Steph’s Cry For Help
Starbury’s behavior is as amusing as a crack baby.
Remember the infamous clip of Michael Richards (aka Cosmo Kramer) at the Laugh Factory, the one where he tells some black men that “50 years ago we’d have you upside down with a fork up your @$$” and then goes on a “nigger” spree? What was always fascinating to watch is the crowd’s reaction. There was raucous laughter at first, then the murmuring started and pretty soon, once they realized that Kramer was having a Nazi-meltdown, people started getting up to leave. It wasn’t funny anymore. The man had, at the very least, momentarily lost his mind. This happens all the time—someone’s behavior starts off as entertaining and then, at some point, you realize that you’re watching/experiencing something deviant or inappropriate or downright sad and it’s not funny/entertaining anymore.
This is where we are at with Stephon Marbury. This isn’t funny anymore.
When Steph first premiered his 24/7 streaming video at uStream last week, I learned of it through Twitter feeds. I was away from my computer and as I scrolled through Friend Timelines on my Blackberry, I read gleeful tweets from people just tickled and amused with Steph. When I finally got a chance to check the first few videos, I was more exasperated than entertained, wishing Steph would just fall back for a while and chill. Bizarre can get old pretty quick. After about 15 minutes of clicking on a few links, fast forwarding through the odd rants and banal revelations, I shut it down. “If folks want to sit in front of a computer for hours and watch this, that’s cool,” I thought, “but I’ll keep it moving.” Steph kinda makes me a little uncomfortable because, well, I think he’s going through some things and it’s tough to watch/hear/read him wrestle with life. So it bothered me that everyone thought a grown man, a millionaire athlete no less, sitting in front of a camera, mostly shirtless, for hours and hours and hours was anything other than alarming. Most thought it was a joke and their tweets said it all. The LOLs, the HAAAs, the OMGs—there was rampant amusement. People were calling this entertainment. “They Tried To Put Me In A Box” t-shirts were made.
Then something happened. Saturday, Steph sat in front of a camera, turned on a Kirk Franklin gospel tune and broke down crying. Not just tears, but sobs accompanied by gasping breaths, the way a kid cries after a whooping. Not more than a day later he eats a gob of Vaseline for his sore throat. The Internet went crazy. Facebook updates, Twitter trending topics and YouTube parodies, including this one from Chappelle Show’s Ashy Larry.
Word? Y’all think this is funny? This is hilarious to you? We are watching a man deteriorate and this nasty cascade to who-knows-where makes you chuckle? You wouldn’t be laughing if this was your brother. If this was your best friend, you wouldn’t be calling these videos “epic” and “classic.” You’d be more than moderately concerned. “What’s going on with my brother/friend/son.” Personally, I’m mortified.
Back in late 2007, Steph, still a Knick, went on NYC’s Mike’d Up and officially started acting like an oddball. He ended the segment doing a dove dance, because “it brings me closer to the light.” The past two years have been, at least to this onlooker, an emotional descent. From head tattoos, to “money makes you do crazy things” quotes, to weird, mundane, non sequitur uStream videos, it’s like Steph wants to be Mike Tyson. I fear we’re weeks away from him becoming a recurring character in Jimmy Kimmel/Fallon skits.
There are times when erratic behavior is hilarious, like James Brown’s “epic” appearance on an L.A. news show the day after his release from jail, a “classic” performance where he manages to answer the bulk of the newscaster’s questions by simply quoting his song titles. Or David Letterman’s comical interviews with a spaced out Joaquin Phoenix and an astral traveling Tracy Morgan. JB was likely drunk and his behavior was all bravado meant to entertain and deflect attention from his domestic abuse charges. Phoenix’s bearded and sunglass’d turn on Letterman is likely to be outed as performance hoax as soon as his Casey Affleck documentary is released. And Morgan is a comedian — ’nuff said. But every time I hear a radio host chuckle or read an “LOL” from a Tweeter about these Marbury videos, I wanna strangle someone. This ain’t a joke.
Full disclosure: Steph has always been one of my favorite cats in the League, so I’m a bit protective. I grew up in Buffalo, a city on the Western edge of New York, where top flight basketball talent is scarce (we’ve only had about 10 players make it to the NBA in the past 20 years), so hoops fanatics pay a lot of attention to what’s happening downstate in Gotham. Steph, who is a couple years older than me, was like an extension of my favorite college ball player ever, Kenny Anderson. Kenny was from Queens and lefty, Steph was a righty from Brooklyn, but both had that slick NYC game, so it was all the same. Watching Steph ball at G-Tech with the “Larry Johnson middle-part” was a straight up blast and my loyalties rolled with him to Minny, then Phoenix, then Jersey, then The Garden…I still ride with Steph. So to see him struggling is rough. Many of his tweets are typically garbled, Sarah Palinesque platitudes about love..like this one from Wednesday: “I love to love a person that loves love.” Huh? You wanna scratch your head until you realize that Steph needs a hug, a lot of ‘em. He needs some friends to tell him to step away from the laptop. Or like I wrote about Vince Young, last year, Steph needs a dad, too. I imagine an involved and loving father would help Steph navigate what is obviously a tough period in his life, one where he seems to be consumed by “the haters.”
Not all reactions to Steph’s videos have been snarky, passive-aggressive ridicule. Some viewers seemed to be inspired by his persistent message of love. To them, I guess, there is dogged optimism in his words. That’s cool. At least some good is coming out of this. And if this is the way that Steph is choosing to deal with pressure and hate or even exorcise some demons, then I can’t front on him for that. All I know is that I see what looks like a man in a downward spiral and this past week seems to be the proverbial cry for help. If you think that’s funny, you need as much help as Steph.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.