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Former NBA All-Star guard Stephon Marbury looks on as an assistant coach for the Beijing team last month during its game against Heilongjiang at the National Games basketball preliminary in Chongqing. Provided to China Daily
Beijing Ducks' star import wants to add another string to his bow
Former NBA star Stephon Marbury has taken a major step toward realizing another dream in China.
After 13 often-turbulent NBA seasons, Marbury has reinvented himself in China by winning a championship, earning a massive fan base, writing a regular column for China Daily and even seeing a statue of himself erected outside the premier basketball arena (MasterCard Center) in the capital city.
Still, his China ambitions are not done yet as he has started down another career path - as a basketball coach.
The opportunity came when Beijing Ducks head coach Min Lulei invited him to be his assistant during the National Games preliminaries last month in Chongqing.
"It's pretty amazing. It's humbling ... it's something that you don't expect to happen so quickly," the 36-year-old told China Daily recently after helping Beijing qualify for the final stage of the high-profile event.
"I made no secret that I want to coach basketball here in China and I want to be part of the growth and development here. This is definitely the beginning."
Keen to get into his new role, the star guard returned to Beijing from holidays in the US in early April - just a week after the Ducks' CBA season ended at the semifinal stage. He was at practice the next day, ready pass on his experience to the team by demonstrating moves in training and shouting at courtside during warm-up games.
During Beijing's 4-1 campaign in the qualification tournament, Marbury was seen on bench sharing ideas with coach Min and on the court leading pre-game stretching exercises. He even mopped the floor during timeouts.
Marbury took his role so seriously that he lost his voice.
"I love this job," said a hoarse Marbury after a training session. "Maybe I need to buy some throat candy. It's just the beginning."
The Brooklyn native is now a far cry from the player who was involved in public feuds with two Knicks' coaches, Larry Brown and Isaiah Thomas, during his stint in New York, where he was called the "most reviled athlete in town" by the New York Daily News.
He's now a mentor for young players.
"He's been doing that (teaching us like a coach) all the way. The only difference is he did it on the court (with the Ducks) and now he does it on the sidelines," said 20-year-old Beijing forward Zhai Xiaochuan.
Coach Min is just as impressed as Zhai.
"I feel steady inside when he's at my side," said the 50-year-old, who steered the Ducks to their first CBA championship last year. "He's always helping to prepare for games during the season. I am sure he will be a good coach in the future."
However, his work with Beijing is far more simple than the national post his ultimate aim - which requires more than just basketball knowledge and coaching skills.
Language is the first major barrier, although Marbury has picked up some Chinese during his four years in the country.
Marbury, who borrowed Chinese primary school textbooks to learn the language, said he still needs an interpreter to make his points clear during practice, but he can order drinks in Mandarin.
The global language of basketball also helps to iron out some of the communication gaps.
"Coaching to me is simple. It is not as hard as people may think. It takes a lot of patience and belief. Once you build that trust in the players you go to war with, everyone is on the same page."
Beijing playmaker Sun Yue, who plays for the Beijing Olympians, said communication had never been an issue for him.
"No problem," said the 27-year-old who played with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2008-09 season. "I understand English and he speaks a little Chinese. And the game is something in common."
Marbury is also keenly aware of the cultural differences. Whereas basketball is an entertainment business in the US, it remains an outlet to show Olympic might for China.
With that comes enormous pressure from media and Olympic-success obsessed officials.
But Marbury, who has been dubbed "Ma Zhengwei (Commissar Ma)" by his legions of fans, remains upbeat.
"I know (winning Olympic medals) is the most important thing, the CBA's been a platform for players to prepare to be that type to win a medal," he said. "That's the most important thing.
"I feel like I have the resources and the understanding that it would take to not only win, but to build the guys up to the point where they will be able to play at that high level consistently.
"I would love to be one of the people to help to do that. That would be a huge accomplishment in China's basketball history."
(China Daily 05/09/2013 page22)