NBA bad boy now China’s shining light
BEIJING - Agence France-Presse
Stephon Marbury of Beijing Ducks reacts during a match against Xijiang team of the Chinese Basketball Association. AP photoStephon Marbury was supposed to be washed up after 13 grueling years in the NBA, but the one-time bad boy point guard has reinvented himself in China as the superstar of this season’s revelation, the Beijing Ducks.
The 34-year-old New Yorker is averaging about 22 points and six assists a game, leading the Ducks to a seven-win, no-loss record including victories over defending champions Guangdong and last season’s number two team, Xinjiang.
Not only has he become the most talked about former NBA player in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), but he is regularly on national TV, has over 163,000 followers on his Twitter-like microblog and pens a column in the China Daily newspaper.
After three years in the CBA, Marbury is not quite an overnight sensation, but since joining the Ducks this season he’s brought instant success, helping them to their best start yet and raising hopes of their first ever title.
And the sudden rise in fortunes is well-timed for Marbury, whose brand of low-cost “Starbury” basketball shoes are expected to hit Chinese stores in time for Christmas.
“He may be the best player in the league the way he is playing... if he keeps this up, (Beijing) is going to have an incredible season,” said Bob Donewald, coach of both the Xinjiang Tigers and China’s national team.
“Steph has brought a lot of confidence, he has brought determination and he has got them playing really good right now. It is his leadership as much as anything else,” the former NBA assistant coach said.
An NBA contract dispute has brought more American players to China than ever before, but Marbury has outshone all comers, including Xinjiang’s Kenyon Martin and Patty Mills, previously of the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers respectively.
In his third CBA season and with his third team, Marbury signed with Beijing, bringing his game to a major Chinese city that also serves as a base to market his footwear.
After Beijing’s 99-97 nail-biting win over Xinjiang on Friday, the former New York Knick downplayed his role and deferred to his team-mates.
“Our defense is the key to our success, our defense has been really good. Not only have we been playing hard defence, but our defense has been translating into getting a lot of easy baskets,” Marbury told AFP.
“For the most part I continue to do the little things, rebound the ball, try to get deflections, steals, try to get guys open shots, doing things to win the game.”
During a multi-million dollar NBA career, marred by public spats with coaches and team-mates, Marbury was often seen as a selfish “shoot first, pass second” point guard who paid too much attention to his personal statistics.
But here in Beijing, he has introduced his “love is love” strategy of sharing the basketball and building up the confidence of his sharp-shooting team-mates and making them better.
Four Ducks players average more than 10 points a game, including former Atlanta Hawks centre Randolph Morris, who averages 22 points and 10 rebounds a match, while two others average nearly nine points.
“We are supposed to share the ball, pass the ball to the open guy. Everyone knows their roles on the team,” Marbury said.
“Everybody on the team can pretty much shoot the ball. I was kind of shocked at first, but after the first week of practice, I realised that the guys can shoot the ball extremely well.”
With his Chinese name “Mabuli” tattooed across his forearm, Marbury has done everything he can to acclimatise to China, including eating the food and speaking the language, but winning is what endears him to his team-mates.
“Da Ma (big Marbury) initiates our entire offence; he also gets each of us motivated. After all these games, everyone can see how well he distributes the ball,” said veteran small forward Chen Lei.
“He gives every player on the team more opportunities; he gets us the ball in the right place at the right time, making it very comfortable to shoot.”
Since joining the league during the 2009-2010 season, Marbury has long said he hopes to bring his Starbury shoes, which retail for as little as US$15 in America, to China’s estimated 300 million basketball fans.
But Marbury’s commercial endeavors are not a distraction to the team, said Beijing coach Min Lulei, who had nothing but praise for his star player.
“I am very fortunate to have a player like this, he is very professional, there has been no distractions,” Min told AFP.
“It is simple. If he doesn’t put the game out on the court and win, then there will be no business development, if he plays well on the court, then his business is going to be good.”