“Before I came to China, I was in a dark place for a long time. It really feels like a dream. China has given me an opportunity to play basketball again.” These are the words of Stephon Marbury, as featured in My Other Home ( I Am Marbury in Chinese), a biopic based on his real-life story (and starring Marbury has himself) that was received a theatrical release in China last June.
Before he started his career with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Stephon Marbury was known as a controversial “lone wolf” in the NBA. After relocating his career to China, Marbury first played with the Zhongyu Brave Dragons, Shanxi’s CBA team, and later with the CBA team from Foshan in southern China. At first, there weren’t many fans that thought he would make it work in China, though as an NBA star, he was a welcome presence on CBA courts.
Things didn’t change much until he finally made it to Beijing and started to play for the Beijing Ducks in 2011. Since then, he has become a highly respected teammate, a coach-like trainer, and a foreigner widely revered for showing his respect and love for the city he played for. Marbury earned a rabid fanbase in Beijing after leading the Ducks to three championships, in 2012, 2014 and 2015, receiving the CBA finals MVP along the way.
All this has led Marbury to becoming a hero in China’s capital. People here call him “Commissar Ma” in praise of his dedication to the sport, and his contribution to rebuilding the Ducks and leading them to their first string of championships.
Back in 2012, sports website HoopChina started an online pledge drive, saying that if more than one million people voted for it they would erect a statue of Marbury near the MaterCard Center, the Ducks’ home court. They reached that quota in 6 days.
In 2014, Marbury was identified as the 30th ever “Beijing Honored Citizen” by the Beijing municipal government, and he received a Chinese green card — a permanent residence permit for expats — in 2015. When I recently attended the wedding of a friend of mine, whose husband is a huge Marbury fan, she surprised the groom with a video of Marbury wishing them all the best, which she had requested on Marbury’s Weibo.
Today, Stephon Marbury has 4.46 million followers on Weibo, and has just finished his last game at the MasterCard Center in Beijing, where he has made so many miracles happen. But that game was with the Beijing Fly Dragons, due to a disagreement with the Beijing Ducks that marred his 22nd year of professional basketball.
Stephon Marbury will play his final CBA game this Sunday, in the Beijing Olympics Sports Center. The point guard has lived a full second life here in Beijing, his adopted home. Beijing’s basketball fans — and many other Beijingers — will remember him forever as “Commissar Ma.”
Cover photo: Stephon Marbury on China’s National Day