Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Star of the East: Stephon Marbury has found peace in China

This appears in the Monday, July 28, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

Star of the East: Stephon Marbury has found peace in China
by rick olivares

F. Scott Fitzgerald never had Stephon Marbury in mind when he penned the line (in The Last Tycoon), “There are no second acts in American lives.”

If life is a play, as the Bard once postulated, then the second act or the climax before the denouement -- to properly interpret Fitzgerald -- isn’t there as one merely plods along a life of constant highs and lows before living out their finals days.

Marbury clearly knows that he is in his second act. How else can one call it after a tumultuous NBA career where he alternated between on the cusp of greatness and the depths of a New York misadventure? And if he had his way there’s a third with the fourth much like the quarters in the game that has come to define him.

To say that his post-NBA career was a humbling experience for him is half-right. Maybe it’s better to say, he’s found some peace from his hellion days. “I’m no Dalai Lama,” he is quick to protest. “I’m not publishing any books about wisdom and the Meaning of Life stuff. But I am happy where I am now and trying to be positive about a lot of things.”

In Beijing, China of all places, Marbury is the star that shines bright. He’s won two titles for long-time underachiever Beijing Ducks. He had a statue of himself unveiled outside the MasterCard Center soon after he led the team to its first China Basketball Association championship. Not long ago, along with fellow American Randolph Morris, they teamed up to lead the Ducks to their second title in three years.

There’s a second statue of him to be unveiled soon and while Marbury feels a little uncomfortable with it, he remains grateful.

“That’s the word, grateful,” he pronounced. “You have to be. Every single day of your life.”

It used to be the east is where Americans who couldn’t play in the NBA went to live out their basketball dream. By the turn of the new millennium, the east and Europe was where Americans went to in order to earn that big payday as they played out their twilight years.

Marbury went to China not knowing what to expect but he now knows it has changed his life forever.

In his first game on Chinese soil for Shanxi Zhongyu against the Dongguan Leopards, Marbury who didn’t have his legs as he was suffering from jet lag managed to compile 15 points, four rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. With five seconds left he fouled Dongguan’s forward-center Cedric Simmons who hit one free throw to give the Leopards a 102-101 lead. In Shanxi’s final possession, Marbury drove right then passed to a teammate who was atop the arc, the shot hit the front of the rim and Shanxi lost.

“That first game was my hardest professional game,” recounted Marbury. “I hadn’t played in about a year. It was challenging not to be able to do what I used to do. Furthermore, in those days, I my head was filled with all sorts of things,” recalled Stephon. “I was upset, I was trying to deal with the past, the death of my father left a void in me, I wasn’t in playing shape at all, and I was thinking, ‘What am doing here?’”

“There were times when I cried in the privacy of my room. And my teams weren’t winning too and I moved around there from one team to another and now I’m thinking, ‘is this going to be like the NBA - - moving from one team to another?’”

From Shanxi, he moved to the Foshan Dralions. While Starbury had made the CBA All-Star team, Foshan didn’t advance to the playoffs. After that frustrating season, he switched teams once again… this time to the even lowlier Beijing Ducks.

When he joined the Ducks, they had climbed from 15th spot to eighth. In Starbury’s first season with them, they won their first ever CBA championship. Beijing fell in the semifinals the following campaign before winning it all again this past season.

After the Ducks were declared champions, Marbury allowed his emotions to get the better of him as he wept unabashedly in the locker room. “Winning a championship is beyond emotion,” he described of that moment. “People try to rip apart the achievement by saying, ‘Oh, but that’s not the NBA; it’s in China.’ Well, I’ve got news for them, a NBA title means more to a American city than the entire country so it’s the same out here. This means a lot to the people of Beijing and this is the most populous country in the world.”

“If its such an easy thing to accomplish then why don’t others get it done? I didn’t win it when I was with Shanxi or Foshan. Winning a championship is hard and it is beyond emotion especially when you get older.”

Marbury figures if he can continue to take better care of himself, he’ll have another couple of good years before his legs say it’s time to call it a day.

“Man…. I am way more at peace. I am not bothered by what people don’t understand. China gave me an opportunity to revitalize who I was as a human being and learn another culture. You become a little more worldly-wise. As a young man trying to conquer the NBA you have a different attitude and take a different approach. I made mistakes. Quite a few, man. I think I definitely bridged who I am and how I am and where I came from with the Chinese people. When I think how things went during my NBA career, I could have been a punk headed to the road to nowhere. Now is just beyond believability.”

Halftime is about done.

Third quarter, Steph.

Additional reading: Marbury for A Cause. Stephon Marbury's charity to help victims of Biliary Artesia in the Philippines.

Signing my copy of SLAM magazine back where he was on the cover with Matrix and Stat.

At the Starwood Cafe with Wes Minto and Stephon Marbury

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