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Reborn in Beijing, Marbury goes native

Updated: 2015-05-01 09:57
By Yu Yilei (China Daily USA)

Movie to capture life of US basketball star who went from a troubled NBA career to finding success and love in China, Yu Yilei reports.

In the early 1990s, TV viewers in China were captivated by A Native of Beijing in New York, a drama about a family of Chinese immigrants pursuing the American dream in the Big Apple.

Two decades on, a new movie is in production to tell the story of a New Yorker living a dream in Beijing - Stephon Marbury.

The documentary will look at the Brooklyn-born point guard's life since arriving in China, where he has helped the Beijing Ducks win three Chinese Basketball Association championships in four years and become one of the country's most popular foreign athletes.

"It's a great way for people in America and mostly in China to see how I live here in China," the 38-year-old said of the movie, A Native of New York in Beijing, in an interview at his downtown condo near the capital's Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square.

"The movie really paints a picture for people to see what has happened since I left America, how my life has changed, how I have become committed to living in discipline, living in the Chinese culture," he said.

The script must read like a Hollywood underdog story.

Marbury landed in the Middle Kingdom in 2010 after a 13-year roller coaster career in the NBA where he experienced more lows than highs. He went on to claim his first CBA championship ring in 2012 and repeated the feat in 2014. On March 22, he added a third by leading the Ducks to a 4-2 series victory over Liaoning, earning the MVP award.

As a result of his contribution, the club has erected a statue of him outside its home court, the MasterCard Arena, and he has earned several lucrative endorsements, including Red Bull, and even has a sportswear brand named after him.

Away from the court, the American has been given the key to the city, making him an honorary citizen, and on April 18 his image was printed on a new postage stamp, a rare recognition for any athlete or foreigner. In April he was also rubbing shoulders with movie stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger on the red carpet at the Beijing International Film Festival.

So it seemed a natural move when the father of three announced recently he had applied for a "green card", the permanent residence permit given to foreigners who make an outstanding contribution to China.

"I mean it's amazing, it's all positive. It's great to be able to have the respect from the people," Marbury said with a smile. "It's hard living in the moment when you have to make decisions in your life, for your family, to actually do something like leave America to go to the CBA to play, and then all these positive things come out of it: a statue, a key to the city, a green card, and the stamps.

"You can't actually dream this type of dream. ... I couldn't have put this down on paper when I left America, that these are the things that are going to happen."

Unsurprisingly, Marbury's Chinese green card application caused an online sensation, with many people saying the move was a way for him to express his love for his adopted home.

"China needs Stephon Marbury more than Yao Ming when it comes to the future of its basketball league," sports columnist Yang Hua wrote. "Unlike before, we don't crave a hero like Yao who can travel thousands of miles to prove something to the Americans. Instead, we're working on attracting foreign players like Marbury to come and lift the game here."

Marbury is a fan magnet in China. En route to his first championship in 2012, Game 5 of the finals between the Beijing Ducks and Guangdong Tigers was the most-watched game of that year. And in March, 190 million TV viewers tuned in for the six-game finals, averaging 17.4 million per game, an all-time CBA record.

His teammates also adore him. "He is always the MVP in my eyes," Zhai Xiaochuan, a rising star with the Ducks, said after the win over Liaoning in March. "I hope he can stay healthy and lead us to more records and miracles."

Many big-name NBA players have played in the CBA, including Stromile Swift and Tracy McGrady. Yet none have come close to reaching the heights achieved by Marbury. Chinese fans joke that there are two types of foreign players in the CBA - Stephon Marbury and the rest.

Faced with such adulation in China, Marbury remains outwardly humble, a contrast to how he came across during his infamous fallouts with Larry Brown and Isaiah Thomas back in his New York days.

"Yao was the game changer. Without him coming to America, the bridge may have never been built for me to come across," he wrote on his Chinese social media account, which has more than 3.7 million followers. The cover picture for his account reads: Work hard in silence, let success make the noise.

"I don't really look at myself as a hero or anything of that sort," he told China Daily. "I just look at me as a person, as a bridge to the excitement that a lot of people in China never felt before."

In the eyes of some, the sportsman's transformation is nearly too good to be true.

"Stephon Marbury has gone from being one of the most hated sports stars in his native US to being one of the most loved in China in just a few years," said Mark Dreyer, a former reporter for Sky Sports and the AP who now runs China Sports Insider.

"While American sports fans saw him as arrogant, aloof, overrated and as the proverbial 'cancer' in the dressing room, his persona in China has been humble and open off the court and hugely positive on it, through a combination of coaching, mentoring and inspirational play.

"You would never believe it's the same person - indeed, many US sports fans who have read of his latest heroics in China struggle to accept it's the same Marbury."

So how has he done it? Marbury has cleverly embraced the Beijing culture and given fans a few off-court reasons to like him, too, such as riding the subway, eating local delicacies and chatting with fans through social media.

But it has not been easy. The player lives a disciplined and rather solitary life, with his family still living in New York. His apartment is spacious but equipped with only basic furniture, while his living room has a massage table and a 25-kg dumbbell. He has a personal trainer to keep him fit.

"The drama in his life is largely why Marbury is accepted as a symbolic hero in China," said Yang Yi, a renowned basketball commentator and one of Marbury's agents. "His career has been full of ups and downs, but he has been reborn in China.

"Moreover, he has a charisma that suits Beijing. He likes what Beijingers like, and he's not just here to make money like some other foreign players. His behavior is sometimes showy, but he appreciates Chinese culture."

Despite his age, Marbury said he has no intention of retiring or leaving the capital anytime soon.

"I'm thinking about how to continue to elevate my body through training," he said. "I can be different from all the other athletes who stopped playing at my age. This is a great opportunity for me to continue playing as long as I want by training my body.

"Living in Beijing has been a great experience. This is my home, and this is where I live."

Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at yuyilei@chinadaily.com.cn

 Reborn in Beijing, Marbury goes native

Stephon Marbury led the Beijing Ducks to a 4-2 series victory over Liaoning on March 22, claiming his third CBA championship ring and earning the MVP award. Zhang Wenkui / for China Daily

 Reborn in Beijing, Marbury goes native

Stamps with Marbury's name and face are unveiled in Beijing on April 18. Pan Zhiwang / for China Daily

 Reborn in Beijing, Marbury goes native

Marbury shows his Chinese-language tatoo, which says "Beijing Dynasty". Wu Chuanjing / China Daily

(China Daily USA 05/01/2015 page10)

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