How Stephon Marbury Went From Forgotten NBA Player To Chinese Icon

Redemption Story

Stephon Marbury played 13 seasons in the NBA and made the All-Star team several times, but it always seemed as if he didn’t live up to expectations. When he decided to take a break from basketball after the 2009 season, he was burned out. Little did he know that he would revive his career in China and ultimately win three Chinese Basketball Association championships there. He would become an icon with everything from statues to stamps created in his name.

All Aboard The Hype Train

As an 11-year-old, Marbury’s reputation already preceded him. He grew up in Brooklyn as a highly respected recruit and was even named the best sixth grade player in the world. It didn’t change as he grew older and was regarded as the top high school point guard in the nation. From a young age, success went to his head and though likable off the court, he was very cocky on it, even trash talking opposing coaches.

The Big Leagues

Stephon Marbury spent a single year at Georgia Tech University and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft after the team was ousted in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament that year. He was chosen 4th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, making him a higher pick than Kobe Bryant (13th) and Steve Nash (15th), but Milwaukee wasn’t the best place for him.

Headed To Minnesota

Not long after he was picked, Marbury was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ray Allen and a future first-round pick in a move that appeared to benefit both teams. The T-Wolves were seen as a good fit for Marbury because they selected Kevin Garnett the year before and thought that the two could have the kind of synergy that Karl Malone and John Stockton had in Utah.

Quick Success

At first, the Marbury-Garnett connection seemed to be promising. Tom Gugliotta also starred on the team, which went 40-42 and made it to the playoffs before losing to the Rockets in the first round. Marbury scored 15.8 points per game to go with 7.8 assists and was already showing an ability to break down NBA defenses at will. But it wouldn’t stay this way for long.

Big Money, Bigger Envy

The Timberwolves were understandably interested in locking up Garnett for the long term and negotiated a very nice contract extension with the big man. However, this made Marbury concerned that he would not be taken care of financially due to the money the team tied up with Garnett. He took a hard line stance and said he would want to be moved if he couldn’t get a similar deal.

Constant Elevation

Still, Marbury was successful that year, helping lead the team to a 45-37 record, the best in the franchise’s history. However, the team was eliminated again in the first round and Marbury began to complain louder and louder about not only his contract situation, but his desire to play in a bigger market, such as New York.

Moving On

The Timberwolves thought they could make Marbury happy with a 6-year, $71 million offer, but Marbury declined. What’s more, he said he couldn’t play on the court with Garnett knowing the power forward was making more than he was. Therefore, the Timberwolves made a three-way trade just 18 games into the 1999 season that would send Marbury to the New Jersey Nets.

Was He A Winner?

The fact that Marbury was willing to go from a successful team with a young core to a losing franchise just to make more money made him look like he cared more about being “the man” than winning. He never made the playoffs in two seasons with the Nets, then went to the Phoenix Suns where he made the playoffs twice in four years, but never got past the first round. Then, he went to the New York Knicks.

New York, New York

Marbury thought that returning to New York would be a dream come true, but it turned out to be more of a nightmare, as the Knicks never made the playoffs for the five years he played on the team. Worse yet, Marbury constantly feuded with coaches, which ultimately led to Larry Brown and then Isaiah Thomas getting fired. The Knicks bought out his contract in 2009 and his only offer from another team was a minimum salary deal with the Boston Celtics.

Taking Time Off

Marbury wasn’t interested in the Celtics’ offer and announced that he would actually take a year off from the NBA. Although he had a selfish reputation, off the court he was very much a charitable person. He has donated millions, including $250,000 to the victims of the 9/11 attacks back in 2001. That’s far from his only charitable move, however.

Willing To Help Out

He donated a million dollars to help Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005, and in 2007, he decided to give a total of $4 million to New York City, with a million each going to the NYPD, FDNY, EMT, and the city’s teacher’s fund. He also was active in community efforts, particularly when it allowed him to mentor children and help them out.


Marbury grew up around a lot of kids who didn’t have much and he saw how teens would buy expensive shoes that NBA players wore, only to become targets for robberies and violence. As such, he founded the Starbury line of shoes and apparel in 2006, selling sneakers for as low as $14.98. Though retailer Steve & Barry’s filed for bankruptcy eventually, Starbury shoes are still available online for about $20!

Chinese Dragon

A few months after Marbury’s break from the NBA began, he got an offer that would change his life. He signed with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanxi Zhonghyu Brave Dragons, averaging 22.9 points, 9.5 assists and 2.6 steals and earning a selection to the All-Star team. He then signed a three-year deal with the Brave Dragons, but wouldn’t stay with the team for long.

Becoming A Duck

Marbury would end up with the team that would define his career in China, the Beijing Ducks, in 2011. The team started out with 13 straight wins due to Marbury’s performances and ultimately made the playoffs as Marbury was selected again to the All-Star game. Best yet, Marbury averaged 45 points per game to lead in the playoffs to lead Beijing to its first championship over the Guangdong Southern Tigers (who had 7 titles). Afterward, the team made a statue of Marbury outside the arena.

Third Time’s A Charm

Marbury didn’t stop with a single CBA championship. He led Beijing to repeat championships in 2014 and 2015 to bring his total to three while also winning the CBA Finals MVP award. During this time, a live-action musical called “I Am Marbury” featured the star dancing and acting to show others how they could triumph over challenges. Marbury loved China so much he applied for his green card.

Lending A Hand

When he headed to China, Stephon Marbury didn’t stop his charitable contributions. If anything, he got more charitable! In fact, his involvement was so great that he would eventually get an honor that no other celebrity has gotten within the nation of China since the People’s Republic of China was officially formed.

Green Card Approved

The approval of Marbury’s green card was no small feat. After all, just 5,000 foreigners have ever received one since China began the practice in 2004, even though 600,000 foreigners live in the nation. For comparison, the US issues a million green cards per year. “I’m so blessed and thankful to receive my Chinese green card,” wrote Marbury on his Weibo account.

Not So Fast

Even if you earn a Chinese green card, Beijing and Shanghai have their own rules and don’t have to honor it. Therefore, it was very special that Beijing approved his green card for having “made outstanding contributions” to the nation. Beijing didn’t allow Marbury this honor for winning three CBA championships, but for doing positive work in the community, making it all the more special.

Paving The Way

Because of the green card, Marbury will be able to do a lot more in Beijing, from buying a house more easily to buying businesses, making investments, and even bringing his Starbury brand to China. Recently, Marbury decided to retire from basketball and may even decide to begin a second career as a coach in Beijing.

The House of Marbury Museum

If you’re not convinced of Marbury’s status as a cultural icon in Beijing, check this out: the city has erected an entire museum in his honor, aptly named The House of Marbury Museum. What’s more, a feature movie starring the player titled My Other Home was released last year and was quite a success throughout the nation.

A Team Player

The most amazing part of Stephon Marbury’s journey has been that he has redeemed himself as a true team player and leader. In fact, he’s referred to as “Political Commissar Ma,” which likens Marbury to a military official that’s known for educating and uniting his soldiers for a common cause. Marbury has certainly changed his life since going to China.