Former NBA and Georgia Tech star Stephon Marbury has thrived playing overseas.
Not many pro basketball players have ever had a statue made of them — especially while they were still playing. Even fewer can claim they’ve had a museum opened to celebrate their careers. Or a postage stamp made to bear their likeness.
And we only know of one who has had a musical staged in his honor, and he happens to be a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.
Indeed, Stephon Marbury has made the most of his second pro basketball career in China, where tens of millions of hoops fans have gone gaga over his skills and charisma.
Not only has the sharpshooting point guard been a perennial all-star since he signed with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons in 2010, but Marbury also has helped lead his current team — the Beijing Ducks — to three Chinese league titles in the past four years.
“I honestly feel it was part of my destiny to come to play and live here in China,” Marbury says. “It’s helped me to become the best basketball player and person I could be.”
Marbury took the opportunity to play in China following a rough last few years in the NBA, which included the untimely death of his father, Don, and a sour stint with the then-highly dysfunctional New York Knicks.
He’s not the first American-born NBA player who has moved to China to extend his career.
“I decided to take a break from the NBA and evaluate what was most important to me,” Marbury says. He realized that what he really wanted wasn’t fame and fortune, but rather respect, peace, harmony, and togetherness. “Coming from a family of seven kids, these are the things that I have always valued.”
Marbury attends the December 2015 opening of "The House of Marbury," a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments in Beijing.
He says he found those things during his one-year stay at Georgia Tech.
“That team was a winner because we had great team chemistry and harmony,” Marbury says. “We had the right pieces.”
During the 1995-96 season, Marbury averaged 18.9 points per game for the Yellow Jackets, leading the team — along with future NBA players Matt Harpring and Drew Berry — to the NCAA tournament semifinals.
Marbury was named a Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press that year, and with his stock very high, declared for the 1996 NBA draft where he was selected fourth overall. During his NBA career, he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and the Boston Celtics, earning two NBA all-star nods along the way.
Unfortunately, Marbury says, his NBA teams couldn’t put together the right chemistry or winning culture. “It never happened that way for me in the NBA,” he says. “But here in China, I have more than proved to myself and to my fans that I’m a winner.”
Chinese fans rabidly love winners, and Marbury has more than met their expectations. “There are so many people living in the country [more than 1.3 billion], and many of them are huge basketball fans,” he says. “They are extremely knowledgeable about the game. In fact, when I came into the league, they knew way more about me than I knew about them. ”
They’ve rewarded the 39-year-old Marbury with a cult-like following throughout the country, and especially in Beijing, where a statue in honor of his first league championship was erected in 2012 and where his museum, The House of Marbury, was opened this past December.
“I’m amazed at how the fans always treat me with kindness and love,” he says.
Marbury says the biggest difference between playing in the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association hasn’t been the game itself, but rather the differences in culture.
“The game is the same, though the NBA still represents the highest level of basketball and skill in the world,” Marbury says. “Overcoming the language barrier with my coaches and teammates and fans has been far more of a challenge.”
That hasn’t stopped Marbury from making China his home. Last year, he received his green card to live permanently in the country, and he says he spends more time there than in his home back in the United States.
Friends and family every so often ask him if he would ever consider going back to the U.S. to play in the NBA again. “Why would I leave a place where I’ve had nothing but blessings?” he replies.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to recognize the number of blessings I’ve had. China is my home. I’m not just visiting. The amazing people here have made me a part of their family.”
Marbury is set to star in "My Other Home," a Chinese-American
sports biographical film directed by Yang Zi (杨子). The film is
scheduled for release in December.
Story: Roger Slavens Digital Design: Erica Endicott
Updated: December 2016
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.