Notorious locker-room cancer and intern-boinker Stephon Marbury, aka Starbury, has apparently accepted a contract to play for a basketball team in China, Taiyuan Shanxi Zhongyu, currently ranked 15th out of 17 teams.
Li Fei, a 21-year-old college student, said that with Mr. Marbury on the team “it injects more excitement into the game.”
“I’ve always been his fan.” Mr. Li said. “I know he’s a selfish player, and he doesn’t like to pass, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great player. It’s beautiful to watch.”
It’s hard to say how this marriage will work out.
Taiyuan is the capital of China’s northern Shanxi province and the center of China’s coal-mining industry. The whole city is covered in a thin layer of coal dust, including Zhongyu’s Binhe Sports Stadium, which seats about 4,500 people. It has less than a fourth the capacity of New York’s Madison Square Garden where Mr. Marbury played from 2004 to 2008. Courtside seats in the arena, which run about $1,464 a season, are a collection of worn red sofas and lounge chairs.
The Binhe Stadium looks like an abandoned building in the daytime while the team is practicing, its gates held closed with bicycle locks. About two hours before each game, security guards set up temporary metal detectors in front of each entrance to the stadium.
For a guy who always thinks he is the best player in the league, despite contrary evidence, perhaps this will be a good experience. If he lasts the season…
Taiyuan is markedly less tourist-friendly, internationalized and cosmopolitan than bustling cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. It’s hard to find a bank ATM that will accept foreign credit cards.
“If he lasts 10 days, I’ll be amazed,” says Bruce O’Neil, president of the U.S. Basketball Academy, which trains young American players to be drafted by Chinese teams. “The culture shock is tremendous.”
Mr. Marbury, though, isn’t playing in China for the money. He’s here to promote his shoe and apparel brand, called “Starbury” after his nickname, featuring low-cost sneakers for $15. The market is potentially huge: The NBA estimates that 300 million people play basketball in China. Mr. Marbury has the Starbury logo tattooed on the side of his shaved head.
His new employer, Zhongyu-owner Wang Xingjiang, is an iron and steel magnate and basketball fanatic who made the Forbes “400 Richest Chinese” list in 2008. At the time, his net worth was estimated to be $260 million.