When it comes to discussing small forwards in the game today, the names LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony rise to the top of conversations. The star-studded trio finished 1-2-3 in player efficiency rating in 2010-11, and were the only three SFs who finished with a rating better than 20 in John Hollinger's metric.
But who's the best? Thankfully, you helped us sort it out.After breaking down the top point guards and shooting guards earlier in the week, our panel -- including your responses, sent in via Facebook and Twitter -- takes aim at the the frontcourt, starting with the small forwards.
Isaac Ramirez, via Twitter: Carmelo Anthony. He terrible on defense and doesn't play hard all the time. He's not nearly as efficient as Durant, and is much worse on defense, but there are still people who rank him as No. 2 among SFs.
Tim Donahue, Eight Points, Nine Seconds: This is difficult, but it's probably Carmelo Anthony. He's a great scorer, and one of the best late-game options in the league, but too many people reflexively put him top 5-10 in the league, when top 20-25 is more accurate. And, yes, there is that big of a gap between top 5 and top 25.
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: I don't want to pile on Carmelo Anthony, a player I generally love to watch work on offense. But the problem is, to this point of his career, 'Melo impacts the game only at one end. That puts him a notch below superstars like James, Wade and Bryant, who all became great defensive players as well as offensive forces.
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Somewhere between Los Angeles and Houston, Trevor Ariza was made to be a "go-to" small forward. While his contributions on the defensive end are well documented, his offensive numbers are nowhere near good enough to be a third banana on a playoff team.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: When George Karl questions your defensive focus, I imagine, despite all the supreme clientele scoring ability (as perhaps the most complete bucket-dropper in the NBA), your DNA for winning basketball is not wired like the Kobes and Jordans of history. Being in N.Y. will only increase Carmelo Anthony's overrated hype.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Here are the factors, in varying degrees, taken into account in making this ranking – statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts. Feel free to disagree and make cases for others in the comments.
10. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (2002-Present)
633 G; 15.3 PPG; 3.9 APG; 4.0 RPG; 1.5 3PTM; 44.9 FG%; 83.4 FT%; 1.5 SPG
I decided to put Manu here at No. 1o despite the fact that there were other options who scored more points, the main function of the position. However, all things relative, the lack of outstanding scoring was Manu’s only “deficiency.” The three NBA titles that he was a big part of dilutes the average point production, and while Manu’s placement here is debatable, he’s at least in the argument.
Ginobili played a career-high 80 games this past season and put up enough numbers to earn a place on the All-NBA third team, the second time he’s made an All-NBA team. He’s also been honored with the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, made the All-Star team twice and, of course, won those titles. Manu owns an impressive 21.7 PER and 115 ORtg, which stacks up fairly well against the players below.
The Argentinian Assassin has proven his place in the arena of basketball, both in the NBA and in international competition. Ginobili is fearless attacking the basket and usually finds himself in awkward positions while in the air. He has the ability to take over a game, both as a facilitator of the offense and as a defender jumping the passing lane. Manu’s career numbers may not be terribly impressive, but his career has been. There is still a few seasons left in him where if he stayed healthy, could jump him a place or two on this list.
9. Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons (1985-1999)
1018 G; 16.1 PPG; 4.5 APG, 2.2 RPG; 1.0 3PTM; 46.0 FG%; 84.3 FT%; 0.9 SPG
Dumars will not wow you with his statistics in the same vein as Ginobili, but if you watched him play, he’s deserving of being in the top 10 . He was the first player to be considered a Michael Jordan “stopper,” which is the stuff of legend. And by that I mean it’s a bit exaggerated as no one could actually stop MJ, but (pardon the cliche) only hope to contain him. This is not to disparage Joe Cool because he earned the hardware and respect as a player to be made a Hall of Famer.
Dumars played in six All-Star games, was named to three All-NBA teams, five All-Defensive teams (four first team selections) and chosen as the NBA Finals MVP in 1989. He’s one of those players that did anything it took to win a game. However, his average PER (15.3) probably doesn’t really show how important Dumars was to the Pistons. Dumars finished his career with a 113 ORtg.
Dumars was boring in comparison to the rest of the Bad Boys, such as the fiery Isiah Thomas, enigmatic Dennis Rodman, wise-cracking John Salley and the eternally grimacing Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. Dumars just went about his job, which holds a special place to the blue-collar community of Detroit. Humble and hard-working describe Dumars best.
8. Mitch Richmond, Golden State Warriors (1988-1991), Sacramento Kings (1991-98), Washington Wizards (1998-2001), Los Angeles Lakers (2001-02)
976 G; 21.0 PPG; 3.5 APG; 3.9 RPG; 1.4 3PTM; 45.5 FG%; 85.0 FT%, 1.2 SPG
Richmond was a scoring machine straight from the get-go. He, along with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, was a part of the short-lived three-headed beast known as Run TMC. After moving up and more inland to join the Sacramento Kings, Richmond continued to snap nets on the regular while becoming a perennial threat to score from anywhere on the court.
He never led the league in scoring, but averaged 20+ points a season for 10 straight seasons, starting with his rookie year when he averaged 22.0 PPG and won Rookie of the Year. Richmond played in six straight All-Star games (1993-98), and won the MVP award at the 1995 contest. He was named to five All-NBA teams and posted a solid 17.6 PER and 110 ORtg for his career.
Richmond was a feared scorer, who could have easily been a superstar had he played in a bigger basketball market. When he was traded from the Warriors to the Kings for Billy Owens, I remember being angry that Run TMC was broken up. I was a Knicks fan at the time, but that team was so entertaining and it was fun to look at the boxscore every morning to see how they did. Richmond did his thing!
7. Tracy McGrady, Toronto Raptors (1997-2000), Orlando Magic (2000-04), Houston Rockets (2004-2009), New York Knicks (2010), Detroit Pistons (2010-Present)
886 G; 20.4 PPG, 4.6 APG; 5.8 RPG; 1.2 3PTM; 43.5 FG%; 74.7 FT%; 1.3 SPG
McGrady could have become one of the best ever if injury didn’t get in his way. Despite that, T-Mac, who also played small forward, devastated squads across the Association. He was a versatile and explosive threat that could score, pass and rebound. For a couple of seasons with the Orlando Magic, T-Mac seemed to be the only member of the team, which is a testament to his fortitude to do all he can to lift his squad.
T-Mac led the league in scoring in his last two seasons (2002-03 and 2003-04) with the Magic. His four seasons in Orlando saw him average an incredible 28.1 PPG. He played in seven straight All-Star games, was voted to seven All-NBA teams (two first team selections) and named the 2000-01 NBA Most Improved Player. His career 22.4 PER is the 25th best of all-time, despite finishing with a relatively lackluster 108 ORtg.
McGrady never played a full season in his career, but played 70+ games in seven of 13 full seasons and 49 games in the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. Nagging injuries hampered T-Mac for a good chunk of time, but isn’t enough to hamper his place on the list. Still, he could have been so much better
6. Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks (1996-2003), Seattle SuperSonics (2003-07), Boston Celtics (2007-Present)
1102 G; 20.2 PPG; 3.6 APG; 4.3 RPG; 2.4 3PTM; 45.2 FG%; 89.3 FT%; 1.2 SPG
Allen is the greatest three-point shooter of all-time and flat-out one of the best shooters ever. He possesses what is arguably the most beautiful quick release and stroke in the history of the game. Allen appeared in one of the essential hoops movies, “He Got Game,” playing Jesus Shuttlesworth, which is apropos as his and Kevin Garnett’s arrival helped save the Boston Celtics and brought them back to being champions.
He averaged 20+ points per contest in eight consecutive seasons before joining the Celtics. In 11 of the last 12 seasons, Allen has averaged at least 2.1 makes from beyond the arc and never averaged less than 1.4 in a season. He is the NBA’s career leader in triples drained (2,612) and also has the single season record of 269. Allen led the league in three-point makes in three seasons, played in nine All-Star games and was named to two All-NBA teams. He owns a 19.2 PER and 114 ORtg, both excellent numbers.
Allen simply makes it rain from the perimeter and has enjoyed a fairly durable career, seeming to also age like fine wine. At 35 years old, he shows no sign of slowing down as a shooter and is the ubiquitous cagey veteran. It wouldn’t surprise me if he played at a fairly high level for the next few seasons.
5. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers (1987-2005)
1389 G; 18.2 PPG; 3.0 APG; 3.0 RPG; 1.8 3PTM; 47.1 FG%; 88.8 FT%; 1.1 SPG
If you were ever a Knicks fan during the 1990s, you indubitably hated, even loathed, Reggie Miller. Eight points, nine seconds … enough said. Miller obviously came up big in high pressure situations. He was one of the first, and probably the best, at shooting the trey and kicking his feet out in hopes of drawing a foul. Miller is one of the best shooters the game has ever seen and loved being a villain.
Before Ray Allen came along, Miller was the career three-point field goals made leader (2560), and also led the league in makes in two seasons. As prolific as he was from beyond the three-point line, he was as proficient from the charity stripe, leading the league in free-throw percentage in five seasons. He’s the ninth best shooter from the free-throw line with his 88.8 percent. Miller played in five All-Star games, made an All-NBA three times and finished with a 19.5 PER and excellent 119 ORtg.
Miller was one of those players that you hated, but secretly wished he played on your team. If you weren’t an Indiana Pacers fan, it was easy to both hate and respect him. Miller talked a ton of trash and got into the mind of opponents. Just ask John Starks. He was competitive and hid behind boyish looks and reminded me of the the schoolyard instigator. Miller played all 18 seasons of his career with one team, which is a rarity nowadays.
4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (2003-Present)
547 G; 25.4 PPG; 6.3 APG; 5.1 RPG; 0.6 3PTM; 48.5 FG%; 76.9 FT%; 1.8 SPG
Wade’s time in the league has been relatively short compared to those in the top five, but his impact on the floor can be felt like a haymaker to the face. In fact, it wouldn’t be crazy to rank him third. Wade makes his living by attacking the basket like the rim owed him money. However, he is more than just a slasher and penetrator looking to score, because he has great skill in setting his teammates up. The numbers speak for themselves, but they don’t show you the blood and guts of the player on the floor.
He led the league in scoring one season (2008-09 at 30.2 PPG) and after his rookie season that saw him average 16.2 PPG, Wade has never averaged less than 24.1 PPG in seven seasons. He’s made seven straight All-Star games, starting in 2005, and won the game’s MVP in 2010. He was named to six All-NBA teams and three All-Defensive teams. He owns one NBA championship (2006) in which he was also named the NBA Finals MVP. His 25.7 PER is sixth-best of all-time and he currently has a 111 ORtg.
Have no doubt that Wade wants the pill at the end of the game and is better suited than teammate LeBron James to make things happen in the clutch. Overlook Game 6’s turnovers this season because Wade has taken his team on his back and drove them to a title. And for all the praise heaped on LeBron, if the duo stays together, Wade will always be a plus-one when it comes to titles.
3. Clyde Drexler, Portland Trail Blazers (1983-1995), Houston Rockets (1995-98)
1086 G; 20.4 PPG; 5.6 APG; 6.1 RPG; 0.8 3PTM; 47.2 FG%; 78.8 FT%; 2.0 SPG
For a time, Drexler was considered to be the Western Conference version of Michael Jordan. He was a prolific scorer, but also dropped dimes, grabbed boards and ripped rocks in bunches. Drexler led the Portland Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals, eventually winning a title with Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in 1995.
Drexler averaged 20+ points in seven seasons, but never averaged less than 18.4 PPG after starting fairly regularly during the 1985-86 season. He played in 10 All-Star games and was voted to five All-NBA teams. As proof of his versatility, Drexler is 25th overall in NBA career points (22,195), 27th in career assists (6,125), 36th in career offensive rebounds (2,615) and seventh in steals (2,207). He finished with a 21.1 PER and 114 ORtg.
Drexler was a hidden talent in Portland until they started making playoff appearances on the regular. I remember hearing from people that he had as good hops as Michael Jordan and I didn’t believe it. I knew about Phi Slamma Jamma, a nickname for the a group of players that played for the University of Houston when Drexler was there, but I was dubious to the claim. Until I read that he dunked on a 11-foot-7 rim at an event. The comparison to Jordan because they played during the same time will probably always be there, but while he didn’t achieve the things that Jordan did, Drexler has nothing to be ashamed of.
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (1996-Present)
1103 G; 25.3 PPG; 4.7 APG; 5.3 RPG; 1.3 3PTM; 45.4 FG%; 83.7 FT%; 1.5 SPG
Bryant is one of the most polarizing players the game has ever seen. You either love him or hate him, but there’s no denying his greatness. He’s as competitive as they come and has come off cocky to the extreme. Bryant’s game to some degree mimics Michael Jordan’s and Kobe has been almost as successful as His Airness, winning five titles compared to Jordan’s six.
Kobe has not averaged less than 22.5 PPG a season starting in the 1999-00 season, making it a dozen straight years of putting the ball in the basket a whole lot. He’s finished in the top 10 in scoring average in 10 of the last 11 seasons. He’s currently sixth all-time in points scored (27,868), and with Shaquille O’Neal retiring, is the active career points leader. Bryant has made 13 All-Star games, including 12 straight, won the All-Star game MVP four times (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011). He’s been named to 13 All-NBA teams, including nine first team selections. Kobe also made the 11 All-Defensive teams, including nine first-teams. He was the NBA Finals MVP twice and the regular season MVP once.
Bryant is the closest thing to Jordan and will probably be the closest thing ever. His fire, competitiveness and desire to kill opponents is comparable to Jordan, but Bryant will never be what Jordan is/was — The GOAT — since he needed Shaquille O’Neal to win his first three championships. And if you don’t think Bryant wants four more titles to equal Jordan’s six chips as the main man, you’re crazy.
1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1984-1993; 1994-98), Washington Wizards (2001-03)
1072 G; 30.1 PPG; 5.3 APG; 6.2 RPG; 0.5 3PTM; 49.7 FG%; 83.5 FT%; 2.3 SPG
Air. This is where Jordan resides as a player relative to every other person that has stepped foot on the NBA hardwood. He is the GOAT, a killer on the court and the player every high-flying shooting guard gets compared to, before eventually crashing to Earth, unable to hold Jordan’s jockstrap. Simply the best ever.
Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times, in strings of seven and three straight seasons. He is the career leader in points per game average and is third overall in total points (32,292). For all his offensive acumen, he was just as good on defense, leading the league in steals three times. He’s the second-best ball thief of all time (2,514). Jordan played in 14 All-Star games, winning the game MVP three times (1988, 1996, 1998). He won the NBA Rookie of the Year, as well as the Defensive Player of the Year. Jordan was the regular season MVP five times, but where His Airness really stands out is winning the NBA Finals MVP six times!
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Here are the factors, in varying degrees, taken into account in making this ranking – statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts. Feel free to disagree and make cases for others in the comments.
10. Bernard King, New Jersey Nets (1977-79; 1993), Utah Jazz (1979-80), Golden State Warriors (1980-82), New York Knicks (1982-87), Washington Bullets (1987-1991)
874 G; 22.5 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 3.3 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 51.8 FG%; 73.0 FT%; 1.0 SPG
How could I not include Bernard King, the first player I ever rooted for as a kid? He’s probably one of the older and least known players on this list, but he was a thing to behold. Plus if Kurtis Blow can have the following lyrics in his classic “Basketball” how could you not say he belongs?
Basketball has always been my thing,
I like Magic, Bird, and Bernard King.
King averaged 20+ points for 11 out of his 14 seasons, although the 1986-87 season was basically lost as he only played six games. He was the league’s leading scorer in 1985-86, averaging an amazing 32.9 PPG. He played in four All-Star games, made four All-NBA teams (two first team selections) and finished with a career 19.2 PER and 108 ORtg.
It can be argued that King isn’t the tenth-best small forward in the past three decades because anything can be argued, but if you truly believe he didn’t earn this spot, you must agree he’s at least in the debate. King wasn’t explosive in the sense that he’d rise above rim much, but he definitely made it rain from all over the court, jumper after jumper after jumper.
9. Chris Mullin, Golden State Warriors (1985-1997; 2000-01), Indiana Pacers (1997-2000)
986 G; 18.2 PPG; 4.1 RPG; 3.5 APG; 0.8 3PTM; 50.9 FG%; 86.5 FT%; 1.6 SPG
Speaking of jumpers, Mullin had one of the sweetest Js to watch. Pull-ups, off-the-dribble, spotting up, Mullin could do it all from the perimeter. Along with his crew cut, that jumper is what made him famous. Well, that and being a part of the short-lived Run TMC with Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond.
Mullin played in five consecutive All-Star games (1989-93) and finished in the top 10 in scoring average in four straight seasons (1989-92). He led the league in free-throw percentage in 1997-98 (93.9 percent) and is the 24th-best shooter from the charity stripe in NBA history. Mullin was selected to four All-NBA teams, including one first team, and was a part of the original 1992 Dream Team. He finished with an 18.8 PER an excellent 115 ORtg.
He didn’t look like much — lanky and kind of goofy-looking — but Mullin was a dead-eye shot from the perimeter and could get to the basket with either hand. At one point, he was even considered a poor man’s Larry Bird. Sure, that might be because both players would fry in the sun, but make no mistake, Mullin could hold his own.
8. James Worthy, Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1994)
926 G; 17.6 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 3.0 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 52.1 FG%; 76.9 FT%; 1.1 SPG
Worthy didn’t post the greatest regular season statistics, but when the postseason hit, so did he. And, as we all us die-hard hoops fans know, the playoffs create legends. He doesn’t hold the same place in NBA history the way the other bespectacled Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, does, but Worthy was all-out effort, made things happen and was a finisher.
He never led the league in any statistic other then games played during a season, but did come up big during the postseason. He upped his scoring average to 21.1 PPG while shooting 54.4 percent and also won the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. Worthy, along with Magic Johnson and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers Showtime crew won three NBA championships during the 1980s. Worthy made seven consecutive All-Star teams (1986-1992) and two All-NBA teams (both times on the third team). He finished with a career 17.7 PER and 112 ORtg.
Worthy could justifiably be moved up the list because of his titles with the great Showtime teams of the Lakers, but that’s only one of the criteria for me and I had to concede to gut instinct. However, I’ll never forget hearing people from my homebase park court decades ago that Worthy was just as important as Magic in winning those titles. To a certain degree, I’d agree.
7. Alex English, Milwaukee Bucks (1976-78), Indiana Pacers (1978-80), Denver Nuggets (1980-90), Dallas Mavericks (1990-91)
1193 G; 21.5 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 3.6 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 50.7 FG%; 83.2 FT%; 0.9 SPG
The next time you get to the court, try this: Hold the ball, raise your arms straight up at full extension and then shoot the ball. Imagine doing that for every single jumper and hitting it consistently from anywhere inside the three-point arc. That’s the unorthodox Alex English shot he hit whenever he took the hardwood. Nick Van Exel will explain.
English led the NBA in scoring one season (1982-83) with at 28.4 PPG. For nine consecutive seasons with the Denver Nuggets, he averaged at least 23.8 PPG, and for his career with Denver, he averaged 25.9 PPG in 837 games. English ranks 13th in NBA history in total points (25,613), eighth overall in field-goals made (10,659) and ninth in overall field-goal attempts (21,036). He made eight straight All-Star teams (1982-89) and was named to the All-NBA second team thrice. English finished with a 19.9 PER and 111 ORtg.
English was obviously one of the best scorers of all-time, but unlike some others, such as the aforementioned Worthy, he didn’t have much of a power game. The character he played in “Amazing Grace and Chuck” was aptly named Amazing Grace since English was one of the more graceful players the NBA has ever seen. In the movie, English plays an NBA pro that refuses to play any further until nuclear weapons are totally disarmed. Fat chance. It seems the same could be said in regards to the current lockout where its end seems highly unlikely as well. However, we’ll be positive like the movie’s message, albeit corny, and look for the rainbow lining in the sky.
6. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (1998-Present)
964 G; 22.2 PPG; 6.1 RPG; 3.8 APG; 1.6 3PTM; 44.8 FG%; 80.5 FT%; 1.5 SPG
Pierce will go down as one of the best Celtics ever and that’s pretty good considering the franchise we’re talking about. Part of that is the reason why I have Pierce here and really have him thisclose to taking over no. 5. It was hard to deny the numbers of the fifth-best three on this list, and maybe Pierce’s championship ring should have put him over the top, but when all is said and done, the good old switcheroo will go down eventually. There’s still some spring left to The Truth.
Pierce has averaged 20+ points per contest in eight of his 13 seasons. He’s currently ranked 25th overall for career points per game average and is 30th overall in total points for a career (21,410). Pierce has made nine All-Star games and has been named to an All-NBA team four times. He won the NBA Finals MVP when he led the Boston Celtics, along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, to a title in 2008. He has a 20.7 PER and 110 ORtg.
Histrionics aside, Pierce can really get down with the get down. He’s the paragon of jocular and is a straight-up gangsta (allegedly) on the court (definitely). For years he basically carried the Celtics on his back and he proved worthy of being one of the most loved Celtics. I’m not a Celtics fan at all, but even I have to show respect to what Pierce’s legacy.
5. Adrian Dantley, Buffalo Braves (1976-77), Indiana Pacers (1977-78), Los Angeles Lakers (1978-79), Utah Jazz (1979-1986), Detroit Pistons (1986-89), Dallas Mavericks (1989-1990), Milwaukee Bucks (1990-1991)
955 G; 24.3 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 3.0 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 54.0 FG%; 81.8 FT%; 1.0 SPG
When I think of an old school scoring basketball player, I somehow always think of Dantley. I’ll admit that he was to some degree a ballhog, but when you shot as well as he did, could you blame him? A.D. could work the post, dribble down from the top of the key, give a spin move, sell a shot fake and had a myriad other ways to score. I personally thought he got the shaft when the Detroit Pistons traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Isaiah Thomas’ best bud, Mark Aguirre, but such is life. Dantley was in the twilight of his career, but still scoring 20 on the regular, and the Pistons went on to win a couple of titles because no one was there to challenge Zeke’s control of the team.
Dantley led the league in scoring for two seasons (1980-81 at 30.7 PPG; 1983-84 at 30.6 PPG). He finished in the top seven in scoring average in six seasons and has the 17th best all-time PPG average. Dantley is 21st overall in total points (23,177), has the 22nd best field-goal percentage of all-time, the seventh most free-throw makes (6,832) and 11th most free-throw attempts (8,351). He was the 1976-77 NBA Rookie of the Year and made six All-Star games, as well as two All-NBA squads. Dantley finished with a 21.5 PER and 119 ORtg.
Maybe Pierce should be in front of Dantley, but check the numbers and watch that video link. They don’t make scorers like that anymore, and because I’m old, I have to give a shout-out to the geriatrics.
4. Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks (1982-1994), Los Angeles Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-95), San Antonio Spurs (1996-97), Orlando Magic (1999)
1074 G; 24.8 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 2.5 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 46.1 FG%; 81.1 FT%; 1.3 SPG
First off, let’s get it straight — ‘Nique was robbed! That said, there’s no question that Wilkins has to be considered, pound-for-pound, the best power dunker of all-time. A two-step jumper with devastating power, there’s really no question. The Human Highlight Film was an appropriate nickname for Wilkins, but he was more than just dunking. He could go toe-to-toe with the best during a game, such as this classic back-and-forth between he and Larry Bird. ‘Nique undoubtedly left an impression like one of his tomahawk dunks.
Wilkins led the league in scoring once in 1985-86 with a 30.3 PPG average. He finished in the top seven in points per game in nine seasons and scored 21+ points in 11 straight seasons. Wilkins is the 11th highest scorer of all-time with 26,668 total points. Wilkins has the tenth most field-goal makes in NBA history with 9,963 and the seventh most field-goal attempts with 21,589. He made the All-Star game nine consecutive years beginning in 1986 and was a two-time slam dunk champion. Wilkins was a seven-time All-NBA selection and finished with a 21.6 PER and 112 ORtg.
Wilkins was compared to Michael Jordan because of the dunking, which isn’t a bad thing, but they were definitely different types of players. ‘Nique had tunnel vision when the lane was clear for take-off and he didn’t make his teammates better the way Jordan did. However, he didn’t quite have the cast and specialists either. The lack of a title is the only stain on an exciting and fruitful career.
3. Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls (1987-1998; 2003-04), Houston Rockets (1998-99), Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)
1178 G; 16.1 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 5.2 APG; 0.8 3PTM; 47.3 FG%; 70.4 FT%; 2.0 SPG
Pippen has basically been known as a sidekick his whole career and that notion will live forever. It’s tough getting accolades when you’re playing next to Michael Jordan. However, knowledgeable NBA fans know that without Pippen, Jordan doesn’t win six titles. Pippen’s career numbers don’t pop out, but it would be foolish to think he didn’t affect the game almost as much as Jordan did, especially on the defensive end where he used his length, quickness and motor to stop opposing offenses. Pip was a gamer.
Pippen averaged 20+ points per game four times and led the league once in steals per game (1994-95 at 2.9 SPG), and also averaged at least a pair of steals per contest in six of his 17 seasons. He’s a seven-time All-Star, and won the All-Star Game MVP Award in 1994. Pippen made seven All-NBA teams, including three first-team selections. He also was named to 10 All-Defensive squads, which include eight first teams while finishing sixth-best in total steals (2,307). Pippen ended up with a 18.6 PER and 108 ORtg.
I’ll admit the six titles play a big role in Pippen’s place here, but six is a big deal. And even though he wasn’t the top player for those title teams, he played a very significant role. All seeming jealousy aside, Pippen’s contributions were important for Jordan’s legacy and it’s too bad Pippen feels he isn’t getting his just due. Hope being third on the list helps with that emotional boo b0o.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-10), Miami Heat (2010-Present)
627 G; 27.7 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 7.0 APG; 1.4 3PTM; 47.9 FG%; 74.4 FT%; 1.7 SPG
Too high? Maybe. But even the abovementioned Pippen would agree that James is pretty damn good and worthy to be placed ahead of him. We’ve all witnessed (boo to the ubiquitous use of the term) LeBron’s ability to do just about anything from the floor, except win titles. It’s that lack of a title that will render LeBron’s legacy impotent. However, once he wins one championship, he’ll be able to breath easy. Until then, he’ll continue to be the “loser” that everyone but the die-hard LBJ fans will root against.
After averaging 20.4 PPG during his rookie season and winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, James has never averaged less than 26.7 PPG in the following seven seasons. In 2007-08, he led the league at scoring with a 30.0 points average. He’s finished in the top four in scoring for seven straight seasons and has the third all-time highest scoring average behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. LeBron has played in seven consecutive All-Star games starting in 2005, and won the game MVP twice (2006 and 2008). He’s been an All-NBA selection seven times, with five of those being on the first team. Since his dedication to improving defensively, LeBron has been named to three consecutive All-Defensive first teams. He won back-to-back MVP awards in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. James currently has the second-highest PER in the history of the game with a 26.9 mark that follows Jordan’s 27.9, and he currently has a 115 ORtg.
No matter how many titles LeBron wins, if he should, he will always be minus-one to Dwyane Wade assuming both win titles with the Miami Heat. Regardless of that fact, if James and the Heat win two titles, maybe even just one chip, LeBron could find himself at the top of this list. But not for now.
1. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (1979-1992)
897 G; 24.3 PPG; 10.0 RPG; 6.3 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 49.6 FG%; 88.6 FT%; 1.7 SPG
Bird has accomplished so much in the league, I’m just going to start with the statistics and awards. I won’t state how much he and Magic Johnson raised the NBA because that’s obvious (I guess I just did), but Bird’s nickname of Larry Legend is wholly valid. And I’ll end with an anecdote that shows how good Bird really was.
Bird never led the league in scoring, but in 11 of his 13 seasons, he averaged at least 20+ points each season, peaking at 29.9 PPG in 1987-88. In the two seasons that he did not score 20 or more, Bird averaged 19.3 PPG (1988-89) and 19.4 PPG (1990-91). He owns the 16th-best points average in NBA history and finished 27th in total points (21,791). He led the league in free-throw percentage four times and is tenth-best percentage-wise ever. Bird played in a dozen All-Star games, and was the 1982 All-Star Game MVP. He beat out Magic Johnson for the 1979-80 NBA Rookie of the Year award, laying the foundation for their battle for accolades. Bird made 10 All-NBA teams, including nine first teams, as well as three All-Defensive second teams. He won the MVP award three consecutive times (1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86) and led the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles (1981, 1984, 1986), winning the NBA Finals MVP twice (1984 and 1986). Bird finished with a 23.5 PER and 115 ORtg.
And now the anecdote:
Bird then walked onto the court and told Xavier McDaniel, who was guarding him, “I’m going to get [the ball] right here and I am going to shoot it in your face.” As McDaniel remembers it, he responded by saying, “I know, I’ll be waiting.”
Then in about that exact same spot, Bird gets the ball and buries a shot right in McDaniel’s face, turns to Xavier and says, “I didn’t mean to leave two seconds on the clock.” McDaniel said of that play, “He wanted to shoot it with zero seconds on the clock. I just walked back to the sidelines, like damn.”
via Alex Raskin; Hoopsworld...
There seems to be a growing perception that the Owners are willing to throw away the entire season in an effort to break the union. Players can only afford to go so long without game checks and, theoretically, would be agreeable to almost any offer the Owners throw their way by next summer.
But that belief, right or not, omits one very critical component: The league suffers financially if there is no basketball in 2011-2012.
Ad Week's Anthony Crupi estimates that ESPN/ABC Sports and TNT will lose as much as $1.25 billion in ad sales revenue if next season is canceled. The NBA won't feel the hit all at once, but Crupi notes that the playoffs account for a fifth of all ad sales, so the Owners might be singing a different tune themselves next April. In fact, the 2010 playoffs netted $417.7 million in ad sales for ESPN/ABC and TNT, according to Kantar Media, and a 30-second advertisement during the Celtics-Lakers Finals cost over $400K.
Lost ad revenue would seem to be a bigger problem for the league's two national television media partners, but that would only be the beginning of the losses.
Writes Crupi:If the networks stand to lose a fortune in ad dollars, the league itself risks billions in media rights, ticket sales and merchandising. ESPN/ABC pays $485 million per year for the rights to air NBA games while TNT forks over $445.
The league itself pulls in around $50 million from sponsors on its own network, according to Crupi, and then comes all of the regional cable money from the individual markets.
Then there are the league sponsors—such as State Farm and American Express—which Crupi writes will be forced to "scramble to make up for the diminished brand exposure.
These companies are currently locked into deals with the NBA, but businesses have the memory of an elephant and the long-term effect of the lockout is still anyone's guess. It makes sense that future sponsors, so as not to expose themselves to losses during another lockout, would seek contracts that end at the same time as the next collective bargaining agreement. At the very least, sponsors will invest more responsibly now that the NBA has locked out its players twice in 13 years.
Worst of all, when the league does return, it will have a few years before it regains its popularity—and it's not a certainty that will happen. Crupi notes that the league took three years to regain its ratings. Of course, the NBA was competing with a weaker NHL back then.
Now hockey's popularity is increasing and a number of Americans are starting to follow European soccer. Ironically it's globalization—a concept commissioner David Stern has utilized to build the NBA's fan base in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa—that could ultimately hurt the league as it tries to recover from a disastrous work stoppage. Americans can watch a Manchester United-Chelsea match on nearly every basic cable service and other networks, such as Fox Soccer, give fans 24-hour-a-day access.
The NBA has benefitted greatly from increased television exposure, social media and globalization. Now, however, those tools will work against the league because competitors can spend every day of the lockout winning the hearts and minds of the American public.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
via GQ magazine......
On his first morning in China, former NBA point guard Stephon Marbury went to the lobby of his hotel to attend what his translator had described as a "banquet" thrown by the management of the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who'd brought in the player for a second consecutive season in the hopes of shedding their reputation as one of the worst outfits in China's not very distinguished league. Enticing Marbury, the biggest celebrity ever to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, should have been cause for jubilation. Yet it was hard to detect much joy at the "banquet," which was taking place in a room the size of a parking space off the hotel's dining hall. The guest list consisted of two grimly perspiring middle-rung executives and a translator. No food was served, just tea.
One got the sense that the finer points of graceful living didn't count much in the Brave Dragons' hometown of Taiyuan, an industrial city variously described in the online travel literature as "gritty," "smoggy," and "a fucking shithole." Outside, in the late autumn chill, the coal plants were going full tilt. Even with the windows closed, the air smelled like an emergency and had a salty chemical flavor you could taste with your eyes.
Still, Marbury seemed not to mind. "You get used to it," he told me before the meeting. "Really, it's not too bad, except this—" He gestured out the window at the unhandsome landscape of grease-blackened garages and industrial warehouses engulfed in the brown gloom. "And this—" He pointed at his mouth, indicating his distaste for the local cuisine. "When I first came here, for the first two weeks, I wanted to kill myself. But now I don't think about it."
Unlikely as it may sound to hear a multimillionaire athlete so emphatically resigned to a place like Taiyuan, it's worth recalling that by early 2010, when Marbury first cast his lot with the Dragons, he had reached a place in life where options did not abound. After leaving the NBA at age 32, the two-time All-Star's career had been defined not by his triumphs on the court but by what happened off it—a catalog of errors that included public spats with coaches, romancing a Knicks intern in his truck, and a series of candid Webcasts in which he wept, burst into song, ate Vaseline, and generally volunteered grist for broad speculation that he had gone out of his mind.
But then, when things looked dire indeed, associates put Marbury in touch with Chinese steel magnate Wang Xingjiang, who owned the Shanxi Brave Dragons. Until last year, Chinese law limited teams from paying their American players more than $60,000 per month (a sum Marbury characterized to me as "a little change"). As further enticement, Wang promised to crack China's growing market of 300 million basketball fans for Marbury's Starbury brand of low-cost apparel and shoes, a business that had been on ice since 2008. Promising an initial investment of $2.2 million, Wang and his associates would facilitate the selection of factories, coordinate construction of a nationwide franchise, and assist with the beleaguered point guard's rebirth in the fastest-growing economy in the world.
So Marbury left behind his family in genteel Purchase, New York, tried it out for a season, and found, to his great relief, a population of adoring fans willing to overlook his past. He drew record crowds to Brave Dragons games. At signings in Taiyuan within a month of his arrival, he moved 1,000 pairs of Starbury shoes in a few hours. He'd recently discussed with Shanxi a three-year contract and had not ruled out the possibility of retiring here.
"It's been unbelievable," he told me. "The fans there, they showed me so much love. They gave me a second chance." Here, Marbury raised his sleeve to show me where he'd had the characters of his Chinese name—Ma Bu Li—and a heart beside the word CHINA tattooed on his arm. "Two years ago, no one would get near me," he continued. "Now I got [a major American bank] wanting to invest $50 million in my company. Man, China has changed everything for me. Everything."
With the season opener fifteen days away, Dragons management was eager to check in on the condition—physical and otherwise—of the team's six-foot-two point guard. But Marbury had more immediate concerns. The previous season, he'd stayed at the five-star World Trade Hotel, which sits on the toniest strip Taiyuan has to offer, convenient to Rolex and Burberry shops, with a half-dozen restaurants and a spa on the premises. This year, to his displeasure, he'd been stabled instead at the Grand Metropark Wanshi Hotel, whose sumptuousness was a notch or two below what you'd expect at the Omaha airport Sleep Inn.
Upon arriving, he'd complained to his handlers, to no avail. Marbury did not fancy the idea of spending four months in this hotel, whose rooms were carpeted in cigarette-pocked low-nap the color of earwax and whose mattresses would have registered respectably on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Nor did he want to stomach four months of meals at the Wanshi's restaurant, an undersea-themed eatery whose evening buffet included such dishes as Grab Stick, Intestine Duck, Best Thick Seam, Ear Rabbit, Black Fungus, Meat, and Duck Bloody Piece.
In the tiny meeting room, Marbury was ushered to his seat by the Brave Dragons deputy Mr. Song, an unsmiling man with close-mown hair gelled into tidy gleaming barbs. Through the interpreter, a nervous twentysomething who gave her name as Cindy, Mr. Song explained that he was in the process of finding a good factory to start minting Starbury shoes, but that many factories had powered down for the winter and production would likely have to wait until spring. "For now," he said, "we want to concentrate on basketball."
"The business stuff will work itself out," Marbury said serenely. "I'm not worried about any of that. Right now I want to talk about my living conditions. I don't want to be in this hotel. I want to be in the World Trade."
This set off a long, hushed caucus among the Chinese parties. At last Cindy very antsily explained that due to a legal dispute between the team's owner and the World Trade, the hotel issue was a matter of some delicacy.
Marbury offered another proposal: Perhaps the team could arrange long-term quarters. "A three-bedroom apartment," said Marbury. "With TVs and a chef, and a maid to come every day. I could do that as well. I'm gonna be here for three years. It'd probably be cheaper to rent a place anyway."
But Mr. Song pursed his mouth and nodded sourly, giving the impression that he was not in the habit of indulging fussy requests from players. Marbury's Chinese teammates, by way of comparison, didn't get to stay in a hotel at all. They lived by the team's rusting gym on the outskirts of town, in a dormitory of pink concrete with a big pile of coal in the yard.
Mr. Song agreed to take up the hotel upgrade—a $14-a-night proposition—with his boss, then he turned the conversation to basketball. The Brave Dragons, he said, were promising this year, having recently acquired a second American player, Jamal Sampson, late of the Denver Nuggets. The most important thing, Mr. Song said through Cindy, was that the fourteenth-ranked team finish in the top eight.
Marbury gave him a straight look and held up his index finger. "Number one," he said.
And Cindy went, "Yeeeeeeeeahh," part weird cheer, part dubious meow. "So you will, you will lead our team to the top eight? You promise that?"
"Don't worry," Marbury said.
"Okay! We believe you! Ha! Ha!" said Cindy, in a tone of forced enthusiasm. "So, ah, now Mr. Song want to know, before you come to China, you maintain the trainings?"
She cast a nervous eye over Marbury's middle, which was a tad softer and rounder than it had looked beneath the lights at Madison Square Garden. Marbury nodded.
"Listen," said Marbury. "All you need to know: When December 10 comes, when they throw the basketball up, I'll be ready."
"Auch!" said Mr. Song, though whether he meant, "Auch—what a relief" or "Auch—this person is completely full of baloney" was not immediately clear.
"We believe in you!" cried Cindy.
"No problem," said Marbury. "All love."
Waking up in Taiyuan, a city of 3.5 million located 250 miles southwest of Beijing, was breathtaking in the literal sense. The city lay under an ochre fog of startling opacity. Even behind the fixed panes of my hotel windows, the air had a dizzying reek you could faithfully reproduce by sealing your head in a sack of Match Light charcoal. A walk around the neighborhood turned up symptoms of an industrial economy in transition: lots of people driving Mercedeses and Lexuses, yet still more people carrying multiple offspring and lumber on mopeds that seemed to be made mostly of tape. Sephora stores and Cadillac dealerships verged on aged tracts of cratelike concrete buildings Pompeian with particulate grime. Not a single window you couldn't have graffitied with a fingertip.
Inspecting the local firmament, I could see no birds in flight. "If you see one, let me know," said Marbury when I told him this. In fact, during my week in Taiyuan, I would not see a bird, or a rat, or an ant, or a cockroach, or any living creatures at all, except for human beings and a substantial population of upsettingly adorable and horny stray lapdogs.
Still, in the city's defense, "shithole," with its connotations of biotic robustness, was an unfair epithet. It was more like an engine, which was how Marbury regarded his adoptive home. Riding through Taiyuan, he pointed out the gleaming condominium towers going up along the custard-colored Fen River, and the storefronts where he imagined Starbury outlets opening their doors a few months from now. "This is one of the richest cities in China, and I'm here to be a part of it," he told me several times. The Starbury Corporation's future projects here might range from skyscraper construction to lumber and cotton, to "anything that's got anything to do with something being made." Even in the coal soot itself, Marbury saw future riches. "You just gave me an idea," he replied when I marveled at Taiyuan's grime. "Mobile car washes. Give these people a taste for being clean. I'm gonna get the schematics on that immediately."
Improbable as Marbury's schemes of merchandising/real estate/mobile car wash/import-export magnatehood might sound, it's worth considering that (a) Marbury is arguably the biggest star in the CBA, and (b) in China's increasingly basketball-obsessed but notoriously stingy consumer population, it's hard to imagine a product better poised for success than a celebrity-endorsed sneaker that sells for fifteen bucks. It is also important to note that behind Marbury's lofty visions are three Starbury corporate offices (North Carolina, New York, Los Angeles) and a staff of eighteen—two attorneys, two MBAs, accountants, a designer, etc.—working full-time to make the dream real.
When I paid a visit to Starbury's operations center in Morrisville, North Carolina, a village of office parks near Raleigh, I did, admittedly, half expect to walk into an empty room with maybe a big TV and a couple of guys playing Nerf hoops on the clock. Instead I found a ten-room suite full of business-clad people hard at work. One woman was busy designing a line of Starbury camisoles. The in-house attorney was straightening out some particulars of Chinese copyright law. The rest of the staff was dealing with the financial intricacies of Marbury's real estate holdings, a $75 million portfolio leased to such disparate and unlikely tenants as a U.S. attorney, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Social Security Administration.
Starbury CFO Gustavus Bass told me that Marbury had so far sunk $10 million of his own pocket cash into Starbury Corp. Once production started in China, he said, the business was forecast to return profits within a year. Bass, a former Wachovia corporate banker, led me down a hall, past a boardroom with a table the size of a duckpin-bowling lane, into Starbury's operations center. He showed me whirring servers, flat files full of blueprints and architectural designs for the Chinese retail stores, and a twenty-five-station call center ready to be staffed. "We've been in the planning stages for a very long time," Bass said. "We're positioned to go."
In China, Marbury's famously erratic personality, too, seemed newly conditioned for popular consumption. Despite his renown as an arrogant megalomaniac outstanding in a field of arrogant megalomaniacs, in person he came across as a warm, even earnest man guilelessly fond of almost everyone around him. "I love the Chinese people" was his reflexive response to complaints about flying sputum on the streets or the sharp elbows of the sidewalk throngs. One night at dinner, he summoned the chef from the kitchen to embrace him. More than once Marbury would tell me, with a nearly uncomfortable directness of emotion, how glad he was that I'd come to China with him and that he'd miss me when I left. Nothing in his manner smacked of PR gamesmanship. Rather, he gave the impression of someone desperate to forget all the haters back home and see only a world full of new friends.
And in Taiyuan, his friends were legion. At one point, I remarked that it must get irritating not to be able to take two steps without some stranger panting on his neck. "Nah," said Marbury. "You never know when the day's gonna come when people stop wanting your autograph."
With no professional obligations pending this week, other than to ease himself through jet lag, Marbury designed his days around two fixed points: meals at American fast-food establishments and spa treatments across town at the World Trade Hotel. To my mixed relief, the massages were the opposite of the sort I'd been warned might be pressed upon me in China. For two hours, small, strong women tenderized our limbs and thoraxes, delivering a program of sensations that would have perfectly conveyed to a blind, deaf person the experience of being yelled at. Now and then the masseuses paused their assaults to take photographs of the point guard. My own attendant seemed put out that she'd gotten stuck working my unremarkable anatomy instead of Marbury's famous frame. She repeatedly expressed her frustration by pulling my hair and jamming her fingers into my ears.
Somehow the thrashings seemed to put Marbury in a reflective mood. So while the ladies assailed him, we talked about his early life in Brooklyn.
Marbury grew up in a housing project in Coney Island, in a four-bedroom apartment his parents shared with their seven children. His mother worked in a day-care center. His father made his living "doing whatever he could to get money—construction, gambling, hustling." Marbury's three older brothers were all gifted basketball players who narrowly missed NBA careers. Shortly after Stephon's birth, the elder Marbury brothers set about molding him into a pro athlete. "I was like a lab rat. I was a science project," he said. "They put a ball in the crib with me. They said, 'Okay, we're gonna breed a point guard with Stephon, and we're gonna kick the door down with him.'"
The hazards of life in Coney Island made the project an urgent one. Marbury recalled more than once hitting the deck during games when shots rang out. Three cousins died in gunfights over the years; another served time for killing a man. "We all knew me getting to the NBA was my family's way out," he said.
Doubts about Marbury's future faded early. By the time he was 6, he could shoot and dribble with both hands, and when he was 12, The Hoop Scoop magazine listed him as the top sixth grader in the nation. College recruiters were scouting him at age 14.
After his freshman year at Georgia Tech, Marbury joined the Minnesota Timberwolves and began living out a career narrative the Greek tragedians would have liked. Marbury Agonistes: the story of a young and brilliant basketball player remembered for his bedeviling public contests with one after another of the deadly sins. First came the Parable of Envy of Kevin Garnett, in which Marbury, stricken, allegedly, by jealousy of his close friend's $126 million contract, forced a trade from the Timberwolves, breaking apart one of the most thrilling on-court partnerships in the NBA. Marbury then wandered to unsuccessful seasons with the New Jersey Nets, the Phoenix Suns, and his hometown Knicks. "He only played street ball growing up," says Tom Gugliotta, who teamed up with Marbury in both Minnesota and Phoenix. "In Minnesota, he struggled to find a balance between being aggressive and including the other guys. And in Phoenix, ironically, he had learned what he could and couldn't do, but they asked him to be the guy he always wanted to be, and that's a scorer."
The Knicks years, as his detractors see them, paid him the wages of Anger and Pride, plus the better part of $100 million for five losing seasons. His quarrels with coach Larry Brown vexed the fans and the tabloid press, who called him "the most reviled athlete in New York." In 2008, new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni sidelined Marbury in the season opener against Miami, which caused him to weep in secret on the bench. The exile, apparently, was permanent, and the blow to his dignity was so grave that when D'Antoni surprised Marbury by offering to play him later in the season, the point guard declined and was punished with a $400,000 fine.
Let's pass over, shall we, the Lust Parable about the intern and the strip joint and the sports utility vehicle? The New York Post has already chronicled those details under the cover-story headline KNICKS INTERN: MY SEX IN A TRUCK. That was in the autumn of 2007, when he was entering a period of unpleasantnesses of near bathetic excess. The Knicks tied a record for season losses that year, and in December, his father suffered chest pains while watching a game at Madison Square Garden. Marbury didn't find out until after the game that his father had died. "It still upsets me that I didn't get to see him," he said. "And it was hard on my family—bringing my wife to his funeral when there's reporters everywhere and the whole world knows I just fucked another woman. There's nothing harder than that."
The lone bright spot for Marbury was the Starbury brand, which in sixteen months on the market sold more than 10 million shirts, shorts, and $15 sneakers. The sports media briefly relented their hostilities to acknowledge Marbury's decency in selling sufficiently inexpensive footwear that inner-city youths wouldn't need to kill or rob anyone in order to own. And then, in 2008, Steve & Barry's, Starbury's retailer, went bankrupt. Not long after, the Knicks released Marbury, and he was banished from the Garden. "People were saying, 'The brand is over,' " said Marbury. " 'His basketball career is over. He's done.'"
Marbury is so persistently haunted by the public version of his poetic decline that it isn't necessary to ask him about it. Talk to him for more than five minutes and he'll compulsively revisit the story's details, like someone who can't stop picking at a sore.
On Kevin Garnett: "They said I was jealous because he made $126 million, but the league changed the ceiling [of a max contract to $71 million, the price of Marbury's extension]. How could I be jealous of that?"
On refusing to play: "I refused to play? After y'all said to the whole world y'all not playing me and embarrass me on opening night? Have me sitting there in front of my hometown? They exiled me!"
On YouTube-inspired reports of his insanity: "I was just having a good time, playing, yelling, screaming, enjoying my- self, and people took from that, 'Marbury's crazy. He's losing his mind.'"
On the Vaseline-eating thing, specifically: "I had a sore throat. My friend's grandmother said to take Vaseline. I did, and it went away."
Crucified is the word Marbury uses to describe his treatment. And you have to wonder how you could possibly resist developing a Christ complex if you were born to a family who had, for decades, been waiting in faith for a magical child to come along and work miracles from way outside the three-point line, to make more money than God, and to shepherd his loved ones out of Coney Island and into comfortable homes in the suburbs.
Marbury, a recently born-again Christian, saw his resurrection as imminent in China, from which his name and brand would spread across the globe, to India, then through unspecified African nations, then possibly, back to the United States. When I asked him what anyone would do with so much money, he described a corporate vision inspired by the Rapture, not the Robb Report.
"I want to build my own city," he said. The settlement, he explained, would be built on a 4,000-acre cotton farm in South Carolina he had his eye on. The citizens would be "all my family members. They gonna have their own businesses, companies that will feed off of my company. I want to build my own Walmart-style store. I want to build my own hospital and school system. I'll take all the people where I'm from in Coney Island and tell them to leave everything they got inside their homes and move into our new homes. We'll have all the people sign up to be Starbury employees before they move. This is my vision of what I want to do if this thing really pops off the way I think it will if we continue to stay on the path."
And yet, so far, Marbury's days in Taiyuan seemed curiously devoid of the meetings and factory tours you might expect of someone building a billion-dollar empire. Save a single one-on-one workout and a few treadmill sessions, Marbury didn't seem all that concerned with getting in shape. So while the Chinese members of the Brave Dragons were off playing exhibition matches and training twice a day, the preseason stretch in Marbury's entourage was a purgatorial study in petit-opulent torpor: usually emerging from quarters near the two o'clock hour for a meal at McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Kentucky Fried Chicken; then to the World Trade Hotel for another bruising massage; then dinner at said American franchises.
The only break in the monotony came one evening when the American members of the Brave Dragons coaching staff mounted a plan to go out on the town. In the lobby, I waited for the others with a young guy named Wes, a former player for Oregon State, who was picking up a few bucks as a freelance assistant coach of the Brave Dragons junior squad.
I asked him how the team was looking. "They got this one kid who's good," he said. "You don't understand. They keep these motherfuckers in a dorm and make them lift weights three, four hours a day."
If the Chinese were such rigorous cultivators of talent, I asked him, why had China produced only one international basketball star, the pituitary marvel Yao Ming?
"This next generation, they'll probably have a few more. You don't know. They're probably breeding the motherfuckers from petri dishes."
We were soon joined by Patrick Sellers, a former UConn coach who'd come to Taiyuan after being implicated in a recruiting scandal. "I got thrown under the bus, and here I am. It's weird here and everything, but man, I think it's a gold mine."
At last Marbury came down, and—by coincidence—we ran into one of the Brave Dragons' chief sponsors, "Brother Wong," an elfin man in Gucci loafers. Brother Wong, who had supposedly amassed a fortune as a builder of local roads, was very pleased to see Marbury. He kept laying hands on Marbury's arms and shoulders and seemed to want very badly to climb into the point guard's lap. He insisted we go immediately to his favorite karaoke bar.
Marbury and I caught a lift in Brother Wong's chauffeur-driven Audi SUV. "You starting to see the Starbury movement," Marbury said. "Brother Wong's like Mark Cuban without being the owner. He wants to buy the team." Wong, said Marbury, was well connected with China's Communist Party, pointing out large yellow O's in the corners of the Audi's windshield, evidently emblems of officialdom. Then, at Marbury's prompting, Brother Wong hit a switch on the Audi's dashboard and a siren on the roof blared and wailed. "Police! Police!" cried Brother Wong, laughing madly. Traffic scurried from our path, and the Audi made for the karaoke bar at a desperate speed.
No one sang at the karaoke bar, a place the term bar is inadequate to describe. It was a fantastic labyrinth of mirrored hallways, astrobe with neon accents and red and blue LEDs, generally creating the effect of inhabiting a giant article of robot lingerie. In a room twice the size of my New York apartment, a rotund older woman dressed in a plaid field-hockey skirt led in a cadre of young women and briskly directed them, singly and in pairs, to sit beside us on the couch. The girls wore an unhookerly mufti of jeans or miniskirts or T-shirts or Annie Hall–style sweaters and, as far as I could tell, were not quite prostitutes but merely young women who drew a paycheck to ply lonely men with beer and grapes, and pinch them on the knee. The only hitch in the distribution came when the field-hockey lady ushered in a girl resembling an Asian Julia Child whose eyes happened to be crossed. There was no immediate clamor for her company. She stood before the room for a painful length of time. Finally, Marbury, who'd been obliviously drinking Sprite and BlackBerrying through the whole escort-disbursement procedure, looked up and invited the big girl to his area of the sectional, a quiet act of valor that put the rest of us to shame.
I was partnered with a girl in an ivory body sock who knew enough English to claim her name was Apple. Further attempts at conversation foundered. Apple, who seemed to have mistaken me for a basketball pro from the American mean streets, periodically flashed what looked like gang signs at me and put her mouth to my ear to murmur, "I love basketball." At one point, Brother Wong grew concerned that things between Apple and me were not progressing at a proper clip. He crossed the room and reached out, as though for a handshake. Then he pulled the old grade-school stunt of clapping my palm to the girl's breast and shrieking with laughter.
Mercifully we departed, honor intact, well before dawn. I, for one, was glad to escape, though Wes had sipped a few beyond his limit and was bereft to be going home empty-handed. "Can't we get some bitches?" he kept saying. "Can't we? Can't we?"
The hired friends also seemed glum to see the last of us, or of Marbury, anyway. A few of them gathered by the exit. "Ma Bu Li, Ma Bu Li," they were moaning as we made our way into the benzene-scented night.
In the days after our night on the town, something odd happened: Marbury more or less dropped out of sight. He hardly stirred from his quarters. He canceled appointments or simply did not show up in the lobby at the times we'd planned to meet. I got the clear sense he was avoiding me.
Then, after two days of near invisibility, he e-mailed me, asking me to come to his room. When I entered, he was on the phone with a travel agent, booking a hotel room in Beijing for the following night. "Yeah, sure, the Marriott. I'm just looking for the cheapest thing," he said.
He hung up and gave me an unhappy look. "I'm leaving Taiyuan," he said. "I been compromised." Management, he told me, had informed him that his services as a player were no longer required for the regular season. "If they make the playoffs, then they'll use me, is what they said. Otherwise, they want me to help coach."
He was, in other words, being asked to recapitulate his humiliating final season riding the bench for the Knicks. It was hard to understand this "offer" as anything but a ploy to force Marbury to quit the Dragons, which, he told me, was what he had done.
The source of the trouble, said Marbury, was that the team had recently hired a new general manager named Zhang Aijun, who was cleaning shop. "He didn't like me from the beginning," Marbury said. He gazed out the window. A tatter of Hefty bag danced on the wind. "The Knicks tried to hold me hostage," he said, apropos of nothing. "They fined me 400 grand and said that I refused to play! Refused to play? D'Antoni said I wasn't playing! He said that to the world! What I refuse to do is compromise. I understand what's right and what's wrong."
The old outrage wore on for a time and then exhausted itself. Marbury leaned back in his chair.
"It's bullshit," he said. "But you know, the good thing about this situation, at least I know it wasn't anything I did. You know what I've learned in my trials and my errors in the last three years? You can't let anguish derail you. People are gonna say, 'Oh, Stephon went to China. He messed up, and look what happened.' But I know the truth. This is a time of growth right here. This will work out for the best. I'm just gonna go to Beijing and find another team."
But this seemed an impossible ambition. The season started in less than two weeks, and presumably all the contracts for foreign players had been settled months ago. Marbury's position was, I felt, sad. Surprisingly so. Or, rather, it was really surprising to find oneself suddenly sickened with sympathy for an international sports celebrity with more money to his name than many American small towns.
Then again, it's never pleasant to see anyone's dream collapse, and Marbury's dream of China was about the vastest, most ornately bespired cathedral of ambition I'd ever met anyone trying to build. It contained, so far, $10 million of his own personal cash, one year of his life, the adoration of some number of thousands of Chinese people, putative fame and wealth in India and unspecified countries throughout Africa, his own personal city in South Carolina, skyscrapers, and Marbury's left arm, indelibly inscribed ♥ CHINA.
When such an extraordinary volume of wishes comes abruptly to earth, you can't help but feel the ground quiver the tiniest little bit.
There was little left to say. We sat awhile in silence. Then Marbury said he had to call his wife, Tasha. He hadn't yet given her the news, and he wasn't going to now. Their 6-year-old son was sick with impetigo. Tasha was exhausted, and he didn't want to add to her burdens right now. He dialed. Through the receiver, I could hear the fatigue and anxiety in Tasha's voice. "I know it's hard, Boo. I know you're challenged, but it's gonna be all right, I promise," said Marbury, sounding oddly calm and assured for someone whose ultimate hope to redeem himself in the eyes of the world had almost certainly fallen apart.
The following day, a platoon of solemn well-wishers gathered at the Taiyuan airport to say good-bye. Marbury posed for a few last photos. He told his fans how sorry he was to leave Shanxi but said little else. In the meantime, the Brave Dragons' GM, Zhang Aijun, was handling the breakup with considerably less aplomb. Since the rupture had become final, Zhang made a spirited public effort to saddle Marbury with blame for the split. What helped poison the contract, Zhang said, was Marbury's insistence on a $30,000 health-insurance policy for himself and his family and, and, his request for a $14 upgrade to the World Trade Hotel.
Before Marbury's plane had touched down in Beijing, ecstasies of Schadenfreude at his failed Chinese experiment broke out on American sports sites: STEPHON MARBURY: WEARING OUT HIS WELCOME IN YET ANOTHER CONTINENT, one headline ran. "Hide yo Vaseline, hide yo webcams," a blogger warned. "Marbury is on his way back to the United States of America."
But as it happened, reports of Stephon Marbury's professional collapse were premature. Within days of his departure from Shanxi, he secured a spot with a fledgling team in Foshan, on China's southern coast. While not a stellar club, Foshan wasn't much worse than the Brave Dragons. With Marbury, who in March made headlines scoring fifty-five points in a single game, Foshan took down Shanxi in both their matchups, helping to scuttle Shanxi's hopes of a top-eight season finish.
Nor did the split with Shanxi deal a mortal blow to Starbury. To cover the $2.2 million promised by the owner of the Brave Dragons, Starbury Corp. briskly liquidated Marbury's $75 million real estate business. They recently engaged Apple's marketing firm to handle the build-out of their shops and, according to Bass, have already started churning out a Chinese line of shoes at a cautious volume of 5,000 pairs per month.
In Marbury's opinion, the shake-up in Taiyuan could not have worked out better. Shortly after I'd returned from my trip, he called from Foshan. His enthusiasm was so forceful, I had to turn down the volume on my phone. "Man, you wouldn't believe it!" he said. "It's like Florida here! Grass! Sun! Blue sky. Did you see what they said about me? How I got exiled out of China? How I lost a second home? Man, they were just waiting for it. But it shall be well. I'm here, and I'm happy. I've landed. Both feet."