There are over 600,000 foreigners living in China. Most of them have aspiring dreams of tapping into the Chinese market to create their own American dream in the Mainland. But it’s not easy. China is not the most welcoming country in the world.
Out of the those 600,000 foreigners the one who has been able to stand out as a national icon is 38-year-old Coney Island native Stephon Marbury. On Sunday, March 22, 2015, Marbury hoisted his third CBA championship trophy in Liaoning, China.
“Stephon Marbury’s explosiveness is palpable; when Marbury blows past you, it feels like wind.” – Steve Nash
Marbury was by far the best player in all six games of the 2015 CBA finals. In game 6, with Beijing up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series, Stephon Marbury had the ball in his hands with just over seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. About ten seconds before that, Liaoning’s Lester Hudson made a corner three trimming Beijing’s lead to 11 and bringing the home crowd back into it. But Hudson was playing Marbury’s game, Marbury was in full control.
On this specific play, Marbury is being defended by Zhixuan Liu, a 24 year-old wing player who’s about to be taken to school by the 38 year-old Marbury. A screen is set near half-court allowing Marbury to quickly dribble to the three point line before stopping on a dime. Zhixuan Liu, who is surprised by the sudden change of speed, regains his balance and tries to stay in front of Marbury. In an article featured in Esquire Magazine, Steve Nash best described Marbury’s approach in this particular move, “Stephon Marbury’s explosiveness is palpable; when Marbury blows past you, it feels like wind.” With Zhixuan Liu in front of him, Marbury spins and dashes again for the three-point line and again stops on a dime. Marbury gathers his feet while Zhixuan Liu looks for his own jock strap, Marbury pulls up from three and… swish!. The lead is back to 14 and the air is sucked out of Liaoning’s home arena.
Seven minutes later, Marbury was named 2015 CBA finals Most Valuable Player. In the locker room, Marbury was surrounded by Chinese media, he said, “a dynasty is built. That’s what I wanted to do when I came here, build a dynasty.”
The very next day, upon his arrival to Beijing Capital International Airport, he was welcomed by thousands of local Beijingers who waited hours for just a glimpse of “Ma-Bu-li”. In a country where history is documented through different dynasties, Chinese basketball is currently living the ‘Marbury Dynasty’.
But like all great Chinese emperors, Marbury had to conquer the land. This, as you may all expect, did not come easy. There were a lot of ups and downs. To understand Marbury’s trajectory we gathered data from Jon Pastuszek’s Niubball.com and filtered it out into a convenient timeline format.
January 16th, 2010: After an 18-hour flight from the United States, Marbury arrives in China. He was signed by the last place Shanxi Brave Dragons as a replacement for Lee Benson. Hundreds of fans and members of the media awaited to give him a warm welcome to the middle kingdom.
February 2nd, 2010: In his first ever CBA game, Marbury comes off the bench and his first touch is a fast break in which he scoop-passes to the trailer for an assist. Despite losing the game by nine, Marbury’s stat line showed 15 points in 29 minutes, along with eight assists, four rebounds, and four steals. He would play a total of 15 games.
October 15th, 2010: It’s reported that Stephon Marbury officially signs a three-year contract with the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. Unofficial details of the contract reported that he would make around $1.5 million per year. Not only did Marbury ink a new contract, he also inked his forearm with a tattoo that says Ma-bu-li (in Mandarin) and I (heart) China (also in Mandarin).
November 27th, 2010: Marbury returns to China for training camp only to find out that Shanxi will not be signing Marbury. Shanxi pulled out of the deal going with Leon Rodgers and Jamal Sampson as their two imports. The very next day we would find out that Marbury never signed the contract and both sides saw differences in the contract details. With the season vastly approaching, Marbury is in China with no team and no contract.
November 28th, 2010: With Chinese fans patiently waiting Marbury’s next move, a report out of Foshan states that Marbury and Foshan have come to terms to a one-year contract.
January 6th, 2011: New York magazine releases a detailed story on Stephon Marbury’s Chinese business ventures. According to the article, Marbury says his kids are learning mandarin and that his plans for China are long term.
February 11th, 2011: In a Chinese new year promo video for the CBA, Stephon Marbury busts out a special message for the Chinese fans, in Mandarin. This shows that Marbury’s commitment to China is for real.
June 16th, 2011: The first rumors of Stephon Marbury going to the Beijing Ducks hit the web. Marbury denies the rumors but flirts with the idea to play in Beijing.
August 26th, 2011: It’s official. Stephon Marbury signs a one-year contract with the Beijing Ducks that pays him about $100,000 USD per month.
October 10th, 2011: Marbury is seen riding the Beijing subway. He claims to have re-invented himself as just a regular Beijinger.
December 24th, 2011: Stephon Marbury is an instant success in Beijing. While leading his team to a 13-0 start, Marbury took the time to visit a young fan in a Beijing hospital that was suffering from hemophagocytic syndrome.
March 31st, 2012: History is made in Beijing as Marbury and the Ducks win their first CBA title in franchise history taking down Guangdong in game 5 of the CBA finals. Marbury led the way with 41 points and seven assists.
May 14th, 2012: Stephon Marbury unveils his first statue in China just outside of the MasterCard Center in Beijing.
June 20th, 2012: Stephon Marbury’s autobiography ‘I Am Commisioner Marbury’ is released in China. The book is written in Mandarin by Titan Sports journalist Wang Meng.
November 24th, 2012: Gilbert Arenas is now in China and faces Marbury and the Ducks in the season opener. Gilbert pulls his groin mid-way through the first half while Marbury leads his Ducks to victory.
March 18th, 2013: Shandong sweeps Beijing out of the playoffs. There’s no back-to-back championship for Marbury.
October 18th, 2013: Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks agree to a three-year contract. Marbury is committed to Chinese basketball.
February 6th, 2014: Marbury missed 22 games due to a knee injury. And in his first game back, he gets ejected in front of a home crowd for throwing a punch.
March 31st, 2014: Tears rush down Marbury’s face as he and the Ducks claim their second CBA title in three years.
September 29th, 2014: ‘I Am Marbury’, a Chinese musical based on the life of Stephon Marbury starring Stephon Marbury premieres at the MasterCard Center in Beijing. Vice media sent reporter Isobel Yeung to document the action.
January 20th, 2015: In an exclusive interview with HBO Real Time Sports with Bryant Gumble, Marbury says making the move to China saved his life.
March 16th, 2015: Stephon Marbury goes off for 42 points in game 3 of the CBA finals.
March 22nd, 2015: The Beijing Ducks, led by Stephon Marbury, win their third franchise title. Marbury is named 2015 CBA finals MVP.
Marbury’s journey in China is far from over. He has one-year remaining on his contract with Beijing, and has expressed much interest in coaching the Chinese national team. Of course, his status as a Beijing hero will never change. He’s got the city on his back. Unfortunately, a dark cloud still shadows over Marbury’s image in America. And while he still holds an American passport, the honorary Beijing citizen says he wants to spend the rest of his life in China. He just wants to be loved. And Beijing is all about showing love to outsiders who want to embrace the Beijing culture. ‘Love is love’, according to Marbury. It’s been five years since Marbury first stepped foot on Chinese soil, it’s been a bumpy five years, but nonetheless, a rewarding five years. Only time will tell what the next five years of life in China are going to be like for Starbury.