion the Kings are handing out to the fans.

But he walked in to Sleep Train arena February first, he saw an enormous problem.  On the first day of Black History Month, Cousins discovered that the team had also planned to hand out Lunar New Year shirts featuring “Year of the Monkey.”

Cousins is nursing an injury, who gets paid to concentrate on what’s happening on the court 24/7.  But in that moment, he discovered a wrong he needed to right, even if it wasn’t his wrong.

Cousins immediately took up the issue with Kings staff, and despite having the giveaway planned and advertised, executives used sound judgement in cancelling the promotion.

“I walk into the building and DeMarcus Cousins calls me over to an animated discussion he’s having with Kings operations people,” Kings announcer and former NBA player Marques Johnson revealed on Facbeook. “He ask me, ‘Olskool, what you think about this T Shirt? Told him a little insensitive on 1st day of Black History Month’. They pulled the shirts…”
Obviously Cousins could have kept his mouth shut and let the organization, and team management take the hit.  But he spoke up, in a critical time.

The shirts literally had to be pulled from the seats immediately prior to the game. CaLD-SDUkAAflx8


Without his involvement, the headlines could have been tough, the backlash severe, a fandom – and more importantly a culture – hurt.

While you can’t help but scratch your head at the decision-making of the team’s marketing department for not running through “the worst case” scenario, you can credit the organization for listening to Cousins.

Sure he’s the star player, and he has more ears to Kings management, but he spoke, and they listened.

Marketing decisions may not normally be a slam dunk for Cousins, but in this case, he jammed home a winner to save the brand.

“We all need a lesson in sensitivity,” Kings president Chris Granger told the Sacramento Bee. “In an effort to celebrate Chinese New Year, we had some concerns about the T-shirt giveaway, so we pulled them all before the doors opened. Certainly we don’t want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.”

As more companies break down the silos and urge complete synergy between departments, business teams, and from top to bottom from c-level to the mail clerk, this sets a good example of how organizations can encourage internal voices and empower the entire team to have that brand awareness.

Today everyone is watching.  Information, that once remained localized for days before reaching the national level, can travel globally in seconds.  A split second wrong decision can lead to a lifetime of bad feelings and brand damage.

Sometimes you can plan events, promotions and campaigns down to the perfect last detail, but then completely overlook a red elephant in the room.   That’s where the teamwork comes into play.

He also earned praise from others, including Johnson.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.11.38 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.15.35 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.14.59 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.14.37 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.14.11 AM

Cousins scored a massive triple-double off the court; big points and new fans for himself and the team avoiding the embarrassing giveaway, he assisted them in understanding the right decision, and most importantly he helped a franchise rebound from what would have been a terrible mistake.

It’s a lesson for companies to notice and pass on internally, because the message is certainly a game-changer beyond basketball.