Basketball star Stephon Marbury’s last season in the NBA was a humbling experience and looking back, he said it broadened his perspective on life to prepare him for a world outside of the major league’s limelight.
Marbury, 36, was recently in Manila on his second visit this year to do charity work. He didn’t strike you as a man living in the glory of the past or someone coping with the harsh strain of post-NBA syndrome. For 13 years, Marbury was one of the shining lights in the NBA. He averaged at least 20 points a game in seven seasons but with the Boston Celtics in 2008-09, the 6-2 guard sat on the bench and played sparingly.
The stint with the Celtics was a reality check. He signed up in the middle of the campaign and saw action in only 23 games during the regular season, averaging 3.8 points. In the playoffs, he appeared in 14 contests and averaged 3.7 points. Marbury was offered a contract to stay with Boston the next season but declined the minimum veteran’s salary of about $1.2 Million. Playing for five teams in 13 NBA seasons, Marbury bankrolled a total of about $150 Million and averaged 19.3 points in 846 games. In his last nine seasons, he never took home less than $10 Million a year. So the Celtics’ offer delivered a strong message to Marbury that his time was up.
It was a back-to-earth call for Marbury who was selected fourth overall in the 1996 NBA draft behind Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Shareef Abdur-Raheem. Picked after Marbury were No. 5 Ray Allen, No. 13 Kobe Bryant, No. 15 Steve Nash and No. 24 Derek Fisher.
Marbury described the situation in Boston as challenging. “I was dealing with issues in New York and I really wasn’t in shape to play,” he said. But the invitation to join the Celtics was tempting because they were the defending champions and Marbury had never played on a title team. He realized as the season went on, the experience would be life-changing.
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Marbury said one of the hardest things to do in basketball is to win back-to-back championships because of the hangover factor. With the Celtics, he noticed that they weren’t as eager or hungry to win like in the previous season. “I was upset we lost,” he said. “We had a lot of injuries and it was very hard to commit collectively to what had to be done. You can’t blame anyone. My stint was very short with the Celtics. I’m not used to sitting on the bench so it was a different experience for me. In order to win in the NBA, you’ve got to have players willing and able to commit themselves to be a good team.”
What exasperated Marbury was the Celtics’ failure to repeat as Boston was eliminated by Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Magic clinched it in Game 7 at Boston with Kevin Garnett out of commission. Marbury said in his final year in the NBA, he took time to mentor Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.
“I was helping him out a lot and Rajon did really well,” he said. “There really wasn’t one thing I taught him, just on-the-fly things. I mean, he’s a pro and I was on the bench and didn’t play much. I just gave some advice on what I saw. My time in Boston helped me for the future. I found peace in my career and forced me to be molded in a different way.”
From the NBA, Marbury saw the light overseas and now, he’s hailed as a hero in China. There’s a statue of Marbury outside the playing arena in Beijing and it’s a testament of the love from his Chinese fans. “If you ask me what’s more important, to win an NBA championship or get a statue built of me in China, I’d choose the statue,” he said with a wink.
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Marbury said 10 years from now, he’ll be all over the world promoting the game he loves and of course, his brand. “I’ll be in China, the Philippines, New York, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam,” he said. “I see myself going global, all over the planet. If I could go to space, I would but I’m kind of scared to do that.”
Marbury has been known to contribute heavily to charity. He gave $250,000 to the Sept. 11 victims, $1.5 Million to Hurricane Katrina victims and $4 Million to four New York City beneficiaries, including a teachers fund. Marbury developed the inexpensive Starbury shoe line to allow underprivileged kids the chance to wear his brand at about $15 a pair. But he’s far from perfect. Last year, it was revealed that he paid $600,000 in hush money to silence a former chef Thurayyah Mitchell from exposing their brief affair that happened in his home in 2006. Marbury has learned from the mistake.
Marbury, who has three children Xaviera, Steph, Jr. and Stephanie with wife Tasha, had some difficulty naming his best five basketball players ever by position. At point guard, his choice was Oscar Robertson, eliminating himself from contention. Michael Jordan was his pick at two-guard and George (Iceman) Gervin at three. Kevin Garnett was at the four spot and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center. Others whom Marbury considered were Karl Malone at power forward and Hakeem Olajuwon in the middle. Bryant and LeBron James were not in his mythical top five.