Halfway Around The World, Stephon Marbury Retains Strong, Fond Memories Of Time With USA Basketball
The Olympian and two-time NBA All-Star now spends his post-playing days in China.
Like most high school kids, Stephon Marbury was excited to go to prom his junior year.
But then he got invited to a bigger party.
Marbury’s mom received a phone call from USA Basketball. Her son had been chosen to play for the USA Basketball Men’s Junior Team.
“My mother made me cancel my prom to go and play with the team,” Marbury recalled. “It was pretty cool now knowing the experience that I’ve had and going to play abroad at a young age how it helped me in the future. Living in China and going to other places that I’ve played with USA Basketball — I went to a lot of countries.”
Marbury helped Team USA take home the gold in the 1994 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Argentina. He put up solid numbers as the point guard, averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 7.8 assists per contest.
That was Marbury’s first time wearing a USA jersey, a real eye-opening experience for the Brooklyn-born baller. Junior team coach Clem Haskins had a big influence on Marbury.
“It was like a turning point in my career,” Marbury said. “I came from New York and I was one of those guys — he called me the ‘city slicker’ — I had that city slicker attitude. I had one sock up, one sock down. My shirt was hanging out of my pants and he was just yelling, ‘Son, put your shirt tail in. Son, put your shirt tail in. Fix your socks. You’re going to put them up or you’re going to put them down.’ When he said those things to me and I did that, I showed that I was changing and conforming into what I would become. I was allowing him to tell me things that I needed, so I was retaining all of that information and I was using it.”
That was only the beginning for Marbury, as he went on to play for plenty of other Team USA squads, including in the 2004 Olympic Games. Playing for USA Basketball helped shape Marbury’s long career. Last year, Marbury hung up his sneakers after more than two decades of professional basketball — 13 years in the NBA and then a nine-year run in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
Marbury dabbled with the idea of returning to the U.S. to try and get back in the NBA, but he decided his basketball career was over after playing his final game on Feb. 11, 2018, for the Beijing Flying Dragons.
“It wasn’t hard for me to retire because I played so long,” Marbury said. “After playing that long, it pretty much was time. My body was telling me that it was time. I could play, but I wasn’t capable of doing the things that I love doing on the court like the way I like to do it.”
Looking back on his career, one of the major highlights for Marbury was his time playing for USA Basketball. He has many fond memories.
“The best! The best,” Marbury said. “Playing for USA Basketball helped me a lot. I had the opportunity to go to the Olympics and playing in the Junior Olympics.”
To take home a gold medal in the 1994 Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament was special for Marbury. But it was a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old kid as the point guard and team leader.
“The platform that we played on, the opportunity to get to play against Argentina in the championship was amazing,” Marbury said. “I played against those same guys in Greece. We played against the Argentina team for the championship and we beat them and ’94 and they beat us in 2004. During that time playing against those same guys was a challenge because those guys were really good. They played as a team, but we were the better team because we were focused together and we had coach Haskins.”
The following year, Marbury was on the USA team with his future NBA teammate Kevin Garnett that won the 1995 Nike Hoop Summit.
“It was fun playing with him and all the guys that played during that time as well: Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Robert Traylor — God bless his soul,” Marbury said. “There were a lot of guys who contributed to basketball back then and helped basketball grow. Being a part of it is definitely something that’s monumental in my life, especially doing it with USA Basketball because you’re representing your country.”
Marbury’s last go-around with USA Basketball was at the 2004 Olympics. The U.S. finished a disappointing third place with a 5-3 record. But Marbury did his part, averaging 10.5 points and 3.3 assists per game.
“It was an amazing experience and being chosen as an Olympian was a dream come true,” Marbury said. “You dream about those things when you see (Michael) Jordan and (Charles) Barkley and Karl Malone, all of those guys playing and you’re a younger guy and you’re watching that.”
After playing in the NBA for 13 seasons with five teams, Marbury wanted to give his basketball career a shot in the arm. In 2010, he signed with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons of the CBA.
During his nine years playing in China, Marbury had a phenomenal run. He helped the Beijing Ducks win three CBA championships in 2012, ’14 and ’15. Marbury has two statues of his likeness erected in Beijing and a museum dedicated to him. He’s become a cult hero in the city.
“That’s another reason it’s kind of hard to leave a place where they immortalize you,” Marbury said. “It’s like, why would you leave that? Doesn’t make sense to do that.”
Marbury, who has a green card in China, enjoys living in Beijing. It’s certainly a different world after spending his childhood in Brooklyn.
“It’s been the best experience as far as growing as a human being, not just basketball because culturally China is like no other place,” Marbury said. “When you get the opportunity to experience a different culture and you get to live in the culture for years — I literally live here, so it’s not like I was just coming here to play and then leaving. I’ve been living and loving it here.”
Since his retirement, Marbury has become a business entrepreneur. He runs the No. 1 basketball camp for young players in China. One of his major projects through his Starbury brand was designing a basketball that lights up. Marbury is also working on clothing and shoe lines.
With so much going on in Marbury’s life, playing basketball is now an afterthought. He rarely gets on the court these days. And he’s OK with that.
After retirement, Marbury put some thought into attempting to qualify for the inaugural 3x3 basketball tournament in the 2020 Olympics, but he quickly put that notion to rest.
“I pretty much declared I have no desire to train, work out and do all of those things right now,” Marbury said. “I just want to focus on coaching the little kids and working on my projects, that’s my commitment. My body has given me everything. It’s done a lot for me with me being able to play ball. Now I just pretty much enjoy watching the guys play.”