Marbury, the 13-year veteran of the NBA, known most recently for his brief cameo appearance on the 2008-09 Celtics, has found a new career in a faraway land. And in a strange way, it's probably a perfect fit for him.
The washed-up former All-Star made his debut Thursday with the Taiyuan Shanxi Zhongyu Professional Basketball Club, one of the worst professional teams in China. It's an unlikely destination for a guy who was one of the NBA's biggest stars a few years ago — but he's making it work.
"Ma Bu Li," as he is now known, is the biggest American NBA star ever to play professional basketball in China. It's not even close, in fact. The other American players who have headed far east to shoot hoops are no-names in the States — John Lucas III, DerMarr Johnson, Ansu Sesay. These are guys who couldn't make it in America, and they were just going where they can hold down a job and make a buck.
Marbury is different. He's already made north of $150 million in paychecks over his NBA career, but it's not about money anymore. It's about fame, and it's about finding new, creative ways to market the "Starbury" persona.
He isn't a superstar anymore. He spent too much of his career shooting, scoring and failing to lead winning teams. He never matured into a true franchise player, the kind of guy you'd be proud to call the cornerstone of your basketball team for years to come. And it wasn't for lack of time.
The Marbury act grew thin in the States, but the man wasn't done playing. He loves the game, he loves the competition and, more than anything, he loves the attention.
In New York and later in Boston, Marbury was a small fish swimming in a big pond. Around here, there's a sporting icon everywhere you look. Marbury wasn't making headlines anymore, and it drove him a little crazy.
Marbury's insanity hit rock bottom this summer. The 24-hour live video chat he held in July? That's enough to get some people committed to a mental institution.
But the man was just craving attention, and in China, he'll get it.
"The aim of signing Marbury is to pay back our fans and try to win more games in the rest of the season," Shanxi boss Wang Xingjiang told the media last week.
Whether he's a winner or not is beside the point, really. Shanxi is one of the worst teams in its league, and signing one high-scoring guard probably won't make or break their season, from a basketball standpoint at least. But as a publicity stunt, Wang Xingjiang has made a coup of a signing.
Basketball sells, in China and here in the States, because of the fame of the game's biggest superstars. The NBA is a star-driven league and the Chinese landscape is much the same. And it's not just Yao Ming, the country's greatest homegrown talent. Jerseys of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady sell like hotcakes overseas.
Now, the Chinese have an American basketball icon they can call their own.
On the court, he's nothing special anymore. He was a bust for the Celtics, taking too many bad shots and falling asleep on the job defensively. He's a little old to be considered an elite player in any country.
But winner or not, Marbury is a brilliant signing for the Chinese club, and the move will pay off for everyone. China has its new hoops icon, Marbury has the attention he's craved and the American game will be perfectly fine without the constant Marbury retirement melodrama. Everyone wins.
Everyone, that is, except the Taiyuan Shanxi Zhongyu Professional Basketball Club. But if they're going to lose, they might as well make headlines doing it.