Posted at 9:45 AM on March 2, 2009
by Chris Dall
The year was 1997. The Vikings were coming off a mediocre season and a playoff thrashing by Cowboys. The Twins were in the midst of their late 90s swoon. And the Minnesota Timberwolves looked like they were about to embark on a long era of prosperity and become the biggest team in town.
I know, it's hard to imagine. The Wolves would finish 40-42 that season and lose in the first round of the playoffs, but what had fans really excited was the duo of 2nd-year player Kevin Garnett and rookie Stephon Marbury. By that point fans had begun to realize what a special player Garnett was, with his size and freakish athleticism. Marbury was the rare point guard who could be a great distributor and scorer, a player who could break down defenses and had no fear of taking the big shot.
Marbury and Garnett were going to be the next generation Karl Malone and John Stockton, minus the short shorts. A power forward and point guard combination that would be unstoppable. All GM Kevin McHale had to do was put the right pieces around them.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be, and I don't need to go into all the painful details. That brief moment of hope was shattered in the strike-shortened 1999 season, when Marbury, irked by Minnesota winters and Garnett's $126 million contract, forced a trade to New Jersey. Marbury claimed he simply wanted to be closer to home, but it was pretty clear that being Robin to KG's Batman was not enough for him. Though the Wolves had several good years after that, they never found another player who could complement Garnett in the same way.
I wonder if Marbury regrets that decision. My guess is probably not, but he should. Let's review Starbury's illustrious career. Two-plus seasons in New Jersey, one All-Star Game, no playoff appearences. Two-plus seasons in Phoenix, one All-Star Game, one playoff appearance. In five seasons with the Knicks, the team of his childhood, Marbury made the playoffs only once and never made an All-Star game. He's never even sniffed an NBA title. And two of the teams he played for, New Jersey and Phoenix, got significantly better after he left.
Marbury has compiled great numbers all the way. He's averaged nearly 20 points and 8 assists a game. But if you're looking at the pros and cons of Stephon Marbury as a basketball player, those would be the only items in the pro category. He's never shown any interest in being a team player or a leader. Along the way, Marbury has alienated teammates, gotten several coaches canned, and nearly taken down an entire franchise with his behavior. Then there was his stellar effort with the 2004 Olympic basketball team, the one NBA-led Olympic squad not to bring home gold. Throughout his career, Marbury has given a bad name to term "clubhouse cancer."
There is a good side to Marbury. In 2006 he launched an apparel company to produce and sell basketball shoes for $15. He donated a million dollars to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund. He pays barbers to give free haircuts in Coney Island. This Stephon Marbury exhibits a knowledge of and sensitivity to social problems, and a willingness to do something about them. There aren't a lot of players like that in the NBA, or in any professional sport for that matter. But that awareness of the bigger picture has never translated into his work on the court.
Things got so bad this year that the Knicks were not only paying him not to play, they were paying him to stay away from their team. That situation ended on Thursday when the Knicks bought out the $20 million remaining on Marbury's contract, freeing him to take his "talents" anwyhere he wanted.
And now he's been reunited with his old friend Kevin Garnett in Boston, where he'll get the chance to compete for the championship that has long eluded him. A guy who once coached Marbury, Flip Saunders, says a "humbled" Marbury will help the Celtics win. Others aren't so sure.
This might be the opportunity for Stephon Marbury to redeem himself and reclaim his career, and maybe he deserves a chance to do that. But I also find it a bit galling that a guy who's never shown any understanding of how to play winning basketball has found a way onto a team that could be fighting for a title in June.
(Photo by Harry How/Allsport)