Snicker if you will. Scoff if you must.
But Stephon Marbury might wind up having the last laugh.
At a time when NBA teams are hawkishly monitoring payrolls and squeezing contracts, particularly those to which pricey veterans might have grown accustomed, Marbury has signed a three-year deal that might keep him playing to age 39, 20 years beyond the night he was drafted as the NBA’s overall No. 4 pick.
The deal, of course, is with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association. That’s where the former Knicks, Suns, Nets, Celtics and Timberwolves point guard has thrived since January 2010, by which point the headstrong, selfish and occasionally wacky Coney Island kid had run out of NBA options.
From The Association looking out, Marbury has been in exile, still talented but not worth the headaches or the mismatch between his expectations and NBA reality. That he would head around the world, pursuing what’s left of his hoop dreams where a billion people don’t know or maybe care about New York point guard traditions or “Starbury’s” place in it, seemed to many stateside observers to be a proper come-uppance.
But from Marbury’s point of view, this is proving to be a dynamite third act. Last year, he led the Ducks to the CBA championship. He would have been named the league’s Most Valuable Player by now, except the CBA excludes foreign-born candidates.
And as Mark Dreyer of Global Times writes, the guy who teased (20.2 points, 8.1 assists per game through his first 10 seasons) but ultimately disappointed fans at four of his NBA stops at least (the Celtics were more meh for three months in 2008-09) has an entire nation’s basketball enthusiasts thinking big and feeling grateful:
When Yao Ming retired from basketball, the worry was that the sport’s popularity would wane. With Yi Jianlian unable to carry the torch overseas, the focus turned to the CBA and while it’s no substitute for the NBA in terms of quality, the Chinese league has definitely improved over the past few years.
Marbury should get as much credit as anyone for that improvement. He was here long before the NBA lockout forced a few players into earning a quick buck while US arenas remained closed and his public persona is so different to the one he left behind in the US that Knicks fans would swear you were talking about a different player.
Marbury is so popular there is a statue of him in Beijing, but he’s stayed humble and has even started on the road to coaching. But like the end of his playing days, it will likely be in China, not in the US. He’s already served as an assistant coach for the Beijing team in this year’s National Games in China, and has said he would love to coach the national side one day.
Imagine that. Imagine Marbury continuing along this maturity curve, making the transition from playing to coaching, maybe chasing Olympic gold for China some day and even earning a shot on an NBA team’s sideline. A whole lot of coaches we know would be muttering a hoops version of the frustrated mother’s creed (“May you grow up to have children just like you one day”). But there Marbury would be, all the same.
Meanwhile, here at HTB, we’d still be trying to get our heads around that “statue of him in Beijing” thing.