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Marbury finds a home in China

Updated: 2014-12-27 08:11
By Associated Press (China Daily)

 Marbury finds a home in China

Security guards use shields to protect Beijing Ducks star Stephon Marbury before a Nov 30 CBA game against the Shanxi Dragons in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. AP

Former NBA star hopes to settle here permanently

After a rollercoaster NBA career, Stephon Marbury has found peace in hoops-crazed China.

The two-time All-Star is thriving on the court with the Beijing Ducks while becoming one with his adopted hometown away from basketball.

In fact, he's so entrenched that he wants to one day coach China's national team.

"I plan on living here for the rest of my life," the 37-year-old point guard and Brooklyn native said in an interview in the lobby of his plush apartment building in the heart of Beijing.

"I think they respect me enough to be able to give me the opportunity."

China is a world away from Marbury's life in the US, where he endured a string of disappointing stints with several NBA teams, but he has found his groove in Beijing.

Marbury has led the Ducks to two Chinese Basketball Association championships. He is an unrivaled fan favorite and the team's on-court leader.

The organization has even erected a statue of him in front of its arena.

Marbury has capitalized on the opportunities China offers to foreign basketball players and other athletes capable of adjusting to the considerable cultural, linguistic and culinary challenges of life in the rising Asian power.

Already dominant at the Olympics and Asian Games, the world's second largest economy is now undergoing a boom in pro sports, stoked by foreign coaches and players.

"I don't make anywhere near the money I made when I was playing in the NBA but I'm way happier, so what does that say?" Marbury said.

A big part of Marbury's Chinese appeal has been his willingness to embrace local culture and make himself accessible to fans.

He rides the Beijing subway with a backpack and headphones, posing for photos with people he meets along the way.

He dines at local eateries, and digs into the same simple meals as his Chinese teammates.

Marbury has been a vocal supporter of Guo'an, Beijing's beloved local soccer team, and studies the graceful martial art of tai chi.

He even took a stab at learning Chinese before a knee surgery threw him off his lessons.

He's also active on Weibo, the ubiquitous Chinese version of Twitter. A typical post: "Good morning China! Live in the moment with pure loving intentions to all. Love is Love!!!"

He wrote a column - "Starbury News" - in China Daily, and if he had any negative feelings about the country, he kept them to himself.

"Marbury was seen as a loner in America, but he's completely changed his image here in China," said veteran Chinese sportscaster Xu Jicheng.

"He's shown huge interest helping both his team and young people generally,"

Basketball is already hugely popular in China, as is American music and fashion. Urban courts are filled with youngsters showing off their moves, while hip-hop fashions are a favorite of those born in the 1980s and '90s.

When Marbury scores for the Ducks, each basket is celebrated by an MC and echoed by fans at the arena operated by the team's sponsor, Capital Iron and Steel, in Beijing's far western suburbs. Marbury can still score, as shown by his 46-point effort in a recent loss to the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

It's not exactly Madison Square Garden, but crowds at Shougang Basketball Center are enthusiastic. Songs by Sugar Hill Gang and other hip hop bands blare over the PA - with Marbury at the center of it all.

"Marbury is why we come to these games. He's the one who's really made them play like they never played before," said Ricky Chen, a 26-year-old Beijing office worker who endured a two-hour subway trip to catch a game.

A college standout at Georgia Tech, Marbury was a first-round pick by Milwaukee in the 1996 NBA draft but then was traded to Minnesota.

He also played for New Jersey and Phoenix before joining the New York Knicks amid high expectations that were never realized. His last stop was with Boston in 2009.

With his NBA options becoming limited, Marbury decided in 2010 to head for China in hopes of jump-starting his career.

That leap of faith initially landed him in gritty Taiyuan in China's northern coal country. A contract dispute with the Brave Dragons soon left him high and dry, although Marbury said he never considered heading home.

"I was, like, if I go back to America I'm going to get killed by the media. I'm done. This is it. My career is done, my life is over with," Marbury said.

Salvation came in the form of the Foshan Dragons in the industrial south.

He relaunched his Starbury sportswear brand - with the logo tattooed on his shaved head.

This fall he was featured in a live musical production using his China experience as an allegory for overcoming hardship.

Marbury is one of dozens of foreign players in the CBA, which allows teams to play two non-Chinese players at a time for a total of six quarters per game.

Some have found the success that eluded them in the US, such as former NBA journeyman Lester Hudson, the CBA's MVP last season, and Jamaal Franklin, a former second-round draft pick of the Memphis Grizzlies who has emerged as the league's leading scorer this season.

Other NBA All-Stars have given China a shot - including Metta World Peace, Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas, with varying degrees of success. But none embraced the country in the way Marbury has.

"It makes him one of the few CBA foreigners that aren't likely to be painted as mercenaries," said Andrew Crawford, whose website, Shark Fin Hoops, covers Chinese basketball.

"He's the first foreigner in the CBA to make a huge and sustained deal out of how much he enjoys being in Beijing, and that means a lot."

Marbury believes he can play another two or three years but no matter what happens on the court - or with his coaching ambitions - he plans to keep China at the center of his life and career.

"I am forever indebted to this country for helping change my life and my career, and how I'm viewed in the world of basketball," he said.

 

 

 

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