QUINN COOK, MORE THAN AN UNDERDOG STORY.
Everybody loves a good sports underdog story, especially in NBA Basketball. In today’s superstar driven league where the focus is more on entertainment and gossip than ever before it’s nice to have something inspiring and wholesome to help balance out all the hype. Every now and then it’s good to show the other side of things, something real and with a little substance, just to remind us fans of what the game is really about.
That’s why ‘feel good’ stories like that of Golden state Warriors Point Guard Quinn Cook or even the Lakers 10 year G-League veteran Andre Ingram – who recently was called up for the final 2 games of the season- dominated headlines during the end of April. It was was the perfect way to close out the last week of NBA basketball before playoffs on a positive note.
In fact I’ve seen almost every NBA sports media news outlet story pick up the story of Quinn from this Sports Illustrated piece to your typical post on Twitter & Instagram like that above. So I thought I’d give my 2 cents on the topic.
Many basketball fans would come to know the name Quinn Cook for the first time last month from the headlines, giving him a nice “15 minutes of fame”, not to belittle his spectacular play which no doubt had already earned him quite a few fans this season in the Bay Area. But for people like me who’ve been a long time fan of the D.C. native and former Blue Devil, watching Quinn “Cook” on the NBA stage wasn’t anything new or unexpected. His “meteoric rise” this season from the G league to the Warriors was actually years in the making. And the underdog story/ image he’s being given is a little misleading.
It’s not like that being an underdog is a bad thing though. It’s almost a term of endearing in many ways. In sports being one has it’s advantages. As the saying goes, “everybody loves an underdog”.
If you ever watch an ‘underdog’ in a sports match he or she is that one player who is rooted for no matter what, despite the odds stacked against them. Win or lose, the underdog always comes out the “peoples champ” because they have nothing to lose. That is the appeal of it all. At the same time, however, the label can also be seen as a diss or slight used to characterize a player who is seen as undeserving or simply not good enough. In that way it can be a detriment to a player on their road to success.
While it’s hard to argue Cook didn’t deserve to be in the NBA (he spent 4 years at Duke learning the game under College basketballs greatest coach after all), most of the Basketball world probably still saw him as not good enough. Yea, us college basketball fans all knew he could ball. Convincing that to NBA scouts he could do it on the next level was another thing all together.
Going undrafted after Duke could’ve been the end Cooks hoop dreams altogether, and ever since, his journey to the NBA was not without it’s share of ups and downs… literally. He’d spend the next could years getting called up from the NBA developmental league to the Pro’s and back down again. I believe his first shot at the NBA was back in the summer of 2015, which is a couple months before the time I met him randomly two years ago during NBA ALL Star Weekend.
At this point in his career I don’t he wasnt on any NBA roster. I think he had just came off a brief stint playing with the Cavs during the preseason and was soon be waived by the team who was then the reigning world champions. Cook would subsequently join their D-League affiliate Canton Charge so technically he had made it to the NBA – which is an accomplishment in its own right for any player- but for him, i don’t know if making it to the league was as much of a personal goal as making it in the league was. I’d like to think the latter, but at that time it doubted it and I’ll explain why.
When I met Cook he didn’t really come of as an NBA player. Really nobody other than me recognized him. He wasn’t involved in any of the All Star weekend activities. He was basically enjoying the game like me as a fan. I’m guessing he had enough NBA friends/connections to be court side or even in the locker room but he wasn’t. The difference between him and any other person in the room at that time was in distinguishable. He was just a regular guy. Of course, being huge college basketball fan, I knew he was “somebody” so I went over to talk to him.
One thing about meeting NBA players you admire is they often seem larger than life both literally and physically in stature. My first impression with Cook was the opposite. He wasn’t exactly NBA size. He was shorter than I imagined and most importantly didn’t carry himself like somebody who could play in the NBA or even wanted to make it. At that moment I wanted to give him a pep talk on how he should “stay on his grind” and how he’ll make it back on the Cavs eventually but I didn’t say that, cause honestly I didn’t believe it. I’m was just being a realist. Instead I just talked a little about his time a Duke… really I don’t even remember what I said. All I know is meeting him was a reality check. These guys trying to make the NBA, most of them are just like me and you. At least Quinn Cook was. After that day I rooted for him even more eventhough I probably believed in him a little less.
History will tell you Cook obliviously believed in himself more than I did. And in hindsight it actually makes sense. During All Star maybe I was blinded by the lights. As if that’s the measure of success in the NBA. I meet quite of few star NBA players that weekend, but Quinn cook was the one encounter I remember the most and to this day (except that one time talking trash to Lebron). The one thing that impressed me most about meeting Quinn is that he was humble and seemingly unfazed by everything around him; not the hype, celebrities, media or excitement of it all.
Like I said, it’s not like Cook was a stranger to fame or the spotlight. He did play 4 years at Duke one of the most prestigious Basketball programs in the Nation after all. His 2015 National Championship team was one of my favorite NCAA basketball groups that I can remember and I’m not really even a Duke fan. After college, his journey through the NBA D-league was just as impressive, from being NBA rookie of the year in 2016, to the ALL Star MVP and even this past season where he averaged around 23 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds and was the first player ever to record a 50/40/90 in a season. He also the league All Star game MVP in 2017. Yea, I know it’s the “developmental league” but nevertheless Cook still dominated. Check his highlight reel if you need proof.
Anyone who had watched Cook play one game in the G-league this past season had to know he truly didn’t belong there…. not for long at least. He was clearly NBA level talent. His own NBA friends and family knew. I knew. It was just a matter of time until the rest of the NBA and it’s fans found out. Soon enough Quinn would get his shot in the league.
Although Cook got his big break playing for the Warriors in 2017, his official NBA debut was back in 2016 after being called up from the Dallas Mavericks, only to be sent back down after his 10-day contract finished. Blink and you might’ve missed it. That moment was just the beginning of a NBA/G-league state of limbo that would define his career for the next 2 years as NBA teams like the Pelicans and Hawks made Cook’s life no different from that of a yo-yo on a string between the minor and pro leagues. Up down and up he’d go signed one day only to be waived soon after. Cook never lost hope however, putting off overseas offers while maintaining his trust in g-league knowing he was destined for the NBA and nothing less. Ultimately he caught the attention of Warriors who picked him up for the 2017-18 season on a two-way contract.
Come December 6th, in only his 4th game with Golden State Cook would get his first start for Golden State vs Charlotte, filling in for an injured Curry. Cook would struggle to score posting just eight points including three assists and three rebounds in 22 minutes. Not exactly a great start, but the best was yet to come. After another trip back in the G-League, the month of March would prove to be a monumental one. After dropping 41 points in a game for the Santa Cruz Warriors. The Golden state Warriors (still without Curry) would soon come calling yet again. This time he would settle into his role as the Warriors floor general nicely and after a few break out games, he started to make a name for himself in the league. The Warriors seemed to have found themselves a new backup point guard. As of April 10 he had offers of an official long term deal. No more 10 day contracts. And now in May as I type this, he’s currently on the official Playoffs roster, balling in the WCF and likely to earn his first NBA championship by next month. What a year. Not bad for an “underdog” at all.
Well before he stepped foot in Oracle Arena Quinn Cook was a star. The Golden State just gave him the opportunity to shine. With the news of his new 2 year contract and addition to the Warriors play off roster, you can say he official “made it” in the NBA even though he has much further to go. Playing back up to Steph Curry is promising much playing time, but did I think he would make it to the point of backing up arguably the best PG in the league on one of the greatest NBA teams of all time, basically overnight? Of course not.
As competitive as the NBA is today especially for guards, the manner in which Cook ended up where he is now at this stage in his NBA career defies most conventional means to NBA success. It’s pretty unbelievable. I’ve watched plenty of “better” players, bigger names, higher prospects never even make it to the league, let alone earn time off the bench for reigning world champions in essentially their first season. I’ve heard some refer to Cooks rise as “Quinnsanity”, and in many ways his time with the Warriors is eerily similar to a Jeremy Lin on the Knicks, minus the being Asian part or being in the biggest city in the world…. not to mention all the madness that surrounded the Knicks franchise at the time.
Before Linsanity hit, Jeremy Lin’s main priority in New York was to get off his brothers couch and maybe get a apartment of his own. Quinn likewise just wanted to find a steady NBA home. Nonetheless, I don’t think its fair to compare Lin and Cook because Lin’s path to the NBA was a true underdog story. He literally came out of nowhere, had a hot month and the rest is history. Lin is still a NBA caliber player no doubt, maybe at his even best far better than Cook, but what Cook has has accomplished throughout his short career in one season with the Warriors is more admirable given his circumstances. I attribute more to his grind, persistence and as people like to say “trusting the process” than luck or just making “making the most of his opportunity” the warriors gave him.
I read on a internet forum that for aspiring players the NBA is all about “chances” and making the most of that defining moment. While this is true in some extent especially in the case of the Andre Ingram as I mentioned earlier or even Jeremy Lin, there is more to “making it” in the NBA than stepping up during your moment in the spotlight and gaining 15 minutes of fame. Cooks “moment” was 3 years in the making. He wasn’t an overnight sensation created by the media like Lin for ratings. His journey from the G-league to the Warriors is no trendy Cinderella story nor is his success a fluke or longshot. He had more than earned the opportunity to contribute to a team already full of All Stars, MVP’s and future hall of famers. Quinn always belonged in the NBA and it was finally time the league let him ‘Cook’.