March 5, 2009

HOT DOGS, ROLLER COASTERS, AND STARBURY:

How weird is Stephon Marbury?: Brace yourselves, Boston, for the Starbury show, starring Stephon Marbury — perhaps the strangest pro-athlete ever to suit up in a New England uniform. (ADAM REILLY, March 4, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

The problem is, Marbury's weirdness also incorporates a strong altruistic streak — which is great, except when it edges into Christ Complex territory. In 2007, for example, he donated $1 million each to New York City firefighters, cops, EMS workers, and teachers, citing post-9/11 gratitude and a desire to spread the wealth "among, well, everyone." And in 2006, he launched his own line of basketball shoes — the "Starburys" — in conjunction with now-defunct retailer Steve & Barry's. Priced at just under $15 a pair, the shoes in question could be purchased with relative ease even by impoverished kids — like those who live in the Coney Island projects where Marbury himself came of age. Whatever you think of Marbury, it was a commendable move.

Or was it? Putting shoes (and an accompanying clothing line) within reach of lower-income children is laudable. But a case can be made that the whole "Starbury" venture, which continues online, actually reinforces Marbury's egotism rather than mitigates it. Marbury didn't just give the shoes his own nickname, and a star logo that's tattooed onto the left side of his skull. He also insisted on speaking of a broader "Starbury Movement," and of taking said movement on cross-country tours.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with aggressively promoting a product you believe in. But Marbury seems to think that bigger stakes are involved. During a July 2007 interview on Mike'd Up, a WNBC-TV New York local-sports show, Marbury was asked about a Starbury giveaway he'd recently staged on Coney Island. As he explained his reaction ("It felt like heaven on Earth. That made me want to do so much more to create jobs for everybody on this Earth.") and his intense interest in education-related projects ("I can't teach all of the kids."), he sounded as much like an aspiring holy man as an enlightened entrepreneur.

In fact, no one should be surprised if Marbury eventually embarks on a second career as a preacher, guru, or mystic. In a November 2007 piece in New York magazine, writer Tommy Craggs recalled watching a wholly un-self-conscious Marbury engage in a prayer-cum-jazzercise routine in a South Carolina hotel. (" 'I go like this,' Marbury said. He began weaving his hands in and out, rolling his shoulders, and casting his eyes skyward. His assistant, Gaylord, chimed in. 'Givin' your praise to the Almighty Lord,' he said. 'That's it,' Marbury said.")

In the past few years, such awkward, overly demonstrative Jesus-freakery has become one of Marbury's defining tics. In a 2007 guest entry written on New York Post basketball writer Mark Berman's blog, for example, Marbury described his visit to the Sistine Chapel thusly: "It is incredible. You walk in one door and out the other and you become free in mind, body, and spirit. That's when I knew I was free. I flew home a free man and my life got turned around." (Given his subsequent falling-out with the Knicks, this assessment may have been premature.)

In the Mike'd Up interview, meanwhile, Marbury explained his affinity for since-fired Knicks coach Isiah Thomas (who would later lose the aforementioned sexual-harassment suit along with Madison Square Garden; feud with Marbury; and get canned) in oddly religious terms. Thomas, Marbury said, is "a man's man — and he can see the light." Then he raised his eyes skyward. "And that light is that . . . you're going places?" guest host Bruce Beck asked gamely. "Hey, it's how people want to look at it," Marbury coyly answered.

Strangest of all, though, was Marbury's vivid recollection of a mysterious, sublime connection that he'd recently experienced with his sister, Stephanie. Here's how it went:

BECK: Are you comfortable being Steph these days? And is it fair to say you've grown in that regard?

MARBURY: Man . . . I grew so much. I mean, I had so many people that was praying for me and pushing for me. My sister been praying for me since I was born — my sister Stephanie, my namesake. . . . [My sister] been praying for this day forever, and it finally happened yesterday when I kissed her, and I felt her body and I felt her soul. I was delighted to be kissing her. I couldn't even cry, because I knew they were gonna be happy tears, so I was able to control them. You only really cry [with] the bad stuff.

The snide take on this exchange —Marbury kissed his sister, and dug it! — is good for cheap laughs. But something more perplexing actually seems to be at work here. It's evident that Marbury had a powerful emotional experience he wants to describe. It's also evident that he doesn't know how to explain himself in terms intelligible to the interviewer or the home audience — or anybody else. Moreover, he doesn't even comprehend the basic parameters within which the conversation is supposed to proceed. He seems to be speaking some sort of interplanetary Esperanto, equally unintelligible to the (mostly) white sportswriters who cover him and the (mostly) black athletes who are his peers. Or perhaps he suffers from an Asperger's-like condition that renders even the most mundane off-the-court interactions perilous.

Seen in this light, some of Marbury's stranger statements and actions take on a different look. After his banishment from the Knicks, for example, Marbury baffled pretty much everyone by attending a Knicks-Lakers game in LA; he sat courtside (not on the bench, but with his own paid-for ticket!), and spent a lot of time talking on his cell phone. Maybe Marbury was irked at the lack of support he'd received from his teammates during his ongoing feud with Knicks management, and wanted to fuck with their heads. Then again, maybe he had nothing else to do — and literally couldn't fathom just how inappropriate and disruptive it was for him to be there.


Suddenly, Darryl Dawkins seems stable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 5, 2009 10:52 AM
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