Revamped Marbury leads China North to All-Star win

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Revamped Marbury leads China North to All-Star win

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Stephon Marbury of China North drives the ball down the court against Liu Wei of China South during the China Basketball Association’s All-Star Game in Beijing on March 21. [AP/YONHAP]

BEIJING - In two months in China, former NBA bad boy Stephon Marbury has shed his self-centred, spoiled image and wowed rabid fans with his dazzling play. The question now is: Will he stay for a new season?

The ex-New York Knicks point guard, now of the Shanxi Brave Dragons, is by far the biggest foreign star ever in the Chinese Basketball Association and one of several African-American players enlivening the 15-year-old league.

After cutting a disgruntled figure back home, the 33-year-old ended his first season in China as the CBA’s most valuable player at the league’s All-Star Game, leading the North All-Stars to a 133-121 win over the South.

“I had a lot of fun. You never know what’s going to happen out there, but being in an All-Star Game is always an honor,” he said after scoring 30 points, many on three-point shots, and making 10 assists in the Beijing game.

“I knew there were going to be a lot of people, so I wanted to give the fans a show ... if you are going to be playing in an All-Star Game you always want to do that.”

But Marbury - who is known by the three Chinese characters “Ma Bu Li” - remains cagey on whether he will stay to build on his court success and his hopes of marketing his “Starbury” brand of basketball shoes.

“I’m going to have to weigh my options as far as what I’m going to do, but I’m looking forward to [coming back],” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to play basketball in the CBA. I think it has been a great experience, so I have to evaluate it with my wife, see what my kids think about the situation.

“It might be a situation where, you know, I might be here for a couple of years and my family might have to move here. So there is a lot to think about.”

Marbury wants Shanxi in northern China to bring in better players, keep on board coach Wu Qinglong and reportedly craft a compensation package that could include a shoe marketing deal and a playing salary of $2 million.

In 15 regular-season games, Marbury averaged 22.8 points and 9.5 assists for the Brave Dragons, managing to eke out a 10-win, 22-loss record for a team that was just 4-13 before he arrived.

The team enjoyed record crowds at home, a reception that marked quite a turnaround from his controversial 15-year NBA career. After being benched by former Knicks coach Isiah Thomas during the 2007-2008 season, Marbury refused to play in what became an ugly spat that drew national headlines and alienated fans.

The rancor dragged into the following season until the Knicks bought out the final year of a reported $42 million contract in early 2009. He last played for the Boston Celtics.

Marbury still hopes to play again in the NBA one day. But he hinted that the fan adoration, and the respect he enjoys from CBA players and coaches, will be hard to give up.

“They respect me because of what I do on the court,” he said. “People wrote so many things back at home. It is political back at home. Coming here, people really understand who I am as a basketball player and a person ... they’ve had an opportunity to see for themselves.”

Sunday’s All-Star Game showcased Marbury’s impact. The first person to play in both an NBA and a CBA All-Star Game, he led an American domination of the fast-paced, nationally televised game that also saw big performances by former Denver Nugget Rodney White, one-time Houston Rocket John Lucas and Nigerian Olumide Oyedeji, an ex-Seattle Supersonic.

Zhang Qingpeng, China’s national team point guard, who scored 29 points for the North and proved the only Chinese star to match the quality of the former NBA players, gushed about Marbury’s play.

“He controls the game. When he passes, he gets the ball to you in a very comfortable position and makes it easier to score. ... There is a lot we need to learn from him.”

South All-Star Lin Zhijie said, “He knows how to turn it on as the game progresses. From the start of the game, he got everyone involved playing high-level basketball. This is how an All-Star Game should be.”


AFP
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