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US basketball star who became a China icon

A DEPRESSED, STRUGGLING US basketball player got on a plane to China—and found 5,000 people waiting to greet him at the airport.

“Who are all of these people here for?” bewildered former NBA player Stephon Marbury asked his companion.

“They’re here for you,” his host replied.

Marbury’s jaw dropped open. He was stunned—but he would be even more surprised to know that visit to China would soon turn into a life-changing career move.

He fell in love with the country and moved there full time, becoming a key part of the sport there, and leading the Beijing Ducks to a CBA title. The Chinese gave him residency status and even built a statue of him.

The statue outside the Beijing Ducks Area. Image: Xinhua.


But this is NOT a tale of someone moving from being a small fish in a big pond to being a big fish in a small pond.  On the contrary, China is now the biggest market for basketball in the world, he says.

“Basketball is the largest spectator sport in China now, with an audience of over a billion people,” said Stephon Marbury, an international star player who now lives in Hong Kong.

“NBA China has a massive following and it’s worth US$5 billion,” he told Patrick Tsang On-Yip in an interview on Friday Beyond Spotlights. [link]  “China is now the biggest basketball market in the world.”

Stephon Marbury’s life changed when he moved to China.


Known as Starbury, he rose from humble beginnings in “the projects” in Coney Island, New York, to becoming a major US basketball star.

But towards 2009, his career faltered, and so did a business project he ran on the side. Unsympathetic voices in the media and social media criticized him heavily. He was left depressed and even suicidal, as he admitted to reporters at the time.

“To go from that, to go from America, where I was being ridiculed, I was being spoken of in a bad light, and then to be able to go some place and to receive positive light, it was uplifting,” he said.

“So my love for the country, it grew because of what they did for me.”

You can watch the interview in full below, or keep reading by scrolling down.

Marbury worked hard in China and built a basketball legacy by winning three championships for the city of Beijing.

He became head coach of the CBA Beijing Royal Fighters and was awarded honorary citizenship in Beijing. He now lives in Hong Kong. His new home has good energy, he said. “The vibe is like a New York kind of vibe.”


At the moment, there’s a lot of negativity aimed at China from the United States, but the two countries shared a love of sports, which could be a good “soft power” way to improve things, he said.

“It connects, the connectivity of basketball. It brings people together all over the world,” he told Patrick Tsang.

The basketball star was in conversation with Patrick Tsang On-yip.

“And with the fan base and the love of the game, with NBA China growing and the CBA growing, basketball is a language. It’s a language that everyone relates to, everybody can speak the same language.”


To the filming, Marbury brought a medal which was given to him by the government in Beijing, naming him as an honorary citizen.

He received a medal, making him an honorary citizen of Beijing.

“This medal means a lot because it shows going from one place to another place and receiving a high honor for doing something that I love to do, by contributing my spirit to the city and affecting people in a positive light through basketball,” he said.

He realized how important this was when he realized just how proud his teammates were of him. “My teammates, they were so happy and so proud to know that I was not only receiving this, but they know that I feel this way. This is big. This is rare and not easy to get,” he said.


The culture of China also persuaded him to stay—the peacefulness of the people, in particular. But he also loved the way that different generations of family members worked together.

Stephon Marbury is now based in Hong Kong.

He said he loved “the peace, the peace inside of the spirit, and the way how the culture takes care of each other, how the elderly take care of the baby, the grand baby, how gathering for food and enjoying a life together that affected me greatly.”


He came from a background which valued family, so that connected with him strongly.

Over the years, his friends in China became like siblings to him, and he was thrilled when they addressed him as brother.

“And I think that played a big part because my friends became my brothers and my sisters in China,” he said. “And for us to call each other that, and for us to be able to share that type of love, and to be called that in Chinese culture, it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty moving.”

Hong Kong, which manages to be very Chinese, and yet has a New York vibe, is a great location for this reborn sports star.

Friday Beyond Spotlights airs every Friday at 8:30pm on Hong Kong International Business Channel (76), and can be seen on fridayeveryday’s YouTube channel too.

The English language program features prominent guests who share their insights into current affairs, business, innovation and culture, as well as their ingenuity, passion and grit which forge their “Lion Rock Spirit” – a reference to the Kowloon mountain which represents the indomitable nature of the Hong Kong community.

The show is hosted by businessman and philanthropist Patrick Tsang On-yip, and lawyer and lawmaker Nick Chan Hiu-fung.

All images from Friday Beyond Spotlights unless specified otherwise.

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