Stephon Marbury, From NBA All-Star to Chinese Basketball Legend

By Ryan Gandolfo, June 27, 2020

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This story is part of our June 2020 cover story, a series of articles profiling internationals who have made – or are making – an impact in China. To read more fascinating profiles from this series, click here.

Stephon Marbury has lived his best life in China, moving to the Middle Kingdom in 2010 to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) following an abrupt end to his career in the NBA. Over the past decade, the star point guard nicknamed ‘Starbury’ has felt the love of a nation, brought the first-ever basketball championship (and then two more) to Beijing and truly immersed himself in the local culture. He’s also become an icon and role model for millions of young Chinese ballers.

Image via @新华视点/Weibo

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Marbury played for two CBA teams – the Shanxi Dragons and Foshan Dralions – prior to his start with the Beijing Ducks. In his first season with the Ducks, he averaged 25 points per game and eventually led them to a championship over then seven-time champion Guangdong Southern Tigers. Following the championship season, Marbury credited his success to Chinese culture, saying it was one “filled with love, compassion and care.” Marbury went on to win two more championships with the Ducks and eventually finished his career with the Beijing Fly Dragons in 2018. As a way to immortalize Marbury, a life-size statue of the star player was built in Beijing. He also has his own museum dedicated to his basketball career and a musical (I Am Marbury) and movie (My Other Home) based on his story in China.

To sum up Marbury’s impact on the Beijing Ducks, here’s what one Beijinger told That’s during the CBA finals in 2015: 

“Lao Ma [Stephon Marbury] is definitely the backbone of the whole team. The other players – as well as all fans of the Ducks – appreciate and speak highly of his vital role in the team … the team has been so positively influenced by Lao Ma. In victory or defeat, he never gives up and keeps fighting until the last second.” 

Although he has no shortage of supporters, fanatics from opposing teams are less inspired by Marbury’s play, like Shanghai Sharks super fan Zach Etkind (aka ‘Donnie Does’ aka ‘The Shark Knight’). “Once he steps in the ‘Shark Tank,’ all bridges collapse,” Etkind said of Marbury playing against his favorite team on one of his popular vlogs.

Marbury has consistently shown an admiration for China and its people. In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report in 2015, he said, “Nothing can compare to my experience in China. My situation is fortunate because I actually love it there and I love it because of the people. For what they did to me, I’m forever invested into that country. Living there has been great for me and great for my life.” So great, in fact, that Marbury became a permanent resident of China in 2016, becoming the first foreign player to receive China’s rare ‘green card’ in the CBA’s history. He took to Weibo to express his gratitude, writing, “It’s a true honor to be part of the capital of China.”

Image via @马布里Marbury/Weibo

After retiring in 2018, Marbury made the transition to coaching, and he presently serves as the head coach of the Beijing Royal Fighters. 

He remains an influential member of communities in Beijing and his home state. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Marbury was working with a Chinese company to sell 10 million masks to Brooklyn at cost – at a time when masks were increasingly difficult (and expensive) to acquire. It echoes what Marbury is so often about – helping out those in need. 

While he’s certainly made himself a lot of money playing the game of basketball and developing his brand into a moneymaker, he’s also the same guy who sold a solid, stylish basketball sneaker at a low cost so people could afford it. It speaks volumes for his desire to do good, and an attribute many here in China have likely became acquainted with and respect as well.

To read more fascinating profiles from this series, click here.

[Cover image via @马布里Marbury/Weibo]

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