Three seasons into his $16 million contract with the Kings, Darren Collison is still waiting to do his job. The veteran point guard signed as a free agent in 2014 because he wanted to be a starter, and for a while he was.
But then a right hip flexor injury ended his season at the All-Star break. Then, the following season, he was the designated backup to one-year rental Rajon Rondo. Then during the most recent offseason he was involved in a misdemeanor domestic violence incident that earned him three years of probation, 20 days in an alternative sentencing program and a league-imposed, eight-game suspension that ends after Sunday’s game in Toronto.
Collison, who accompanied the Kings on their five-game trip, has watched Ty Lawson’s early struggles and is itching to play.
The Kings, he realizes, need him desperately. But right now he needs the Kings more.
“Basketball is an escape,” he said the other evening from Milwaukee. “I’ve been able to practice and be around the team, and that has helped a lot. Being around the guys has been great. But this is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through.”
Collison, 29, is a private person in a very public profession. Television cameras, video recorders, cellphones and notebooks are daily partners on the NBA travel circuit. Large salaries and high profiles come with intense, unrelenting scrutiny, in good times and in bad.
The Kings veteran point guard, who makes his season and Golden 1 Center debut Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets, understands this, accepts this, knows there is no place to hide. He won’t even try. While the veteran point guard would like nothing more than to put the entire matter to rest, to quietly work out his issues with his wife, Keyosha, he has agreed to become a spokesman for WEAVE, the county’s primary provider of crisis intervention for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“The last thing I want to do is focus on this,” he added, “but I want to let people know how much I care. I’m very sensitive about it. I’ll never condone it, will never condone it. And I also know that if you are involved in a situation like this, you have to take responsibility. You have to own it.”
Collison, who pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor domestic battery, refuses to discuss details of the incident that took place last summer at his home in Granite Bay. Based on the complaint, officers observed a visible mark on his wife. But according to three separate parties familiar with the circumstances and investigations, the seven-year pro never struck his wife – which partly accounts for the NBA’s unusually lenient punishment.
Besides fulfilling his legal obligations and undergoing counseling, Collison is attending classes at the Center for Fathers and Families, the counseling resource supervised by Sacramento City Councilman Rick Jennings. The extent of his involvement with WEAVE has yet to be determined.
“We actually had been talking with the Kings Foundation about a project that includes some of the players, where they stand up and can be the faces for the need for finding resolutions,” said Beth Hassett, executive director of WEAVE. “We need men to get involved in ending violence against women, and holding each other accountable for their behavior. The situation with Darren has sort of accelerated the process. The Kings have talked to him and he is very remorseful and very interested in working with us. And we welcome the help. We need men like him to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK.’ ”
As Collison learned while studying up on domestic violence, the numbers are staggering. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 people per minute are physically abused in the United States by an intimate partner; one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical assault by an intimate partner within their lifetime; and on average, domestic violence hotlines receive 20,000 calls per day. WEAVE receives 12,000 calls annually from victims of domestic or sexual abuse, which is consistent with the national figures.
“We’ve started to see a shift the last few years in terms of removing the stigma of this being only a woman’s issue,” Hassett continued. “The Kings get it. The men are starting to get it. We have done some programs with coaches in the past, and they have a great opportunity to be role models. What we often find is that the guys don’t always know what a healthy relationship is. Many of them have only known unhealthy relationships their entire lives. ‘What is bad behavior? What is appropriate behavior?’ That’s one piece of it.”
Collison, who grew up in a stable, two-parent household in the Southern California suburbs and has enjoyed a favorable reputation throughout his career, said he benefited from his research.
“It helped me become more aware, more sensitive of what domestic violence is,” he said. “There is no gray area here. You never want to be involved in anything like this. You just don’t put yourself in that position. We are all normal people and we all have issues. For me, personally, if I can help in a community, like with WEAVE, that’s what I’m going to do.”
But first he will make his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, intent on providing the Kings with his familiar quickness, midrange shooting and energy. That starting job still dangles, still there for the taking.
“We have a new coach, seven teammates,” he said, his mood lightening. “There is no need to panic. We have to adjust to each other and we need better pace. We need to get up and down a little more and get some easy baskets. But I really like some of the pieces we added. I think we can be really good.”