When Starbury Was King

by March 06, 2008

Here’s how pitiful I was back in February, 2001: I had a pair of these, and I wore them to Continental Airlines Arena when the Lakers—my Lakers—and my favorite player—Mr. Bean—came to town to visit the Nets. In short, I was Holly MacKenzie, only taller and not Canadian.

I was hardly the only Laker fan in the building that night, but I was certainly the only one wearing both a press pass and Kobe’s signature shoes — and, given how they matched the couches at his house, my jockriding wasn’t exactly subtle. I didn’t care, and my shamelessness was (in my mind) justified when I exchanged a pound and a laugh with KB after his 38 points and an OT game-winner lifted the defending champion Lakers over the hapless Nets, 113-110.

Kobe was really good that night, obviously. But Stephon Marbury was better. Just a few days after he outdueled Kobe down the stretch in what remains my all-time favorite NBA All-Star Game, Steph went for 50 points and 12 assists to push the champs to the brink. Basketball-wise, this might’ve been the best three or four-day stretch of Marbury’s career.

We’re reminded of that 50 and 12 because LeBron James — about whom a homeless man once warned Cavs fans not to get too excited, because he wasn’t going to be very good* — went for 50, 10 and 8 last night, making him the first player since Steph to put up a JFK and an FDR in the same game. Reading that last night was a nice reminder of how good Marbury once was. It also reminded me that most people probably don’t believe he ever was that good in the first place.

For a long time, SLAM was the only media outlet to proudly carry Steph’s jock. I believe we are collectively past that now, but the funny thing is feeling like we need to justify how much love we used to show him. I don’t think we do, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway. Mostly, people assumed we had his back ’cause SLAM was so NYC-centric, which it was — to an extent — in its earliest days. But by the early ’00s, much of the love we showed Steph came from guys like Lang and I, who are from Atlanta and Cali respectively. So it really wasn’t a New York thing. It came down to the fact that he really was pretty f*cking amazing.

And here’s the thing: We weren’t the only was who knew it.

Wake-boarding around the internets this morning, I stumbled across this game recap, which may or may not have been written by a 17-year-old Jake Appleman. I love the genuine tone, the voice of a die-hard fan who can be so proud of a team that’s got twice as many losses as wins, simply because they’re trying. He knows they’re not good enough, but he appreciates the David v. Goliath effort, particularly from his team’s only star. You can almost see the tears of joy in Joe Netsfans’ eyes as writes that Steph was “sensational” and “larger than life.”

But then there’s this, which might in retrospect be the most compelling thing anyone ever wrote about Stephon Marbury:

God bless you, magic man, for making life as a NJ Net fan more than bearable. Does anyone love the game of basketball more than you?

Yes, he wrote that about Stephon Marbury, and none of us who frequented Continental during the Steph era is surprised. This is part of why we loved him, too. One of my strongest memories of Marbury back then was when he was out with (I think) an ankle injury, on the bench as his totally outmanned teammates played inspired (but almost always losing) basketball against better teams. Gimpy as he was, dude would be jumping off the bench and waving a towel, the biggest fan in the gym. He looked every bit the guy who loved the game and his teammates.

I think it’s safe to assume that very few people remember this Steph, and that nobody will remember him this way in five or 10 years. In a way that things that aren’t all that important in the world can be considered a “shame,” this is a shame.