DALLAS — It took 12 seasons and one remarkable championship run butting heads with three of the game’s greatest scorers in succession — Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James — for Shawn Marion to get his just due as a lean, mean, defensive machine.
Yet into his 14th season, and as he aligns with a super-elite group of men — all of either considerably more height or girth than he — with at least 16,000 points (which Marion surpassed Monday), 9,000 rebounds (which he surpassed last week) and 1,500 steals, is the 6-foot-7, 228-pound Martix still one of the great overlooked all-around players of his time?
The group he joined? Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett. The first three are Hall of Famers and the fourth will be.
“I’ve got over a thousand blocks, too,” Marion chirped.
Indeed you do. Marion is one of five players with at least 1,500 steals and 1,000 blocks along with The Dream, The Mailman, The Doctor (Julius Erving) and Garnett, who, in his 18th season, is obviously the only other active player with Marion to have earned a spot among those legends.
“It’s hard to do; it ain’t easy,” Marion said. “You got to pride yourself on certain things and be that complete player to make it happen.”
As the Miami Heat visit Marion’s Mavericks tonight in Dallas (9:30 p.m. ET on TNT), the Matrix’s defensive assignment will be front and center as it typically is, the spotlight matchup against LeBron, the player Marion helped suffocate in the 2911 Finals.
And while that feat might have come as news to some, Marion’s done it his entire career. Overshadowed in Phoenix by the Suns’ high-powered offense, he continues to get it done it in Dallas. According to the Mavs’ stats maven known on Twitter as @mavstats, Marion over the last four seasons has held opposing starting small forwards to a 40.5 field-goal percentage, the lowest of any forward in the NBA (Boston’s Paul Pierce is second at 41.4 percent).
“You know what?” Marion said. “I work hard every summer, playing this game and learning this game. My whole career I’ve tried to make myself the best basketball player I can be and make my teammates better as well, and I have. I reached the ultimate goal in winning a championship, I’ve done it. Personal accolades, they come along as you walk on the journey you travel and obstacles you incur during your NBA career. This is my 14th season; I’m fortunate enough to be playing 14 years and I’ve just never taken anything for granted. It’s hard work to do this, to sustain this energy and this effort and this level for this long to do the things I’ve done.”
More often when Marion’s asked about the numbers he’s amassing, accomplished by so few yet seem to fly under the radar, he tends to get defensive for a moment, then shrugs, smiles and says, “You know what? It is what it is.”
But on this day, with his latest milestones still fresh, the four-time All-Star who last was one in 2007, seemed more determined to reflect on the rare versatility required to accrue numbers of such magnitude as his career totals for points and rebounds and steals and blocks and assists, too — another 90 dimes and he’ll have 2,000 — were rattled off.
This time he didn’t shrug and blow it off. Instead he bowed up with a vertebrae-stiffening, darn-right kind of pride.
“It’s hard, and especially at 6-7,” Marion said. “I commend myself, and I push myself. I challenge myself to do things that other guys don’t want to challenge themselves to do and I’m truly blessed to do it and be able to do it over a long period of time. I think some of that stuff is on you and some of that stuff is how; it’s determination. I’m a competitor. When you’re truly a real competitor, you’re going to go out and compete on both ends of the floor and do whatever you got to do to win.”
Marion, 34, has missed seven games this season with a knee sprain and a groin strain, and he’s played through pain to try to keep Dallas’ head above water until Dirk Nowitzki finally returns. He’s producing at a near-double-double level at 10.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. In his last four games, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 10.8 rebounds with 14 assists, five steals and four blocks.
As he was last season, Marion is again Dallas’ leading rebounder despite playing with 7-foot center Chris Kaman, 6-foot-9 forward Elton Brand and 6-foot-10 reserve center Brandan Wright.
“He just keeps going, man, he’s going strong and he’s been one of our horses this year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “And he’s played through injury and without him, we would be, I don’t know where we would be.”