Say It Isn’t So

What would the world be if it weren’t for Stephon Marbury (one less skull tattoo, less misguided good intentions centered around cheap sneakers, less headaches)? The reason I’m bringing this up is on his twitter account Stephon Marbury has hinted that his career may have come to an abrupt end.

I’m truly sad if this is the end to an illustrious and controversial career that sent a young kid from the frigid air of Minnesota, to the shores of New Jersey, to the desert of Phoenix, his hometown team in New York, and most recently the Boston Celtics. I have this overall feeling that his career seems more like a case of what could have been than what actually was, despite his prolific and notorious career achievements.

It is easy to forget about his early achievements and his overall very talented play due to the recent and extremely litigious incidents that have surrounded him like a cloud of hate. There was and is a reason that Stephon Marbury was awarded the lucrative contract that saddle bagged the Knicks for the past couple of seasons as they tried to unload him. He was, in all his glory, a tremendous scoring point guard who could have been one of the best in his generation. What he symbolizes is the fickleness of a man barely out of his teenage years and the ability of the public to scrutinize and label a man the scapegoat of a situation.

Marbury, or “Starbury” if you’re nasty, came into the Association with the fledgling Minnesota Timberwolves, where he was teamed up with young stud Kevin Garnett. He had worlds of potential, which, combined with his teammate, meant that the sky was the limit for the Timberwolves. Minnesota had, or thought they had, a deadly combination of a creative scoring point guard and an all around beast at power forward. They could grow and mature together, hopefully leading Minnesota out of the dark ages and into a glorious championship era that would be heralded as the golden age decades later.

It wasn’t meant to be apparently, as Marbury would grow unhappy with his role in the offense. Evidently, Stephon felt that he should have been the main star in Minnesota, not the Hall-of-Fame forward Kevin Garnett. Despite the fact that the duo had led Minnesota to the playoffs in the 97 and 98 seasons and showed tremendous promise together, Minnesota decided to get rid of Marbury. He was involved in a three-team trade that sent him off to New Jersey.

In New Jersey, Marbury did what he has always done: score a lot of points. Only now, it was recognized in the form of an All-Star appearance and 3rd Team All-NBA in 2000. However, all of his scoring resulted in all of zero playoff appearances for the Nets, which only added to his reputation for being the scapegoat. In the 2001 offseason, New Jersey traded away the maligned Marbury for Jason Kidd. The Nets’ fortunes shifted immediately as they went on to visit the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons (which they lost, by the way). Marbury led the Phoenix Suns to a playoff appearance in the 2003 season, the same season that he landed on the All-NBA 3rd team and All-Star team.

Marbury, despite averaging over 20 points over the entirety of his time with the Suns, was again traded away. This time it was to his hometown team: the New York Knicks. Finally, he was in a place he was to be welcomed at where he was going to be the biggest star on arguably the biggest stage in basketball and he would lead them back to prominence. It almost worked for Marbury and New York when in his first action with the Knicks he helped lead them to the playoffs. Unfortunately for New York fans, the New Jersey Nets, headed by Jason Kidd, swept the Knicks out of the first round.

Since that first glimpse of promise and cohesion, the relationship between Marbury and the Knicks has been everything but. To put it mildly, they had a falling out. Marbury, brought in by the notorious Isiah “Thompson” Thomas, was one of the main reasons that newly hired coach Larry Brown was fired. He publicly feuded with Brown, causing the media and the fans to turn against Stephon, compiling onto his scapegoat reputation.

What was Thomas’ resolution to the problem? He named himself the new head coach of the New York Knicks. It was one of those “you break it, you bought it” situations played out in front of millions of people. In that first season, the Knicks nearly turned it around as Marbury played “unselfish” basketball, helping the Knicks off to a reasonably decent record. But, being the Knicks and Marbury, the success would not continue as the Knicks ended with only 33 victories (10 better than with Brown).

The next season would be it, the straw that broke the camel’s back. After being on supposed friendly terms, Marbury would publicly and notoriously clash with Isiah after learning his coach planned to not start him. A smack to the face for Marbury, he threatened to blackmail Isaiah regarding the very public and controversial sexual harassment case he was enduring at that time. His hometown of New York was not very friendly or understanding of Marbury’s antics as they ferociously booed him at any given moment (although they booed all of the Knicks, including Thomas). Electing to have ankle surgery, Marbury would not play for the Knicks again after that contentious season filled with near basketball treason.

The rest of the story between the Knicks and Marbury is ugly, and quite frankly embarrassing for Marbury. The once hometown hero would eventually refuse to accept any offer for playing time from head coach Mike D’Antoni, seeing that his situation with the Knicks was irresolvable. He would eventually be banned from attending any Knicks games (he was still on the roster mind you) as the team frantically searched for a team to take him and his hefty salary (over $20 million).

Unable to find any suitors, the Knicks eventually cut a deal with Starbury, freeing him to sign with any team he wished. He chose, as most of you know, to sign with the Boston Celtics where he was teamed with former teammate Kevin Garnett. Now, some people can look at this as karma for his somewhat selfish actions or him atoning for his juvenile behavior. I can’t really decide which side I’m on, as I think he truly learned something from the whole Knicks fiasco and realized (somewhat) why he plays basketball.

After the season ended, he went on a live stream over the Internet that brought more questions than answers. People laughed at his ingestion of Vaseline, his shirtless rants, and his genuine tears (real men do cry). Zach Randolph even made some homophobic remarks regarding Stephon based on his actions that streamed on the World Wide Web. Whatever Marbury’s goals were or are, he didn’t accomplish them through this perceived desperate attempt for attention.

Is he the same Stephon Marbury? Sure he is, but that may not be as bad as it sounds. He was unfairly blamed for many of his teams’ struggles, although he was deserving of some of the ridicule. He just isn’t Jason Kidd or Steve Nash, so people find fault with his game. He is a similar model to Allen Iverson, the shoot first ask questions later machismo that garners 50 point performances but no titles.

It is easy to point the finger at Marbury and make him the culprit, but its also easy to forget that he was hardly out of high school when he made those life and career altering decisions that have sent him down this path. He is at this point of his career, a tumor. There is no doubt about it. It has become his troubles that have defined him, despite the fact that he really hasn’t been in trouble, instead of his abilities on the court. I’m always sad to see that happen to a career that had so much promise, which Marbury had boatloads of.

I hope that this isn’t the end of Marbury’s career, just a hiccup (although it more likely resembles a vomiting spree at this point) before he continues his career. Maybe he has seen the light through his murky tremors throughout his career, the enlightenment that disperses knowledge and wisdom to those who experience it.

I guess what surprises me the most is this is not the way I envisioned Marbury going out. I just never expected him to realize when it was time two walk away before it got awkward and nobody wanted him anymore. In a way, it sort of happened. But he could have persisted for a few more years before finally hanging up the laces, drifting from struggling team to struggling team. I would have the same feeling about a drug kingpin. I don’t expect them to retire early and settle down somewhere along a coast. I expect them to go down in a blizzard of bullets, fighting off the federal agents with his dozens of illegal firearms.

The way Marbury carries himself, full of swagger and unflinching realness (he wears his emotions on his sleeve), I thought he would have to be dragged out of the league before he walked away. It almost happened with the Knicks where he was banned from attending any games. But his actions all make sense when put in the perspective that he seemed to always care more about his perception than winning. Not that he was a super selfish guy who was generally “bad”. He won multiple good guy awards and he genuinely cared about the financial struggles of the common American household. He went so far as to market shoes that cost $14.99, far below the average for basketball shoes.

But Marbury has never had the mindset that winning a championship is above all else, or at least it never appeared so. He still tried hard, competed hard, and played very well regardless of his priorities. I just have this overwhelming feeling that his career is in some way unfinished, like he has more to prove. He could still be an effective scorer on a successful team, if he is willing to swallow his pride and come off of the bench. The Celtics seem like a better and better destination for Marbury, where he can earn some jewelry and be a significant contributor to a team led by Kevin Garnett. It seems that karma has a strange way of evening things out in the end.

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One Response to Say It Isn’t So

  1. Uncle Mike says:

    Custodian….Your dad gave me the website and I have enjoyed the stories. Keep up the good work.

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