By now, you should know that one of the two new SLAM covers features Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio reenacting the front of SLAM 21, one of our most iconic covers yet. But unless you still have that issue stashed safely in a bookcase, closet or basement, you can’t go back and check out the stories that document the two cover stars inside the ish—originally published in October, 1997—until now. Check out the classic Kevin Garnett cover story—penned by Scoop Jackson—here, and enjoy the Stephon Marbury interview that ran right after it below.—Ed.
by Tony Gervino / portraits Jonathan Mannion
Editor’s Note: The following is not in any way meant to dis the Milwaukee Bucks’ Ray Allen. Ray’s a fine player, who will more than likely turn into a solid NBA performer for years to come. And yet…
How long after Draft Night ’96 ended did the Milwaukee Bucks realize that they’d blown it? How long after they dealt Stephon Marbury away did they come to grips with the fact that what they’d done was trade away the future of their franchise, a guy capable of feeding Vin Baker and Big Dog—and whoever the hell else is on that team—for years to come? How long? Someone who could have become their Isiah. A man, not just another inexperienced rookie for Jordan to punk. A pure point guard—better yet, a pure New York City point guard—definitely the best one to come along in years. How long? One of the hardest workers this league we’ll ever see. A passing machine from birth. Focused. Basketball’s Tiger Woods. Wise beyond his years and your years put together. And how long before the Bucks admit their stupid mistake? A rookie who averaged 15.8 points per game, 7.8 apg, 2.7 rpg and 1 steal per game. Starbury. And he was all theirs.
How fucking long?
Stephon Marbury sits before me, drumming his fingers along the side of my desk and flipping through a copy of our June Issue. (“‘Who’s afraid of Allen Iverson?’ What’s that suppose to mean?” Steph asks. I shrug.) We’d been trying to nail him down for the interview since the season ended, when outta the blue, he called and said he was coming over. Here. To the SLAM Dome. Needless to say, we cleaned the place up.
Stephon Marbury’s story has been told many times before, but here is a 100-word synopsis: Stpeh grew up in Coney Island, NY. His older brothers—Donald Jr. (Ju-Ju), Eric and Norman—were dope, all-city ballers who, for a variety of reasons, never made it to the NBA. Even in junior high, Steph felt the burden of becoming the one Marbury to make it to the pros. The one Marbury to solidify their reputation as the pre-eminent hoops family in New York City history. He rocked G-Tech for one season, and when he was drafted No.4 in the ’96 Draft by those genius-turned-idiots Milwaukee Bucks, Stephon cried. Like a man. The end.
Today however, Steph is decidedly more composed. After coming back from an early season ankle injury, he led the T-Wolves to the Playoffs last season, averaging an astonishing 21.3 ppg, 7.7 apg, four rpg and just under one steal per game in the post-season.
Although the T-Wolves got swept by the aged Houston Rockets, the games were close. Close enough to see the future. Clearly, Minnesota is on the NBA’s fast track, and Stephon Marbury has the wheel. Everyone who has anything to do with the franchise is real happy about that.
The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand….
SLAM: Steph, we’ve gotten more than a few letters from our readers lately, stating that you deserved Rookie of the Year over Allen Iverson. What’s your reaction to that?
Stephon Marbury: I mean, the way I look at it…it could have gone either way. I think if I wouldn’t have been hurt for about 15, 16 games, it would have probably been closer. But its not like he didn’t…you know, Allen—he made history—he did something that nobody every did, and probably no one will ever do [scored 40-plus points in five straight games as a rookie]. It wasn’t like, “Well, it isn’t fair that Steph didn’t get it.” I mean, he did work too…his team just wasn’t as successful. I think we had a little bit more chemistry. They didn’t have the chemistry like we had.
SLAM: Was the chemistry there from the beginning? Did you realize there was “something” between you, KG, and Googs?
SM: I think there was. I think we wanted to be that way. I think they wanted to win, and I thought they were going to put forth whatever had to be done to win. So I thought they looked at it as, “Well, maybe if we give him [Marbury] a chance, maybe he can carry us. Maybe he’ll come through.” They knew that the job was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be hard. But they molded me; they did a great job as far as showing me what to do, telling me what to do, and I did a great job of listening.
SLAM: Let’s talk about KG. What specifically does he bring to the team…and to you? What does he do for your play?
SM: Well, he brings my play up when I’m not playing well. And he brings a smile to my face. You know, just looking at him, because I know he’s gonna goof around and do something to make me laugh. You know what I mean? I don’t let him see me laugh, but I’ll laugh inside. And I’ll be wanting to laugh. He makes me smile. He brings a lot of fanfare to the game. You know? But not as far as that mean streak he—KG—he brings in. Like quiet, sneaky. Laughing at you, but really telling you he’s gonna kill you [laughs]. You know? They come at you as your friend. So, that’s how he pretty much comes at you; he’s gonna come at you as your friend and then destroy you.
But what he brings to the game, period—the game of basketball—is something brand-new. And he’s definitely going to be a Michael Jordan. I think him, Grant Hill, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal always…I think them gonna be the millennium gods. Them guys definitely gonna be, at the millennium, like Jordan and Isiah and Magic. I think them guys are definitely going to be the marquee players.
SLAM: Talk about last season’s playoff experience for a minute. What was it like?
SM: I can’t even explain it. I can’t even explain the feeling. I never felt so good in my life, playing basketball. I had the most fun I ever had, playing basketball. And I was telling Kevin, we was talking like, “Yeah, I know that. I know the Playoffs is like a lot of fun. “ I was like, “Yo.” When you play in the Playoffs at the beginning of the series, and you know what you’re playing for, you know…that feeling. When you want that feeling again, you want that. When you want to have that fun and that preparing, you get prepared like you’re in college and high school.
And then in the Playoffs, when you do that, you get to know who you’re guarding. You get to watch them for about five days, preparing, practicing. Just for about five days. So you know everybody’s position. When you’re in the Playoffs and getting your game on, you know you’re balling. ‘Cause you know that Houston was just watching you for an hour-and-a-half, knowing that I’m gonna cross over six times outta 10. And then I go down and do the cross, that’s making you feel like, “I’m really doing something. I’m really improving, as far as a basketball player and reaching a level that I want.”
SLAM: When Milwaukee drafted you, did you already know they were going to trade you to Minnesota?
SM: Nah, I didn’t know.
SLAM: What was your first thought when it went down?
SM: I was just happy. I mean, I was just happy to be drafted. And then, when they announced the trade, I was ecstatic, because that’s where I wanted to go—I wanted to play in Minnesota. I wanted to play with Kevin, everybody knows that. I think it made everything seem perfect. I mean, that was like a dream come true. Everything I wanted, happened.
SLAM: How valuable was your college experience? Could you have turned pro outta high school like Kobe and Tracy McGrady?
SM: No. That one year was just…you get hit. In high school—that’s nothing. You don’t even get hit. They don’t set picks. If you find a team that sets picks, it might be a team that been together for four years, the same kids. So its different. But how can I tell [someone], “Don’t be rich. Don’t drive a 600 Benz. Don’t get your mother a nice house. Don’t do that—that’s not right. That’s not fair to you to do that. Go get your education.” I mean, kids that are going to school, if their talents can’t be exploited as much as they would in the NBA—you cant knock someone else because of the things they’re doing. Because he’s able to go and play at a higher level.
If I’m a sophomore in high school and I pass the ACT and SAT and all those tests, and I could be a lawyer…I’m gonna just go and be a lawyer! Nobody’s gonna say anything [about that]. You know the tennis players—they don’t go to school for four years. Baseball and Hockey players don’t. They [the media and the public] make a big deal over the kids that are coming out of high school into the NBA. But if he comes in and he’s a disappointment, that’s to himself. That’s the chance he’s taking. It’s difficult. College helps you one year, but he may feel he don’t need no help—I know I couldn’t do it physically or mentally.