I'm a sucker for feel-good movies, especially ones where the protagonist is wrongly (or rightly) labeled as the "bad guy," but as the plot plays out, he ends up being the good guy. It's the reason why Shawshank Redemption, the original Star Wars trilogy, and King Kong have solidified themselves on my top-10 movies list. It is because of this adoration of these perceived antiheroes that I find the ongoing LeBron story so captivating. But today, I want to present to you a different type of character. Meet Stephon Marbury.
Chances are, you know the guy. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the '96 draft, Marbury was quickly traded to the Timberwolves for Ray Allen. Hoping to establish a one-two punch with Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves were rolling the dice, fully knowing that Marbury carried the label of being a troublemaker off the court. Here's a lesson in life: when you have that gut feeling that something's going to go wrong, it most likely will (Murphy's Law). Needless to say, the Marbury/KG era only lasted 3 seasons. Marbury would later develop into an All-Star with stints in Jersey, Phoenix, and more recently, New York. Along the way, he received the name of "Starbury" as he was the star player of each of those teams. Though Marbury produced on the court, many of his team's management and coaches were unsatisfied with him and his maturity as a professional. After feeling like he was left for dead, Marbury left the NBA at 32.
What Marbury did next would probably be what most of us would do: Go to China (I kid, but that's what I did/am doing). Starbury took his talents to Shanxi, China. Famous for mountains, coal mines, and extreme poverty, Shanxi also had one of the worst basketball teams in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). However, as Marbury embraced his role as the leader and face of the team, stories of his new-found stardom flooded the Chinese media. Back in the states, a few of Marbury's anecdotes would trickle into ESPN, often met with laughter and mockery. What many NBA fans failed to realized in the states was that Marbury was serious with his decision to go to China. He engaged with fans and media openly and was set to live out his new life and redefine his legacy. Unlike Shanxi's previous NBA rental, Bonzi Wells, who flew back to the states secretly after just 14 games into his disgruntled season, Marbury found his new life refreshing and famously tweeted "Love is love." The fans and media absolutely adored their new star.
So imagine the shock he received when prior to the start of his second season, Marbury's team owner told him that they were going to let him go. Citing difficulties with Marbury's prima donna attitudes and demands, the team owner wanted no part of Marbury on his team. Whether the reasons were justified or not, here he was, left for dead, again -- this time, in China.
Going through months of depression, Marbury picked himself back up and showed up in the office of another CBA team, the Beijing Ducks. Though the Ducks wanted to sign Marbury, they had already met the league maximum of signing two foreign-born players. Their last signing was none other than other NBA reject, Steve "Franchise" Francis. Whether Francis admits it or not, I would like to think that Stevie (along with a handful of other NBA players) came to China expecting to receive the same love and adoration that Marbury received in Shanxi. Marbury eventually claimed a spot on the roster of a newly formed expansion team. With a team full of rookies, they failed to make the playoffs that year.
Fast forward to the summer of last year. With the NBA lockout, and expectedly, another slew of NBA players escaping to the CBA, Marbury went back to the Beijing Ducks. With Francis gone, Marbury secured his roster spot on the team.
What happens next is history. After averaging 27 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds in the regular season, Marbury found himself in the CBA playoffs for the first time. The Ducks would breeze by most of the competition in the playoffs, where Marbury would average 45 points a game. In the semifinals, he faced his old team, Shanxi. The Ducks would pull out a 3-2 series win in a tough, best-of-five series. After the clinching win, Marbury escaped the celebration, and leaning with his head on the walls of a bathroom stall, he cried.
Did getting to the championship finals mean that much to him? Come on, it's CHINA LEAGUE? You haven't even won anything yet! That's what the American sports fan inside of me would say. However, digging deeper, we find a star who went through the ups and downs of a NBA career. Ultimately rejected by the league that drafted him at the young age of 19, Marbury took a risk and looked to reinvent himself. So, yes. This championship run did mean that much to him because he accomplished it in a China league where fans celebrate him night in and night out; a place where the media shines the spotlight on the positiveness that he brings to the team. And in that moment of getting to his first professional sports finals, Marbury finally realized this: he belonged.
Marbury would ride his high emotions and continue his amazing play in the finals. In the championship-clinching win against the Guangdong Tigers (and against NBA players Aaron Brooks and James Singleton), Marbury would score 41 and deliver the first ever CBA championship to Beijing. Pandemonium ensued.
Chinese fans in Beijing would go on to craft a bronze statue to commemorate the championship and celebrate Marbury. Yes, fans got together and made the statue and put it up!
Oh, and here's another lesson in life: Love is love.
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