Stephon Marbury wants you all to know that he’s none of the negative things you’ve read about him. At least that’s how the former NBA All-Star is described in a new GQ feature story about his attempts at a career resurrection in China.
The story takes an inside look at Marbury’s much-chronicled short stay with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. It paints a picture of the heavily-polluted, industrial city of Taiyuan as the point guard’s shining basketball and business castle in the sky.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he told me. “The fans there, they showed me so much love. They gave me a second chance.” Here, Marbury raised his sleeve to show me where he’d had the characters of his Chinese name—Ma Bu Li—and a heart beside the word CHINA tattooed on his arm. “Two years ago, no one would get near me,” he continued. “Now I got [a major American bank] wanting to invest $50 million in my company. Man, China has changed everything for me. Everything.”
At times you get the feeling that China really did change everything for Marbury. He was a star on the court, scoring 55 points in a game during his first season. Fans were flocking to him, crowding around on the streets for photos and autographs. Businesses were taking a sincere interest in his Starbury apparel line.
But you also get the feeling that Starbury (the alter ego, not the shoe company) is what ultimately causes Marbury’s implosions. Despite Stephon’s grand plans – which range from expanding his apparel line globally to building a Utopian city for family and friends on a plot of land in South Carolina – his seeming lack of work ethic usually seems to get in the way.
And yet, so far, Marbury’s days in Taiyuan seemed curiously devoid of the meetings and factory tours you might expect of someone building a billion-dollar empire. Save a single one-on-one workout and a few treadmill sessions, Marbury didn’t seem all that concerned with getting in shape. So while the Chinese members of the Brave Dragons were off playing exhibition matches and training twice a day, the preseason stretch in Marbury’s entourage was a purgatorial study in petit-opulent torpor: usually emerging from quarters near the two o’clock hour for a meal at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Kentucky Fried Chicken; then to the World Trade Hotel for another bruising massage; then dinner at said American franchises.
So there’s little surprise when the story ends with a frustrated Marbury being cut by Shanxi. It was simply a rerun of the show NBA fans had seen played out in Minnesota, Phoenix and New York. This time, a new GM who never much cared for Marbury cuts him as a player then blames the move on Marbury’s excessive demands, although the team’s complaint that Marbury asked a $14-a-day hotel upgrade seems petty.
By the end of the story, the point guard has landed with another Chinese team and is once again enthusiastic about his future on the court and in the boardroom. But you can only think that this will end the same way the other opportunities did. Sooner or later, Starbury will re-appear to tear down Stephon Marbury’s dream.
Stephon Marbury is the guy who put his family’s hopes on his back and earned enough NBA money to move them out of Coney Island. Starbury is the guy whose trifling misdeeds prevented him from ever finding a long-term home anywhere.
Marbury is the guy who makes fans and reporters feel at ease around him. Starbury is the guy who pisses off front office executives.
And while Stephon Marbury genuinely seems to want to turn his fortunes around both on and off the floor, Starbury seems intent on demanding as much as he can while just coasting by on talent – almost guaranteeing that no one will want to work with him.
So while Stephon Marbury is a sympathetic, likable figure, Starbury is not. Problem is, they come in the same package. Unless Marbury can learn to separate himself from his alter ego, the end of this latest episode has already been written.