Stephon Marbury's career finds new life in Asia

MANILA, Philippines – On the evening of March 30th 2012, Stephon Marbury raised his arms in triumph. 

The confetti was falling like rain. Passionate fans of the just-turned champions Beijing Ducks screamed in jubilee, deafening the MasterCard Center in Beijing, China. Marbury’s teammates surrounded him in pure joy, treating him as the hero who came and conquered Chinese basketball in just a few years.

He had worked all his life for that moment. Suddenly, all those tough ordeals in the NBA didn’t worry him anymore, at least not in that point in time. Gone were the painful longing weeks of contract negotiations. Gone were the countless of clashes and public feuds with coaches like Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. 

All the drama no longer mattered.

Marbury was a champion. He didn’t do it in the NBA, but the Chinese Basketball Association was nothing to laugh at, either. On March 30, 2012, Starbury was on top of the world, haters be damned.

Stephon Marbury would continue to live on.

The Young Kid from Lincoln High turned Yellow Jacket

From the Bronx of Brooklyn, to the playgrounds of NYC, the state of New York has always been a hotbed for young, on-the-rise basketball stars.

Marbury was no different. A product of Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, the future NBA All-Star quickly turned heads in the most popular hoops state in America, even earning the title New York State Mr. Basketball in his senior season.

With his dazzling display of ballhandling on the court and explosive scoring ability, pundits designated Marbury the next in line of famous NYC hoops heroes. His capabilities on the hardwood earned him an invitation to the 1995 McDonald’s All-American event, a top five ranking in the best HS recruits list of that year, and the voracious recruitment of then Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach, Bobby Cremins.

Marbury would accept the scholarship to Georgia Tech, teaming up with future NBA players in Matt Harpring and Drew Barry, as the trio led the Yellow Jackets to a 24-12 record and a trip to the NCAA tournament in March.

However, a 17-point loss to Cincinnati put a halt to Marbury’s maiden collegiate season, and not long after he would declare himself eligible for the 1996 NBA Draft – one of the best in league history.

And so, a whirlwind of a career was set to begin.

He just didn’t know it yet. 

The NBA

After being selected fourth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the ’96 Draft, Marbury was swiftly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ray Allen and a future first-round pick, forming a dynamic duo of him and the young Kevin Garnett in The Twin Cities.

Along with Marbury many other notable NBA stars were selected in 1996, namely Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash to name a few.

“I think our draft class is the best,” Marbury mentioned in an interview with the media during his most recent trip to the Philippines. “I mean, look how many MVPs we got: Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash. I mean people don’t even realize (Peja) Stojakovic was in our draft class.”

Marbury continued, also mentioning names like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Antoine Walker: “I mean it's definitely the best class. I mean there's so many All-Stars, MVPs.”

Marbury’s first season saw him put up averages of 15.8 PPG and 7.8 APG, earning him a nod for the 1997 All-NBA First Rookie Team with Abdur-Rahim, Marcus Camby, Walker, and Iverson, who won the Rookie of the Year award.

Marbury managed to lead the T-Wolves to the postseason along with Garnett in ‘97, albeit with a quick exit at the hands of the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets. With averages of 21.3 PPG and 7.7 APG in the first round, it was clear he had made a name for himself.

The next year, Marbury and KG would lead Minnesota to the postseason again, this time pushing their first-round opponents, the Seattle Supersonics, to the limit in an epic five-game series. Seattle wound up victorious, but not before having to deal with the pesky team from Minny.

Despite consecutive setbacks, the future looked bright for the upstart Timberwolves. However, things quickly turned sour in the lockout-shortened 1999 NBA season, when Marbury demanded a trade from the franchise.

There were a number of reasons that came out on why Marbury asked to leave the rising franchise. One of which was because of his reported jealousy over Garnett earning a huge contract extension.

For his part, the three-time NBA All-Star discussed how much he enjoyed playing with KG, among others.

“I enjoyed playing with Kevin (Garnett), Terry Porter, Sam Mitchell, Anthony Peeler. All of those guys that I played with when I was younger, they all had an influence on my career and now. I mean they all taught me something.”

Marbury’s request for a trade was upheld, sending him back east to New Jersey where he first became an All-Star and first scored 50 points in a game, but failed to lead the Nets to the postseason.

Nonetheless, his success on the court reached new heights at the turn of the century, as his averages continued to skyrocket. Furthermore, his endorsement with And1 later on made him a constant fixture away from the game.

“I signed with And1 when I first came into the game and I wanted my shoes to be priced under than all the other shoes,” according to Marbury, who mentioned that price tags for his sneakers ranged from $50-$60. 

“Then I ventured off with a company for my brand called Steve & Barry's where I did a licensing deal. It did really well then they dumped me.”

“They did what they did and we moved on.”

However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After the debacle with Steve & Barry’s, years later in 2006, Marbury would launch his own brand: Starbury.

“I kept my brand and pretty much said it's time to do it myself as opposed to doing it with other people, you know? So I thought the time was perfect, going on my own thing, then it led me to China and it's just been growing since.”

So much so that Marbury plans on opening a Starbury store here.

“Hopefully by school, when they (students) go back to school,” he says.

The marriage to the Nets was quick as well, as Starbury was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2001 for Jason Kidd.

Though leaving New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from his home state, may have been tough, the talented point guard was given the chance to lead another club with a pair of young stars on the rise in The Valley of the Sun.

“My time with Phoenix was okay. It was, you know, it was okay. It was cool. I enjoyed playing with Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire. That was a lot of fun.”

Marbury’s tenure with the Suns saw them make the postseason only once in 2003, as they lost to the Spurs in six games despite taking Game 1, in which Starbury put up the most memorable game-winner in his NBA career.

But in 2004, returned home to play for his hometown Knicks.

“When I went to the Knicks, I enjoyed playing with Kurt Thomas. Kurt Thomas and I played really well together. We played pick-and-roll really well,” Marbury noted.

That was probably the only thing that went well in The Big Apple for Marbury, whose period with the Knickerbockers focused more on his feuds with coaches Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, and to some extent, Mike D’Antoni.

In 2009, after a long, tiring process, he was waived from wearing orange and blue, while concurrent speculation over whether or not he would remain in the league made itself present.

“Well at first it was really good and then, you know, when you lose in New York it's really bad. Period,” Marbury said about his time in NYC.

But before his NBA career would come to an end, a trip to Beantown was first in order.

“I learned a lot from the coaches (in Boston). It wasn't so much [just] Doc Rivers, you know?” claimed Marbury, who mentioned he has the utmost respect for the now Los Angeles Clippers coach.

“Winning in Boston… it gave me an opportunity to be in an environment where winning was a habit and doing things in a specific way was a way in order to be able to play in a manner to win championships. That rubbed off on me in a really positive light even though I didn't play as much as I would have liked.”

Marbury, who reunited with Garnett in Boston, scored eight markers in his debut with the team, but wound up averaging just 3.8 PPG in 18 MPG in 23 appearances.

“I still learned a lot and, you know, what I can say about Doc, he gave me a chance,” Starbury added. “Playing with those guys, it was cool.”

Following the team’s second-round elimination in the 2009 Playoffs, the franchise offered him a one-year veteran’s minimum contract for the 2009-2010 season, but he rejected.

For him, it was time to move on.

I look at the ball being the globe – you could go different places

His most recent visit to the Philippines was Marbury’s fourth, and it’s a sure thing that he’ll come back more often. As a matter of fact, the three-time NBA All-Star plans on purchasing his own home here, which he mentioned during the launch of his ‘Jersey for a Cause’ project on Saturday, July 26, at Heroes, Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City.

Here's the official jersey for the Jersey for a Cause Movement: Love is Love #rstream #MarburyMovement pic.twitter.com/7yCb9GCiHE — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) July 26, 2014

One of the reasons why Marbury will continue to come to the country – a place that he considers a second home – is because of his charitable projects. His most recent one is dedicated to raising funds for the Ahon Pamilyang Lansangan Foundation and for members of the National Press Club who need medical and educational assistance.

“Steph has a lot of plans for the Philippines,” his agent, Philippines native Sheryl Reyes, mentioned during the launch.

“It’s fun for me. It’s my way to give back to the children who are in need,” explained Marbury, who added, “Basketball is just a sport,” and that he is dedicated to helping those in need.

“Even if he doesn't have a place, it's part of our schedule that he comes here. Most of his projects are actually also focused on Manila," Reyes added.

“I believe home is where the heart is. The love in the Philippines is the same,” according to Marbury.

During the press launch, Marbury was seen carrying one of the sick children he plans on raising funds for. While this was taking place, for a few moments, Marbury was seen playing with the little girl, looking like a guy who was thoroughly enjoying every second of spending time with the child, like a guy who wanted nothing more than to make the young kid feel better.

Stephon: basketball is just a sport. I look at the ball as being the globe. You could go different places #rstream pic.twitter.com/i4nmdj7QjF — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) July 26, 2014

“I mean, I hope one day as I'm sitting, thinking, where the kids won't have to fly to Taiwan or fly to Hong Kong (for medical assistance),” Marbury said. 

“Because if you have specialists here (in Manila) or something like this, you can cut down on the cost of travel expenses. We're just trying to create a program where it gives people opportunity to be able to go to the program to have the opportunity to try to get cured, you know?”

Starbury’s next mission is simple.

“That's really from my vision of what I see and how I can try to continue to help the children.”

“A lot of people talk about doing things but don’t put the action.”

Hello, China

“There’s three sides to the story,” Marbury said about his departure from the NBA during the press conference.

Nevertheless, in January 2010, he officially signed in the CBA to play for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons. In his first season, the electric point guard showed he still had game, averaging 22.9 PPG, 9.5 APG, and 2.6 SPG, though his club failed to make the playoffs.

The next season Marbury made a pitstop to play with Foshan Dralions, before moving to the Ducks in for the 2011-2012 season. He led his team to a 13-0 start, made the CBA Playoffs for the first time, and then led his club to the title over the Guangdong Southern Tigers in five games.

Two years later, Marbury would lead the franchise to a second title.

“It was a challenge at first but I had to flush out bad habits that come from living in America,” Marbury said. 

This offseason, Starbury had surgery on his knee and said he plans on testing it out before deciding how long more he wants to remain playing. However, a possible stint in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) is possible.

“I’m not ruling it out (playing in the PBA). Never ruled it out.”

Currently at 37-years-old, the New Jersey native may not have a lengthy period left in terms of playing, but he did say that coaching, among others, is something he wants to embark on in the future. 

Whether that’s in the NBA, or elsewhere, is not yet certain.

Today’s NBA

“When Kobe's (Bryant) playing, when Kobe's at it, when he's healthy and playing, I think Kobe's the best player in the NBA.”

The answer was simple in Marbury’s eyes.

Though it may have been a personal choice.

“I mean LeBron (James) is, right now, the best player in the NBA, you know? I personally think Kobe is just, he's a killer. Period. That's what I like and what I love as far as basketball. I like guys that kill and you know that's just his style and that's my style.”

Marbury’s athleticism and on-court demeanor made him one of the most thrilling point guards to watch in the NBA during his time. The same characteristics that make a current player for the Chicago Bulls, despite being absent for about two years now, as exciting as Starbury was.

“I think Derrick Rose is the best point guard, if he's playing, if he's healthy.”

Marbury also stated while today’s game may not be as physical as that of yesteryears, the direction the league is going under its new commissioner is a good one.

“I'll say this: I think Adam Silver is more involved in the new generation and I think he has a different understanding as opposed to what he viewed and what he saw from how things were done prior.

“I'll say that.”

It was clear from the onset that Marbury had the talent and athleticism for NBA stardom. Basketball historians can only ponder what his place in league history would be had he stayed with the Timberwolves and Garnett or found a permanent home for the most part of his career.

However, Starbury isn’t losing sleep over what could have been. He’s become a basketball icon in China, one who was granted his own statue. But beyond the hardcourt, what Marbury has done for less fortunate kids and other human beings across the world is absolutely commendable.

He’s right; basketball is just a sport. There’s more out there than playing the game, and Marbury has made sure to make the most of his assets to help those in need. That, in the long run, is more valuable than how many points he puts up, how many MVPs or championships he wins, or how historians view his legacy when he decides to hang up his sneakers.

Whether it be his business prowess, talent on the hardwood, or charitable causes, this much is clear: Stephon Marbury continues to live on. - Rappler.com