Stephon Marbury’s eight years in China put a gonzo basketball career on an unlikely arc that he hopes will one day end in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Before the season, Marbury announced that the 2017-18 campaign would be his last and on Feb. 11 he’ll play his final game in the Beijing Fly Dragons’ regular season finale. This is very important news in a nation with a population over a billion people.
Marbury averaged 19.3 points, 7.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 14 seasons, but hit rock bottom during a surreal 24-hour livestream meltdown during the summer of 2009 that raised questions about his sanity and emotional stability. The two-time NBA All-Star has become a Chinese basketball legend after leaving the NBA in ignominious fashion.
Marbury initially embarked on his fresh start with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2010 after wearing out his welcome in the NBA. His redemption tour peaked during his five seasons as a Beijing Duck, during which he claimed three CBA Championships and a CBA Finals MVP. He was honored with his own statue by the Beijing Ducks while his life story was adapted into a Chinese play and a movie.
Marbury spoke with ESPN The Undefeated’s Marc Spears about his impending retirement.
“I’m tired, man. I’m tired. I played 22 years,” Marbury, whose 41st birthday is on Feb. 20, told The Undefeated. “It’s all good. I’m straight with how it is right now. I like being able to have control over going out the way I want to go out. I’m 100 percent at peace with it. One hundred percent.”
Marbury’s NBA career was marked by tumult and controversy. He requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves after feuding with Kevin Garnett, breaking up a promising duo and his opportunity for a storybook ending with the Knicks quickly went sour. He also implicitly blackmailed head coach Isiah Thomas after getting benched before a matchup against the Phoenix Suns and was bought out of his Knicks contract in 2009.
In the Far East, he re-emerged as a composed figure and the number one option on multiple championship squads.
“I have three championships in a country where I don’t speak the language,” Marbury said. “People don’t even know how hard it is to play in China. People think it is easy for the foreign players, but it is really not. It’s difficult. You can ask JR [Smith] and Tracy [McGrady]. It’s not just about your ability to score. It’s just about being able to try to win.
As the fourth overall pick in a draft class that featured future Basketball Hall of Famers such as Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash among other All-Stars, but was overshadowed by brighter talents. Marbury harbored dreams of an NBA comeback last fall, but opted to finish his career in China. Yet, he believes his exploits abroad have affirmed his Hall of Fame credentials.
“My numbers are Hall of Fame. That’s first,” Marbury said. “You look at guys who have never won championships on the globe, they are in the Hall of Fame. Two, what I have done to help basketball globally to bridge the gap from America to China, with China being one of the main components on the Earth for basketball, that right there alone should bridge that gap.
“It’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. So, for basketball, I played in Olympics, I played in the Junior Olympics. With what I’ve done and given to basketball is all Hall of Fame.”
Those aspirations are wishful thinking and classic Marbury hyperbole. His NBA career was too rocky to earn Hall of Fame-level acclaim, but on a personal level, his foray into China resulted in a reformed reputation and transformed the former troubled star into a individual content with facing his post-basketball future.
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