By David Jordan Jr
The journey of life is something that a person can either deny, try to change or embrace. Everybody’s journey is different but the final destination is what will ultimately define the person. Stephon Xavier Marbury has had the ultimate journey as not only a basketball player but as a person. Stephon, a Native of Coney Island, New York was born into his destiny. The “Next” in the line of basketball greatness in the Marbury family and the New York lineage of great point guards, Stephon climbed through the ranks of New York City basketball as a phenom at Abraham Lincoln High School (yes the same Lincoln with Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s 1998 film “He Got Game”) where he would win Mr. Basketball for the state of New York after his senior season and was named a McDonald’s All American (1995). Taking his talents to Georgia Tech in the fall of 1995, Stephon electrified the college basketball world as a freshman, leading the Yellow Jackets to the 1996 NCAA Tournament and winning multiple individual awards including being named third team All American. For Stephon, the next step in his journey was the league, a.k.a. the NBA. A lottery pick in the illustrious 1996 NBA Draft Class (considered by many to be the greatest draft class of all time) Stephon embarked upon a thirteen year NBA career in which he would win All Rookie honors, All NBA honors, be named an NBA All Star and become an Olympian. As with any journey, ups and downs are present but with the appearance of downs, the only way to catapult is upward. Stephon began his international playing career in China in 2010 and has enjoyed the fruits of faith, patience and hard work as he has changed not only the basketball climate in China, but the entire culture. Spreading love and being love is what Stephon has done and China has reciprocated the love in many actions. A movie, a museum, a musical, a postage stamp, being named an ambassador and even a statue have all been given to China as a show of love for him as a not only a player, but a person. ESHE Magazine recently spoke with Stephon in Los Angeles during his preparation for his final season of professional basketball. Stephon discussed his life journey, his career, his newly released movie “My Other Home” and the relaunch of his Starbury Brand and the new partnership with Citi Trends.
David Jordan Jr: You’re entering your 20th season of professional basketball; talk about this journey from coming up in a basketball family as a little kid with dreams of playing basketball on the biggest stage and accomplishing your goals and achieving tremendous success at each level. In high school at Lincoln, collegiately at Georgia Tech, in the NBA, in the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) and on the Olympic level?
Stephon X. Marbury: It’s been an amazing journey. For me to come from a basketball family, three older brothers and a younger brother, I had an advantage that a lot of others kids didn’t have because of coming from a basketball family. I knew other things that other players didn’t know. This is how longevity and being able to play for so long has lasted. The physical part of the game goes but so far; the knowledge always continues to increase. Leaving going to play basketball in China, playing in the NBA, It’s all the ball, it’s the globe. Me being able to find success in China was a part of the journey; all I had to experience playing basketball in America. The NBA was my learning curve. I got an opportunity to go through so many different challenges before I won one championship that I never stopped going for what I wanted and that was to win a championship and seeking and searching to do that and the NBA was the best teacher, the greatest platform that any player can have the experience to learn and everything has been a learning process. A lot of people witnessed and watched and had their opinions and their views on what they feel, what you should do and what you shouldn’t do, how you should play and how you shouldn’t play but through my beliefs and my trust and beliefs in my ability as a basketball I got an opportunity to go through so many different challenges before I won one championship that I never stopped going for what I wanted and that was to win a championship and seeking and searching to do that and the NBA was the best teacher, the greatest platform that any player can have the experience to learn and everything has been a learning process. I stayed consistent in believing in what I knew I was and that was a CHAMPION. For me to look at all the different steps in high school, high school to college, college to NBA and the NBA to China, it’s all a journey.
David Jordan Jr: Besides having the amazing natural GOD given talent, I think being from New York and going to what my friends and I call Point Guard U, Georgia Tech University has had a tremendous effect on you being such a great point guard. Your older brothers Eric, Donnie, Jou Jou, younger brother Zack, Pearl Washington, Mark Jackson Kenny Anderson, great guards from New York before you and coach Bobby Cremins and the great guards he had at Georgia Tech before you, how did these factors influence your career?
Stephon X. Marbury: Growing up in New York and playing basketball in Coney Island, you always knew who was who. You knew the guards, you knew the nice players, but I never really thought about it. I always thought of me as being one of the guards coming from New York because all of the guards are different. I took a lot of all of their games and put that in my game. I did a lot of that, and being able to know the heritage of all of those guards it pushed you to be better and to really go for it. That was my motivation. I knew a lot of the guards from New York couldn’t jump. It was not really that many that could jump. I jump higher than all of them. It was already go for it. That was my motivation. I knew a lot of the guards from New York couldn’t jump. It was not really that many that could jump. I jump higher than all of them. It was already instilled and taught to me as a little kid to be a little guy that could fly. That separates you on the court from all of the other guards. That’s what separates Westbrook, he can dunk, he’s 6’5 though. I’m 6’1, A.I. is six-foot. It’s no science. I can’t dunk like the way I used to and have no desire to. I have so much respect for Derrick Rose because that guy, he messed his knees up bad playing and came right back. That takes an unbelievable type of will to come back from the injuries that he had. A lot of it is freak, accident, a lot of it is how he’s been training. But for myself when I see these type of guards and I know these guards exist, I look at it and say wow here we have these kids who are super talented, amazing abilities but they don’t play like how we played back then. We came in playing against players like Jordan and Oakley, real bruisers, real different players. The guys that can play, you know those guys right away; like Westbrook. I don’t agree when you say Lebron couldn’t play with the big boys; I’m a Kobe guy but Lebron can play with any generation.
David Jordan Jr: You’re a part of the 1996 Draft Class, which I consider to be the best draft class of all time. Coming into the NBA after your freshmen year of college, what was the most important piece of advice you got your rookie year that has helped you throughout your career and who was it from?
Stephon X. Marbury: I got so much advice from everybody. I was a sponge. I was just trying to be the best that I could be. Flip Saunders was the person that taught me the NBA game. You can make the NBA but not everybody can play the NBA game; they can play basketball but the playing the game is not as easy as people think. It’s not just getting on the court and playing. In order to score 20 points every night for 10 years straight, that takes a lot of work to do that, to play like that, to have that style.
David Jordan Jr: Consistency is so underrated. You have people that will get awestruck when one person has one big game but it’s really about being able to do it every night.
Stephon X. Marbury: If you’re not able to do it every night, you’re not doing anything. You knew when you watched NBA games back in the day, you knew who was going to come off the bench and play the same way every night. The nice players are the nice players. If you watched the game and saw the ball swing, you already knew whoever was taking that corner shot it was going in because they were wide open. Guys miss wide open shots and nobody is there. Why can’t he make that shot and he’s playing in the NBA making that much money? The truth is a lot of these kids don’t have the same attitude that we had. When we played we knew we were going to make money. You got some dudes that get the money and seem to quit working. They don’t even play consistent anymore. You don’t have a great year, sign a contract, comeback as healthy as an ox and you don’t play games? You can have a bad two, three games, but you can’t have a bad month! (Laughs) You ain’t shooting the ball good but by games 4 or 5 you should be making adjustments in the gym, shooting more, a lot of different things should have been happening to get your game on track. It’s a job, it’s a J.O.B. and it pays. You’re supposed to go hard no matter what. If you’re going to get on the court, even if you’re playing pickup you have to play hard. I see dudes not playing hard. I’d rather get beat than reach and everybody get penalized on defense. IF you get beat, you get beat. I see dudes not getting back on D’ but then want the ball when the ball is advanced.
David Jordan Jr: During your NBA career you had the opportunity to play for two of the most legendary teams in the league, the Boston Celtics and your hometown New York Knicks. When playing for the Celtics did you feel the Boston “Mystique” that everybody speaks of?
Stephon X. Marbury: INSTANTLY. When you walk in there and see all of those championships, the culture and pride is winning championships there and when they don’t win championships they are mad and gear up for another year. The authenticity of the Boston fans, who they are speaks volumes. From baseball, basketball, hockey it’s all of that inside the city. You get an opportunity to see that, feel that, hear it, embrace it. I told somebody the other day that Boston helped me win championships. That was the final piece of what I needed to win a championship. I was in such a bad place when in New York and when I went to Boston it was like, amazing. I got a chance to be on a team that had just won a championship and they believed that I had the ability to help them. That was one thing that helped me revitalize and get jumped started. I got to Boston, New York froze me out all the way until the deadline. I didn’t get my timing back until the playoffs and we lost to the Magic. That’s when I had finally got my legs back but by then we weren’t playing as well and Orlando was playing really good and went to the finals that year. We didn’t have enough but I felt myself coming on and when I was there having that experience and knowing what championship play felt like on the court and being in that arena, it propelled me in China like crazy.
David Jordan Jr: How did it feel to put on a Knicks jersey and play at the Garden? You played at The Garden in high school and also when you were at Georgia Tech but how did it feel to play at The Garden as a Knick?
Stephon X. Marbury: Nothing like it. When I first came to New York IT WAS ON. I TURNED NEW YORK OUT! But you gotta win in New York. You don’t win, it’s coming. I had different things that went on and made things worse, the ups and downs and losing, it was a lot. I learned a lot from New York. The experience of being in a situation where you don’t get the opportunity to play in your hometown. That was a blow. I didn’t want to leave New York, but they wanted to go in another direction which was fine.
David Jordan Jr: You began your international playing career in China in 2010. In seven years of playing and living in China, you’ve not only had success on the court, but you’ve had such a tremendous influence on the culture. GOD allows adversity into our lives, yet he blesses us with double and that is what he has done for you in China. From championships to individual awards, being on a postage stamp, being made an ambassador to Beijing and being immortalized with a statue in from of the Arena in which you won a championship, how has the success you’ve received playing in China coupled with the pure love you’ve received from the fans affected your life? Does it seem like a dream at times?
Stephon X. Marbury: It’s all GOD’s plan. It’s all his doing. I don’t have anything to do with it to be honest. When I look at all what has been done and I see it, it was a part of what was supposed to happen. I was supposed to go through everything I went through. A reporter asked me do I have any regrets and I said “No I Don’t.” What has been going on in my life has been amazing. What’s been going on in my life has been part of my journey, part of what’s going to happen and when I look at China, I look at China as this is what the Lord wanted everybody to see. This wasn’t what I planned. I didn’t plan that; being my China is not what I thought I would be doing. I ain’t have no clue of what was going on when it was going on. I was just riding the wave, I wasn’t getting up off of it. They tried to get me to come back play in the NBA after the first championship but I was like I’m GOOD. I’m going to stay here and keep trying to win some more championships because I like statues outside the arena and I know ain’t no statues going up in America, maybe in Coney Island but no statues going up outside no arena no matter how many championships you win. How it happened was even crazier. It was all a part of his doing. I don’t really take any credit for it. I Look at it how you look at it. I’m living and these things are happening. The type of things that go on, it’s amazing to be able to share that experience.
David Jordan Jr: Your Biopic “My Other Home” debuted this August. Before that, you starred in your own musical “I Am Marbury.” Talk about how it was to have a film created about your life and how was it recreating different moments of your life and seeing them on the big screen.
Stephon X. Marbury: That’s a good question. It was difficult doing the role because I couldn’t play myself; I was playing a character and that part was a little confusing to me because it is me, it’s about me but this is what you have to learn. After we finished shooting that movie we created a genre in China that nobody has ever done before. Doing it was crazy because I had to do a crying scene where I had to basically read my lines and speak and talk about my father dying and that part was the best part. People ask me what was the best part of the movie and I say that was the best part. That was the realest part period. To do it, to act it out, to be able to stay focused and staying in tune with the craft of acting, it was really difficult. I had to go into a dark place for two days to prepare for it and I shot the crying scene in one take.
Nobody knew that I could act. I knew I could do it. I didn’t think it would be hard to learn, but it’s harder than you think. The acting part is not the hard part, it’s remember the lines and those long ass monologues. Those monologues drive you crazy. I HAD A GREAT ACTING COACH, which was the number one ever doing that and being able to do that gave me great confidence. As time went on after I did the crying scene the movie went so smooth after that. People will see the movie in America.
David Jordan Jr: People are talking and asking when will the movie come to the states.
Stephon X. Marbury: It’s going to come. The best part about it is that is in Chinese and English so that both audiences are satisfied. English subtitles for the Chinese parts and Chinese subtitles for the English parts.
David Jordan Jr: I want to congratulate you on the relaunching of the Starbury Brand. In recent years so many people in sports and entertainment have begun launching their own brands, but you were the first having started Starbury in 2006. You did it with a pure motive of creating style, comfort and affordability for fans, sneakerheads and families. Talk about the beginnings and how you’ve been able to relaunch on an international level, something that many companies aspire to, yet you’re starting as a global product and how the new partnership with Citi Trends has all played a part into where the brand is now.
Stephon X. Marbury: As you said it’s purely motivated on trying to allow people to have access. Access for all is our motto. That’s what we’re doing and what we’ve been trying to do, which has been very difficult and hard. A lot of people are asking us why are you in here or why this, why that and I’m like Trust me I want to be in Walmart, I want to be in Kohl’s, I want to be in all of the outlets. But trying to get in it was so trying and challenging but Citi Trends gave us a shot and allowed us to get back into the game. Citi Trends has 500 stores, Steve & Barry’s had 150 stores at the time so we tried to put ourselves in a position where we were able to just continue to allow people to buy something at an affordable price and being able to create stuff that looks good, feels good and stuff that people would feel good about buying. That’s numeral uno. That’s what it’s about. It’s simple. We just trying to keep building it. We have other products that are coming out. We’re going to start selling electronics. We’re able to create these items for people to buy at an affordable price and being that I live in China and have access to all of the factories it just makes sense. People will support you if you create an affordable product. We’re just trying to become a part of people’s lives. It’s like my mother says “It’s one thing when you want something Stephon, but it’s another thing when you need it. When you need it, It’s different. We want a lot of stuff but we need water, we need shoes, we need clothes to be on our backside to walk on the earth and we’re able to create something that they can buy an affordable price and they like it and it’s cool. It should be in these stores.
David Jordan Jr: How has social media and being able to interact with your fans all over the world played a major part in everything. You’re one of the few celebrities that always engages with people and I think that creates and fosters relationships with people because you make yourself accessible. How has social media influenced everything that you are continuing to do?
Stephon X. Marbury: Social media has been my marketing. It’s so easy now. Not only is it easy but it’s so many platforms. The platforms give you that opportunity. You don’t have to 80 million people following. I mean it’s nice, but if you have the right people following you, 80 million people will get the message. Social media is a business. You can buy a million followers but the real organic fans are the people that push your message. I use social media for what it is; as a platform to engage, think, talk, share. It’s not about making a lot of people follow us. If somebody wants something that you’re selling, they’re going to go buy it. If it’s hot, they’re going to talk about it, they’re going to share it, it’s organic. You can’t beat it. Real is going to always pop out.
David Jordan Jr: With this being your last season of playing professional basketball what will be two things you miss the most about playing?
Stephon X. Marbury: The fans and winning. Being on the court playing and winning. For me they’re like “you got three championships why are you still playing?” I’m still able to do something that a lot of people can’t do at my age; I’M WINNING. I’m 40 years old and I’m still busting young dudes ass. Like killing them, like cannot check me nowhere on the court and I know it, and he know it. Why would I stop doing that if I can still do that. People ask me about the Big 3; I’m not opposed to playing in it. It’s going to the Olympics. For me I’m looking at it like I’m retiring from playing professionally but I did my thing 21 years last one of the draft class, ’96 THE BEST CLASS EVER. It’s an honor to play with some of the greatest player to play basketball. Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash. Its’ like three dudes that got four MVPs in that group. It’s sick. Everybody had it all the way through. Everybody hooped. Peja Stojaković, Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, Samaki Walker, John Wallace, Vitaly Potapenko, Lorenzen Wright, Derek Fisher.
David Jordan Jr: Word Association. Tell me the 1st thing that comes to your mind.
David Jordan Jr: Basketball
Stephon X. Marbury: LOVE
David Jordan Jr: GOD
Stephon X. Marbury: LOVE
David Jordan Jr: STARBURY
David Jordan Jr: Allen Iverson
David Jordan Jr: China
Stephon X. Marbury: HOME