How weird is Stephon Marbury?

By ADAM REILLY  |  March 10, 2009

Seeing the light
If you're a Celtics fan who thinks Marbury will push the C's to a second consecutive championship, you've probably got your rejoinder ready: So Marbury's a conceited jerk. Big deal. Didn't the Red Sox win with Manny? And didn't the Patriots make Randy Moss a model citizen? But this line of argument doesn't quite work: paradoxically, it both sells Marbury short and ignores the full extent of his dysfunction.

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.)

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