You know Stephon Marbury. Mercurial guard for the Phoenix Suns. Brooklyn dude with the 'tude. Loads of skilz, but it's all about Stephon. Forced Minnesota to trade him to New Jersey. Wore out his welcome there, too. Jason Kidd makes his teammates better. Stephon Marbury has all the talent, but he's not about winning.
Or maybe you don't know Stephon Marbury. Nathanael Rogers does. 'Little Nate' is what Marbury calls the 14-year-old from Chandler, Ariz., who was born in Bend and loves basketball.
When Rogers spotted Marbury in a mall a couple of years ago, they struck up a conversation. 'I don't want your autograph,' Rogers told Marbury, 'I just want to shake your hand.' They hung out for a while. Before Marbury departed in his Bentley, he bought Rogers a $90 pair of basketball shoes, gave him his cell phone number and told him to call.
'I know a lot of kids, but Little Nate was different than anybody who ever came up to me,' says Marbury, who visits the Rose Garden on Tuesday with the Suns to face the Trail Blazers. 'It was like I was supposed to meet him.'
Since then, Marbury has arranged for game tickets several times for Rogers and his family. Once, Marbury met them at a restaurant, picked up Nathanael and let him spend an afternoon at his house.
'Stephon may be a tough guy on the basketball court, but he has a good heart,' says Nathanael's mother, Jill Rogers. 'We have seen another side of him, and I know Nathanael isn't the only one he has made feel special. He does a lot of nice things for a lot of kids.'
NBA players are required to do a certain amount of charitable work. Marbury has chosen to do much of his in the area of underprivileged children. Since Marbury entered the league in 1996, Team Marbury Charitable Foundation has benefited thousands of kids through basketball camps, fantasy weekends and other projects. He takes 50 children to his mother's house in Maryland every year for a celebration.
There are the things the public knows about, and others Ñ such as Little Nate Ñ it doesn't.
'It is not for everyone to know about,' Marbury says. 'Everybody doesn't have to know everything you do. Some guys make a production out of it. I do things because I want to, not to get attention.'
Marbury, the sixth of seven children, didn't have a lot growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, N.Y. It is part of the reason he has a fascination for making children happy.
'We lived in the ghetto,' Marbury says. 'We weren't rich, for sure. My mother taught all of us if you want something you have to go get it. Now I get to give other kids the opportunity to have experiences they could never imagine Ñ that I could never have imagined. That makes me feel good. I just think it's the right thing for me to do.'
Career path starts rocky
Marbury had things good in Minnesota, playing with All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Tom Gugliotta his first two seasons. Then Marbury, a free agent in waiting, was traded to New Jersey. Closer to home, he insisted. Couldn't stand to play second fiddle to Garnett, others cried. Marbury still bristles at the thought.
'People say it ended badly in Minnesota,' he says. 'I just didn't feel like I wanted to give seven years of my life to Minnesota. It wasn't just about basketball. I still have feelings.
'They say I forced a trade. Well, I didn't hold a gun to the owner's head and say, 'You better trade me.' Honestly, I thought I was a man about the situation. The summer before, I went to (owner Glen Taylor) and told him I wasn't going to re-sign. I said, 'I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I feel like you should trade me.' Then I got the raw end of the deal because the public and everyone else wanted me and Kevin to stay together.'
It didn't work out in New Jersey, either. When Kidd's domestic abuse case caused Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo to seek a trade, the Nets were only too willing to give up Marbury to get him. And Kidd promptly led the Nets to the NBA Finals while Marbury and the Suns failed to make the playoffs. Marbury averaged 20.4 points and 8.1 assists, but he wasn't the 'team player' Kidd was, according to skeptics.
That bugs Marbury.
'I've heard that about me Ñ 'doesn't make his teammates better' Ñ and I don't understand it,' he says. 'In the NBA, guys are either good, or they aren't. They know how to play, or they don't. I try to do my job, and I don't pay no mind to that. I laugh at it, really. Why would that bother me Ñ because somebody who doesn't know better says that?'
It bothers Marbury, of course.
'Jason and I are two different players,' Marbury says. 'I am averaging 20 points and eight assists over my career. The only player who has done that is Oscar Robertson (25.7 and 9.5). I'm on a nice little career path. People can say I don't make my teammates better because my teams haven't won titles, but it just ain't on me.'
Dogged by history
Marbury is among the league leaders in scoring (22.7 points per game) and assists (8.2). His quick first step makes it hard for the niftiest defenders to get their body in front of him. He has a sweet touch from the perimeter and a knack for burying the big shot.
Players throughout the NBA respect Marbury as a rare talent.
'Stephon is one of the best in this league,' Portland's Damon Stoudamire says. 'He is one of those guys when you play against him, you know you have to come at him, because he is going to come at you. He is on the attack all the time, and physically, he is probably the strongest point guard in the NBA.
'He has gotten kind of a bad reputation, but in this league, you know how it goes. A couple of things happen, and it kind of follows you your whole career.'
The selfish tag irks Marbury, even though he says it doesn't.
'I feel like I have been misunderstood, but I can't control what people write,' he says. 'I let people think what they want to think about me, because I know who I am, so it doesn't matter.
'I don't straddle the fence when people try to make a mockery out of me. I want to be seen the way I am. I am Stephon Marbury, period. I am going to tell you how it is. I will be straight up and honest with you. A lot of people can't deal with it. I know who I am as a basketball player. I know who I am as a person. I know my mother and father love me. I know my wife and my kids love me. That's all that matters. Can't live your life worrying about what everyone else thinks.'
Seeing clearly now
Marbury has had slip-ups in his life. He had a well-publicized drunken-driving arrest last year. Newly married, he hopes he can put it behind him.
'I have grown,' he says. 'I have matured. I see things for what they are, not for what they get me now. Marriage was good for me. It goes from 'mine' to 'ours.' You make decisions as a family.'
Marbury has played in only two All-Star Games, including this year.
'It really doesn't matter,' he says. 'I know I'm an All-Star. Since my second or third year, I have played like an All-Star every year. But I don't go out to make the All-Star team.'
His two years with Minnesota, Marbury went to the playoffs. He hasn't been back since. That is where his reputation has been born, he figures.
'When you are winning, people see you in a different light,' he says. 'I accept that. I know that is how it is in professional sports.'
The Suns are still in the playoff race this season. Marbury burns to get there and beyond.
'The only thing I want to do is be an NBA champion,' he says. 'That's the only goal I have in basketball.'
If it's true, maybe we really don't know Stephon Marbury at all.
Maybe Nathanael Rogers does.