Mar­bury aims to bow out in style

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As the roller­coaster ride of his ca­reer nears its end, Stephon Mar­bury is de­ter­mined to bow out a true leg­end in the place he now calls home — Beijing.

A bona-fide hero in the city af­ter help­ing the Beijing Ducks win three CBA ti­tles be­tween 2012 and 2015, Mar­bury’s deep con­nec­tion with the cap­i­tal has ce­mented his iconic sta­tus in China and for­ever en­deared him to fans here, even af­ter his six-year mar­riage with the Ducks ended in some­what ac­ri­mo­nious fash­ion in April.

To the de­light of his fans, a new one-year con­tract with the Beikong Fly Dragons, Beijing’s other CBA fran­chise, has al­lowed the vet­eran to con­tinue his love af­fair with the city and Chi­nese bas­ket­ball.

“I am thank­ful to the Beikong or­ga­ni­za­tion for giv­ing me a chance to com­pete as a 40-year-old vet­eran in the city that I love,” Mar­bury said at his of­fi­cial un­veil­ing at the Olympic Sports Cen­ter Sta­dium, the Fly Dragons’ home arena, on Sun­day.

“I will fight with ev­ery­thing in me to lead the team through its forth­com­ing chal­lenges and help each player im­prove and grow.”

Mar­bury re­vealed that he will re­tire from pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball af­ter play­ing in Beikong’s yel­low jer­sey for one more year with a re­ported salary of $1.3 mil­lion.

The for­mer NBA All-Star wanted one more sea­son with the Ducks, whom he led to their maiden CBA ti­tle in 2012, af­ter miss­ing out on the play­offs last term.

How­ever, keen to ini­ti­ate a re­build­ing process, the club only of­fered Mar­bury a role as an as­sis­tant coach, which he de­clined.

The two par­ties split, leav­ing Beijing’s bas­ket­ball com­mu­nity lament­ing the loss of a true fan fa­vorite, who has a bronze statue erected in his honor out­side Wukesong Arena and boasts his own per­sonal mu­seum near Tian’an­men Square.

De­spite the bit­ter sep­a­ra­tion from the Ducks, Mar­bury said he never fell out of love with his adopted home.

“My spirit re­ally didn’t agree with go­ing any­where else other than play­ing bas­ket­ball here,” said Mar­bury, who stars as him­self in My Other Home, a bi­o­graph­i­cal movie which pre­miered on Sun­day and tells the story of his re­demp­tion from a de­clin­ing NBA player to a cham­pion in China.

“I felt like go­ing to an­other team my legacy wouldn’t have stayed the way it’s ca­pa­ble of stay­ing, so my de­ci­sion to stay at home was an easy one that worked out with Beikong.”

The Fly Dragons, owned by State-con­trolled Beijing En­ter­prises Group, is en­ter­ing its fourth sea­son in the CBA af­ter be­ing pro­moted from the sec­ond-tier Na­tional Bas­ket­ball League in 2014.

The team has signed an ex­pe­ri­enced front-court combo in Amer­i­can Shav­lik Ran­dolph and Jor­da­nian Zaid Ab­bas to as­sist Mar­bury as it aims to reach the play­offs for the first time in its his­tory.

The Fly Dragons have also hired Ding Wei, for­mer as­sis­tant coach of reign­ing CBA cham­pion the Xin­jiang Fly­ing Tigers, to help gel the three for­eign vet­er­ans with a rel­a­tively im­ma­ture lo­cal ros­ter.

Ding reck­ons Mar­bury’s ex­pe­ri­ence and fight­ing spirit will be in­valu­able.

“I think the big­gest dif­fer­ence he will make is to change the team’s men­tal tough­ness by bring­ing a strong de­sire for vic­tory. That’s how I ex­pect him to in­flu­ence our young guys, mak­ing them more ag­gres­sive and hun­gry so they can sur­vive in an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive league,” said Ding.

Although qual­i­fy­ing for the post­sea­son looks a big ask, Mar­bury has set his sights on a higher goal.

“The only way you ac­tu­ally work to­ward the cham­pi­onship is you start­ing think­ing about it,” said the for­mer New York Knicks and Bos­ton Celtics player, who first joined the CBA with Shanxi in 2010.

“If we train like cham­pi­ons and we think like cham­pi­ons, we have an op­por­tu­nity to be cham­pi­ons. This may be a far­fetched goal but this is how I pre­pare for the sea­son.”

WEI XIAOHAO / CHINA DAILY

Stephon Mar­bury and Wang Jin­shan, pres­i­dent of the Beijing Ru­ral and Com­mer­cial Bank, pose with a Beikong Fly Dragons jer­sey af­ter an­nounc­ing the for­mer NBA star’s $1.3-mil­lion con­tract with the CBA team on Sun­day in Beijing.

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