As Stephon Marbury got into an elevator in his building, a young lady quickly realized who was next to her.
The two exchanged pleasantries and Marbury gave her an autograph and the two took a picture together.
Marbury is used to that type of interaction. In China, he has almost a cult following.
“Everywhere you go you’re going to take a picture and sign an autograph, that’s just something you do,” Marbury said.
These days, Marbury has a little more time to mingle with his fans after wrapping up a 22-year professional basketball career last year. He played the first 13 seasons in the NBA with five teams and then resurrected his career in the China Basketball Association (CBA) for the last nine years.
Marbury has been living in China since 2010 when he started playing for the Beijing Ducks. He led the squad to three CBA championships in 2012, ’14 and ’15. Marbury has two statues of him erected in Beijing.
After Marbury was instrumental in the Ducks’ third title, which started a dynasty, Beijing built a museum dedicated to their star point guard in a city post office.
“They basically said, ‘We want to do something for you that’s different,’” Marbury said. “I was like, ‘What?’ They were like, ‘We want to build a museum.’ I didn’t believe it.”
During his pro career, Marbury was never into collecting his own memorabilia. But when the museum was being constructed, items were needed to fill the display cases.
“My mom collected a lot of my stuff, which was a blessing because I was able to take all of the stuff I had at home and put it inside my museum,” Marbury said. “I had a lot, a lot of like trophies and plaques from All-American and Gatorade Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American and first-team freshman of the year at Georgia Tech. All those different accolades like my MVP trophies, my finals MVP trophy, my best player in the league, a bunch of different things that I’ve accumulated over the years.”
Marbury also never got into collecting memorabilia from other NBA players, even though he played with guys such as Kevin Garnett and Amar’e Stoudemire and against guys such as Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and David Robinson.
But Marbury did have a special adoration for Michael Jordan. He’s the only player Marbury ever approached after a game for a piece of memorabilia. When Marbury was with the Phoenix Suns, he took on Jordan and the Washington Wizards. After the contest, Marbury asked Jordan if he could have his game-worn shoes and get them autographed. Jordan happily obliged.
“I knew he was going to be retiring soon,” Marbury said. “Magic Johnson is my favorite player, but Jordan is the best player to me. So, for me it was like, I don’t really do that. It’s not an ego or pride thing, I just never really did that. I just never asked anybody for an autograph or anything. But Michael Jordan was a little bit different.”
What does it mean to Marbury to have a pair of Jordan’s shoes?
“I mean, it’s Michael Jordan,” Marbury said. “You don’t have to say much.”
Eventually, Marbury gave that pair of shoes to his son and they are at Marbury’s house in New York.
“My son told me he doesn’t know where the other (shoe) is at,” Marbury said. “I said, ‘What do you mean you don’t know where it’s at?’ It’s probably at one of his friends’ house.”
When Marbury was playing in China, fans loved autographs but there wasn’t a big market for sports cards.
“They just recently started doing that,” Marbury said. “It’s not the same as back home in America, it’s different. They don’t really do the autographed cards like we do with the memorabilia. But they have memorabilia things that they make and they sell. It’s just basically like funny cartoons, stuff like that. They do posters and paintings, it’s different in that way.”
A long, healthy career
After being drafted No. 4 overall in the 1996 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, Marbury was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Marbury, who played one season of college ball at Georgia Tech, had a solid three-year run teamed up with Garnett before being dealt to the New Jersey Nets in 1999. He was then shipped to the Phoenix Suns two years later where he was an All-Star for the second time and spent four seasons. In January 2004, he was sent to the New York Knicks.
Later that year, Marbury had one of the highlights of his basketball career, getting to play for the Team USA men’s basketball team at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
“It was an amazing experience and being chosen as an Olympian was a dream come true,” Marbury said. “You dream about those things when you see Jordan and Barkley and Karl Malone all of those guys playing and you’re a younger guy and you’re watching that.”
Even with a stacked roster that featured LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade, the U.S. struggled. The team went 5-3 and disappointingly took home the bronze medal. Manu Ginobili-led Argentina beat the U.S. in the semifinals en route to the gold.
“It was a trying time, but during that time we could have not had a medal,” Marbury said. “I’m appreciative that we won a medal.”
Marbury said that Olympics showed how basketball was changing and growing globally.
Even though there were up and coming international teams, it doesn’t take away the sting that the U.S. only took third. It still bugs Marbury to this day.
“Yeah, we lost. We didn’t win the gold,” Marbury said.
When Marbury returned to the U.S., he jumped back in with the Knicks. He spent five years in New York before a fallout led to him leaving in 2009. He signed with the Boston Celtics for the rest of the season and averaged just 3.8 points per game.
Marbury declined a one-year contract the following season from the Celtics and instead signed with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons of the CBA. He tallied 22.9 points and 9.5 assists per game his first season and was back playing at an elite level.
“To be able to play basketball here and grow here, the resurrection started when I first landed here,” said Marbury, who averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game over his NBA career.
After one season with the Foshan Dralions, Marbury signed with the Beijing Ducks in 2011. It would be the best decision of his professional career in China. He led the team to its first ever CBA title, beating the seven-time champions, Guangdong Southern Tigers.
Marbury’s postseason play cemented him as one of the best players in China pro basketball history. The Ducks erected a statue of Marbury, who is holding the championship trophy, outside of the team’s arena.
Marbury went on to help the Ducks to two more CBA championships. During the last title run in 2015, Marbury was named the CBA Finals MVP.
After leaving the Ducks in ’17, Marbury signed with the Beijing Fly Dragons. His final game was on Feb. 11, 2018, where he put up 20 points. He decided his 22-year professional career was over.
“It wasn’t hard for me to retire because I played so long,” Marbury said. “After playing that long, it pretty much was time. My body was telling me that it was time. I could play, but I wasn’t capable of doing the things that I love doing on the court like the way I like to do it.”
Marbury really cherishes his nine-year career in China.
“It’s been the best experience as far as growing as a human being, not just basketball because culturally China is like no other place,” Marbury said. “When you get the opportunity to experience a different culture and you get to live in the culture for years – I literally live here, so it’s not like I was just coming here to play and then leaving. I’ve been living and loving it here.”
The 42-year-old has a green card for China and doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. He’s made a life nearly 7,000 miles from where he grew up in Brooklyn. And it’s a different world in Beijing – one that Marbury has adapted to over the years.
With the two statues and museum of Marbury in China, he knows how much the community adores him.
“They’ve made it so hard to leave,” Marbury joked. “They’re showing so much love. And I’m more of the type of person that if you love me, I love you. If you commit yourself to me, I’m going to commit myself to you.”
Marbury was also given a key to the city during his playing days.
“All of these things is monumental things in my life that when I die one day – nobody’s going to live forever – these are the things that will be in existence for people to know and for people to visit and see,” Marbury said. “It’s pretty cool to be in this realm while I’m living and breathing.”
After retiring, Marbury has moved into the business sector where he’s working on a number of projects for his company Starbury – which was his nickname growing up. One of the main things Marbury is currently designing is a basketball that lights up. He also has clothing and shoe lines. The Starbury Brand is doing well overseas.
As well as his off the court endeavors Marbury runs the No. 1 youth basketball camp in the country.
“I’m in tune with the community and the kids and trying to help them become better in playing the sport that they love,” Marbury said. “That’s another thing that’s a passion and my love. I love teaching the kids that don’t know how to play basketball. Those are the kids that are fun because when you see them make a shot, see them dribble, see them pass after never playing basketball, it becomes a real thing with what you do.”
Playing basketball these days isn’t even on Marbury’s mind. He has had too many other things occupying his time. After playing the game for so long at an elite level, Marbury enjoys the time away from the court.
“I’ve basically been focused on the kids and my businesses and I don’t have time to really play,” Marbury said. “To be honest, when I shoot and I get out on the court, that’s something that I do on my own with the kids. I don’t just say, ‘I’m going to go play ball.’ I don’t do that. I haven’t done that in a year. I just basically gave myself time to rest, relax.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at email@example.com.