From the second I learned that Stephon Marbury would star as himself in a Chinese play entitled "I Was Marbury" premiering this fall, I found myself overcome by the idea of the inimitable former NBA All-Star and two-time Chinese Basketball Association champion treading the Beijing boards, but also somehow unable to really hold in my imagination a vision of what that might look like. Now, thanks to some intrepid sleuthing by Jason Gallagher for Rolling Stone, my addled mind need no longer tax itself with feats of conjuring; I can go straight to the videotape.
Behold, a look at Starbury on stage at Wukesong's MasterCard Center from the opening performance of "I Was Marbury" (which also might be called "I Am Marbury," which might make more sense but is also unfortunately not quite as dramatic and resonant) earlier this week:
If you're like me, you don't speak or understand any of the various dialects of the Chinese language, so let's turn to Christopher Beam of The New Republic to help make some sense of what we're seeing here:
[...] “I Am Marbury” [is] an allegorical tale of two Beijing street musicians who get selected for an “American Idol”-style singing competition. Allegorical, because their ups and downs mirror the oscillations of Marbury’s own career. When the pair first arrives in Beijing with a guitar case and a dream, they encounter temptations, including a brothel Madame and a sleazy agent. During one of their musical performances — rendered, somewhat confusingly, as acrobatic basketball games — the nameless protagonist gets a phone call saying his father has died, a reference to a similarly tragic experience Marbury had while playing for the Knicks. The band eventually lands in court, a scene meant to evoke Marbury’s testimony in a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former Knicks executive against coach Isiah Thomas. The protagonist quits the show and slips into an existential funk, only to be pulled out by the disembodied voice of Marbury, who comes to him in a dream just after winning his second championship with the Ducks. “Live in the moment,” Marbury says, his face looming on a screen above the stage. “Be positive. Believe in yourself. Don’t follow others. … Everything comes from lessons from God. Stand up. Rise up. Cheer up!” Inspired by Marbury, the hero reunites with his band and, through teamwork, they win the song contest.
See, that sounds tremendous, and it doesn't even include the Marbury dancing, or the choreographed dribbling display. I can't claim to be a great lover of or especially knowledgeable fellow about musical theater, but I feel pretty comfortable suggesting that this production is groundbreaking, if for no other reason than it has to be the first musical ever, in China or anywhere else, to feature pieces of a sweatshirt being yanked off of a perhaps-only-metaphorical Stephon Marbury so that he can properly dispense wisdom to singers. That's a little thing called "showbiz magic."
Whether you expected Marbury to figure out how to tailor his game to be able to stick around as an NBA role player or to simply peter out and fade away like many of his peers, this is, to put it mildly, not exactly how many of us saw the latter years of the 37-year-old's career playing out. But for all its attendant weirdness, it's undeniably heartening and amazing that Marbury — who burned bridges and saw situations sour in Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix, New York and Boston before he eventually headed overseas — has found the level of love, acceptance and appreciation halfway around the world that makes something like a laudatory musical production turn from hastily dispatched fever dream into no-kidding reality. He's opened his heart to new homeland, and it's returned the favor; in a relationship like that, all things — even the wild ones — are possible.
“I look at this as all God’s will,” Marbury told Beam of The New Republic. “That’s my reality and what I think and what I feel. I think this was all part of the destiny, part of the plan in my life. I feel I like I had to go through all the things back home in order to understand and accept all of the things that take place now.”
"I Was Marbury" will reportedly run through Oct. 11 in a limited engagement. Here's hoping Steph can shake those opening-night jitters and tighten up his handles before the next time the curtain rises.
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