Stephon Marbury scored 20 points in his final game today with the Chinese Basketball Association.
He kissed the floor before tip-off and after scoring only two points in the first half, summoned up that Starbury magic to erupt for 18 in the second half.
Bowing to the crowd, the kid from the Coney Island projects in Brooklyn had tears in his eyes.
"The experiences in China are very important in my professional career, even my life," he said during his retirement ceremony after the game.
After playing in the NBA for 14 years, Marbury came to the CBA in 2010 and won three championship rings in four seasons. But his story extended much further from the basketball court than anyone could have dreamed when they first started hearing about him as a middle school prodigy on the New York City hoops scene back in the late '80s and early '90s.
Stephon Marbury before the NBA
His story is one of the most remarkable tales in all of sports. I remember seeing him as a teenager in Rucker Park, giving grown men the business.
In 2014, I penned a piece for a Complex Magazine series that I produced entitled The Rucker Park Diaries. This entry was called, "An Evening With Stephon Marbury, aka The Handler" -
Joe Almeida and Lem Mills are basketball junkies. Natives and residents of Boston, they are also hoops historians, mentors and coaches who’ve been enraptured with the game since the early 1970’s. Every summer, they take a few road trips up to New York City to catch some of the best playground action throughout the city.
In 2002, they took a small group of mentees for a one-day trip up to 155th and Eighth Avenue, the Polo Grounds in Harlem. Here are their recollections of what they saw that evening in Rucker Park when Stephon Marbury, aka The Handler, suited up for Fat Joe’s Terror Squad team.
“We left Boston at about 7 o’clock in the morning, drove up to New York and got to Harlem at around noon. We walked around, got something to eat, took the kids around to 125th Street and gave them a truncated experience in terms of the rich history of the area. And after that, we went over to Rucker Park at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
You had to get in line a few hours before the games started, or you took the risk of not being able to get in the park. Steph was playing with Fat Joe’s team, Terror Squad, and it was easy to see the separation between a guy who was strictly a street-baller and a professional who would return to play a few games in the parks over the summer. That team had a lot of talent.
It was clear that Steph had worked on and mastered the fundamentals. He had the north-south game going on, he was attacking the paint in a straight line to either dish the ball off, lay it up or pull up for his vicious mid-range jumper, whereas the other guys were going east-west to play with the ball. Steph was so economical with his moves. He wasn’t doing anything flashy, just givin’ ‘em the tight in-and-out with his handles and putting in work.
Garnett teams up with a talented young point guard named Stephon Marbury, a pairing that's too good to true. About the NBA: The NBA is the premier professional basketball league in the United States and Canada.
Some people in the crowd were getting restless, like they wanted him to be out there performing tricks. But that wasn’t Steph’s game. He wasn’t going to make a mockery of the game because some dudes in the crowds were booing him. Steph was there to play ball and win. And he wasn’t out there trying to go nut either, trying to score 50 points or anything like that.
He was up there to do what he did, push the rock, get his teammates involved, make the right decisions as a distributor. He had his standard game, about 28 points, 14 assists, something like that. He was like a surgeon, just surgical with the way he was dissecting the defense.
As a true fan who understands how the game is meant to be played, who appreciates exceptional point guard play, it was a beautiful thing to see, especially in a place like Rucker Park in front of a packed crowd on a beautiful Harlem night as the sun is setting.
And it was cool for the young boys we brought up from Boston to be able to experience that and see one of the world’s best basketball players on that legendary stage, where guys like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Earl Monroe had all come up to Harlem, despite their NBA status, to show the streets and the playground some love.” – Lem Mills
As a part of #throwbackthursday, check out the top 10 plays from former NBA All Star, Stephon Marbury! About the NBA: The NBA is the premier professional basketball league in the United States and Canada.
“We stood in line for close to four hours. You never knew what players would show up, so we were excited to see Steph suiting up for Terror Squad. He was coming off of two recent NBA All Star game appearances with the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns. Steph’s game was at its apex at that point in time. A lot of people don’t remember that he was the best player on the court on a lot of nights at that time during his NBA career.
And the cool thing was that the full commercialization of the summer game hadn’t fully arrived yet, so you were watching more real basketball than you were watching a bunch of tricks. Kareem Reed, aka ‘The Best Kept Secret’, was in the backcourt with Steph for that Terror Squad team. They had a talented team. John Strickland, aka ‘The Franchise’, was one of their big men. The Jones brothers, Charles and Lamont ,played with them as well as Stephon’s little brother, Zach. Kareem and Steph were a magical backcourt together, two point guards who could both handle, dish and shoot from anywhere on the court.
And throughout the game, Steph was just playing textbook ball. He left all that dancing and stuff to some of the other guys. He was being guarded by a guy who had been a very good player in college, Bevon Robin, who was a star at Fordham University. And they were going back and forth. You could tell that Marbury was probably playing at about 75% of what he was really capable of, but it was a great matchup. Bevon was doing some work out there of his own.
It was a close game all the way until the last two minutes, when Steph just took over and really began to exert himself. When he flipped that switch, he started playing with a strength and a burst that the other guys didn’t have. It was easy to see why he was a pro, and why the other guys, who were all incredibly talented in their own right, weren’t.
Stephon Marbury is an American professional basketball player . The 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), 205 lb (93 kg; 14.6 st) point guard was selected out of the Georgia Institute of Technology by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 4th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, but was traded shortly thereafter to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He put the game out of reach and with less then a minute to go, Terror Squad was up by about ten points. All of the excitement started to fade as it was pretty apparent that Terror Squad was going to win. A lot of people stopped paying attention to the game and as Terror Squad was about to inbound the ball, it just seemed like all of the highlights and the crowd going crazy was gonna be on pause until the next game.
The guy making the inbounds pass just tossed the ball high in the air towards the basket. The middle of the lane was congested, but Steph took a couple of quick steps and took off from the dotted line. He elevated like crazy, over everybody! He caught the ball in mid-flight and threw down a vicious two-handed dunk. I mean, it was so violent it was rude.
Most six-footers who can jump might be able to do that if there’s no defense on them. But Steph did it in a lane congested with big men. He was never really known as a high-flyer in college or the pros, and Steph wasn’t a big guy.
But in Rucker Park, he would show flashes of what he could do in terms of his flight game. And he definitely showed it on that night. The park just got quiet and everybody said, ‘Oooooooooh!’ No one was expecting that.” – Joe Almeida
The larger basketball world might have taken him for granted over the years, despite the fact that he was a McDonald's All-American coming out of Lincoln High School in Brooklyn who went on the average 19 points and five assists as a freshman at Georgia Tech before being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Rare footage of NBA star Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks) playin' college ball at Georgia Tech in 1995/1996. Enjoy the Coney Island's finest baller... Track by Dilated Peoples - You Can't Hide
I'll never forget the excitement he brought, alongside a young Kevin Garnett, in leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to the playoffs in 1997 and 1998, or the All-Star status he achieved with the then-New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns.
Most people focus on the tail end of his NBA career with the Knicks and the Celtics, in which he gained headlines more for what was happening off the court. But his talent was nevertheless undeniable.
When he went overseas to play in China, few could have foreseen how he would reinvent himself. After his first two years with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons and the Foshan Dralions, he solidified himself as perhaps the greatest player ever in Chinese Basketball Association history during his tenure with the Beijing Ducks from 2011 to 2017.
Steph chopped it up with Rod Strickland and I on our podcast, Strictly Speaking, in December 2016 to talk about his life and how his experiences in China grew to become so meaningful and crucial to his own personal reinvention. If you haven't listened to it, please do so, as Steph's own words are more powerful than any story one could craft about him.
How the former hoops star went from NBA outcast to international trailblazer
People clowned him for creating his own shoe line and selling them for $15, but those who understood his motivations applauded him for providing kids who couldn't afford to pay over $100 for a pair of sneakers a viable option in a market oversaturated with overpriced footwear.
At the end of the day, he became something much bigger than an NBA star, with a reach that extends beyond borders and simple classifications.
His story and journey were different, but they were just as, if not more, compelling than one you've ever heard before.
When Stephon Marbury came to China, he saw the potential to revive his career in a fast-growing basketball market. Five years later, he is starring in a musical about his life in Beijing. He is beloved by millions of basketball fans. "I am playing for the rest of my life," he says.
The man has statues and a museum named after him. He's established himself and his brand as a viable force in the international business community. And he found himself once again over in the Far East, when many dismissed him as a troubled has-been.
Ayo Steph, ya done did good my man. From Brooklyn to Beijing, you authored one of the most remarkable basketball tales the world has ever seen.