I Can't Bake Fealty

Hats off to Fat Contradiction. Despite showing up only about twice a year, and usually to hurt my feelings in the process, he's earned a spot in the Commentors Hall of Fame. So when he takes me (us) to task for taking bland, conventional views on Stephon Marbury, and in some sense betraying this site's radical principles, I cry, bristle, and then start typing.

It's true, FreeDarko is preoccupied with the ways in which off-court manner and behavior bleed into our perception of an athlete's on-court identity, and vice-versa. The sneaker thing, though doomed and not particularly original, was a shock to the basketball system. His willingness to let his guard down with the media, be in that of a man released or an utter loon, could've rocketed Marbury past old teammate Garnett on the too effin' real scale. The Tracy Morgan/Jordan moments of 2007 were either a man losing it or maybe, like some of Josh Howard's less couth episodes, what everyone's already thinking anyway. My all-time fave has to be the "Money makes a man do crazy things," delivered in the midst of courthouse pandemonium, with a smile, and with full knowledge that his skeezy testimony had just pushed him into the Page Six gulag.

I don't remember exactly when The Recluse said this, but I still believe: "I predict Marbury in ten years to be some sort of deranged community activist, like a cross between Jim Brown and Mike Tyson."

All of which is fine and good. But let's not forget, as a player Steph is an absolute stinker. Fine, he's flashy, in that great line of PG's who wow in the city and disappoint as pros, is the very definition of clubhouse wrecker, fosters zero chemistry, and is street as hell without it amounting to much of anything. I've railed against early Iverson as FD taken too far; Marbury is certain strains of our philosophy turned back against us.

His game could not be more depressing. At his best, he could dish like crazy, use strength, elusiveness, and start-stops to find his way to the basket, and take over games to the surprise of no one. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no logical way for him to synch this up with other players. I've always believed that Iverson's main problem was not having players around him who understood—or could make good on—exactly how you work on offense with a ball-hogging, clock-eating, tunnel-visioned shop-wrecker who could split defenses and emerge as an impromptu playmaker more than you thought. Marbury was a far more traditional point guard, just a palsied version of one. Sadly, there's no external solution for the Marbury problem, no acceptable complement.

So he's a waste. The same brain that makes him a perennnial sideshow in street clothes also destroys any hope of his being a real "revolutionary figure." He's a corrupt city pol who just so happens to march in the streets or project a flamboyant image. Marbury is a parody on the court, which makes it hard to feel any real enthusiasm for or confidence in his public persona—unless we're just all about marveling at the outspoken idiot. That's why, for all our commitment to the big picture, you can't escape the man and his game. Marbury's game is just stupid, and at best, that serves as a counter-weight to whatever he's other become. At worst, it taints the whole thing with what you could only describe as mundane lunacy, outrageousness in the service of drab.

Was Marbury was better person when he was with Garnett? Would you really call the last two years a "personal breakthrough?" He was certainly less rigid in Minnesota. In Phoenix, though, when he actually experienced some success, you saw it more clear than ever: He'd become a drag, predictable, counter to the whole spirit of energized, creative basketball that supposedly flowed from the semi-disciplined urban mileau he came to embody. But as his game became less and less truly energetic and alive, what you were left with was empty swagger, skill you had to grudgingly admit (never admire), and someone whose claim to fame lay increasingly in his biography and symbolism. If that's totally severed from a man's performance, or ends up carrying all the weight, then that's when I turn my back. If nothing else, to protect the doctrine.

I wonder if it works the other way, though. Probably not. If you grew Anthony Randolph in a test tube in Iowa and had him shilling for Activia, I'd still ride.

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At 9/28/2008 1:29 PM, Blogger Joey said...


At 9/28/2008 8:29 PM, Blogger Tree Frog said...

I think Stephon without that albatross of a contract is a much more likable person. That kind of money and hype invokes expectations that I believe he never could have met.

Imagine if he was getting paid like Rafer Alston. We'd be all up in here talking about whether or not he's worth more than that, how his craziness might detract from the team yet supply a constant trickle of awesomeness etc.

At 9/28/2008 10:53 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Tree Frog beat me to it. For all the faults in Marbury's game, it is magnified greatly due to the combination of his big contract and his star status (i.e. his featured role on a team).

Looking forward to a brought out Marbury playing on the Celtics/Spurs as a role player. Hey, give Stephen Jackson $20 million a year and #1 top dog status, and most would probably find his game/persona much more negative than he they do even now.

I'm sure there's some Ziller graphitude in this convo somewhere... likeability decreasing/increasing as salary and/or role increases/decreases.

At 9/28/2008 11:09 PM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

The problem with marbury, and what makes him different from the aforementioned players (alston, sjax), is that he would never accept a smaller contract, or non-top-dog status. Teams have been willing to comply with his demands which encourages this sort of behavior. I dont think Marbury would want to be in a league where he cant get the max bucks. Marbury to Europe 2010!

At 9/28/2008 11:43 PM, Blogger Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

There will be no S.L.A. (Stephon Liberation Army) to blame for his bank robbing, luxury taxed disaster of a career.

And looking back, those of us not in NYC might actually miss the Zeke Thomas era because the Knicks were a depository for every overpaid, bad player in the league. Now that the doors to the zoo have been opened, the rest of the league will now have to absorb some of that mediocrity somehow. It was like the Knicks were the antidote to the dilution of over-expansion.

We'll see what happens next.

At 9/29/2008 12:02 AM, Blogger Apeerer said...

What many of us who value seeing pro athletes exalt winning as the ultimate goal don't get, is that for some of them, scoring a 'max contract' *is* the ultimate goal.

Also according to that measure, however cynical and selfish it may seem to us, when they get it,they have 'won' in one of the world's most lucrative arenas.

It doesn't need to be excused, but merely understood, that given the barrren circumstances of the childhoods of many players, it is not totally unreasonable that the economic yardstick is the one adopted and nurtured by many in the game from day one.

We are naive to think that a Marbury type will ever want to trade places with a journeyman player who has won a couple of rings with a team in a supporting role, who has to then later sell some of his possessions to maintain a decent lifestyle.

To him, he won when he 'maxed out'. All the rest is for pundits and sports geeks, whom he never sought to please in the first place.

As a parent, for all of his myopia, I'm just glad that he did create a 'counterweight' to his professional career by allowing affordable sneakers and sports gear to be made available to the masses.

Many more noble players have done much less. Go figure.

I have no problem explaining to my kids the difference between a hero and an opportunist.

When they are adults, they'll have to choose sides like the rest of us.

At 9/29/2008 1:30 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

On topic: I haven't yet been able to discern a cause, but it's struck me for a long time that the magic of Marbury is that he can put up 20+ points and 7+ assists on any given night, and it won't have any impact on the outcome of the game. It's the same with Zach Randolph. So, it's not that his game has never been interesting, it's just that, if his efforts don't produce actual results, why have him on the court? His salary hasn't helped with that perception.

Off topic: I've got Obama on the brain this weekend, but I think I'm mostly among friends on this topic, so please just ignore me if this comes off as obnoxious. There are only about 30 days until election day. If you're planning to vote for Barry, please consider also spending a little of whatever free time you have working on the campaign.

There are a lot of ways to donate some time, and the folks running the field offices typically try to assign you to something with which you're comfortable. Even if you live in a state that's either solidly blue or solidly red, there are still things you can do; offices in those states are directing their efforts to states that can be swung. (Folks here in CA are working on Nevada.) I'm not making the biggest contributions of time or money myself, but I'm doing what I can. Sorry for the interruption.

At 9/29/2008 1:52 AM, Blogger Derek Harper said...

This is unfortunately another sad case of internet hyperbole from a writer and staff I really respect despite the occasional fired shot. Every once in a while it's okay to say you're not really up on a dude's game, (II) there's nothing wrong with that and it would've served you well here. Joey, an alleged Knicks fan but definite FD fan claims to co sign, I can't understand how if you've watched the Knicks faithfully throughout these dark but occasionally inspiring times. Something that always miffed me about this site is the lack of coverage of the Knicks, who have been, as you say, the dark side of the FD experiment the last few years as Isiah stacked the team with versatile swing men. Steph was at the helm throughout. Your claim that there's no one for him to synch with despite his enormous talents is off. Steph is mind boggling because he literally can do whatever he wants on the floor. I've seen him come out motivated at the outset of some seasons, determined to be a distributor, of all things, and take 4 shots and end up with 20 assists, before backsliding into his wandering malaise. (to be fair, he always has and always will be completely and totally worthless on D) Forgive me for analysis that isn't abstract and impressionistic but I try to go off text when possible. His problems begin and end in his head, in this fish eyed stare that you see roll in like clouds down the stretch in the fourth quarter where this team has lost at least 20 games a year since he came to town. The 30 foot pull up heat checks he'll launch in the middle of a productive offensive spurt, the outbursts at teammates at random times for no apparent reason. Only one person stops Steph on the floor time and time again and that person is Steph. All this circular talk and well worn cliche is fucking horseshit. He has talent that is worthy of that contract, and when he lets his guard down he appears to be a, yes, lucid, engaging and interesting individual. Walsh has immediately come in with a wrecking ball and the good judgment that he used in that brawl motivated shell shocked GS trade fiasco. (I may live to be wrong but Danillo over Gordon and Bayless?) The last few years will go down as a laughing stock for most but Bethlehem Shoals, to you personally, you missed the boat my friend. Isiah is gone and Steph may not be far behind, but in the dark world where they dwelled ugly things and surprising things and sometimes little wonderous things spilled out at me constantly. I enjoyed the ride. Fuck everyone.

At 9/29/2008 1:54 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Has anyone else here seen Steph play live before? I happened to have courtside seats (once in a lifetime experience) for a game when he had it going. This may sound incredibly trite, but he's one of the few players in the league that has "it"- that quality where you can't stop watching him.

Unlike many of those guys, though, Starbury's impressiveness is completely lost on television. It was startling to see how different he seemed on the idiot box the next time I got to watch him.

Maybe I just witnessed a shooting star that night. But those kind of experiences just stick with you, you know?

At 9/29/2008 1:57 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Fuck yes. I just saw your post Derek Harper- you said it far better than I ever could.

At 9/29/2008 3:37 AM, Blogger D.J. Foster said...

You "enjoyed the ride"? Really??? You might qualify as the easiest to please Knicks fan ever.

There has been nothing inspiring about the last 5 years of Knicks basketball. Dolan and Zeke took one of the most relevant sports franchises and made them irrelevant.

To not throw some of the blame on Marbury, with his cancerous attitude, giant contract, and generally terrible play throughout the years, is asinine.

At 9/29/2008 10:44 AM, Blogger Quantavius Sturdivant said...

i second dj foster.

At 9/29/2008 11:23 AM, Blogger goathair said...

what you were left with was empty swagger, skill you had to grudgingly admit (never admire), and someone whose claim to fame lay increasingly in his biography and symbolism

This is exactly how I fell about T.I.

At 9/29/2008 2:48 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

"So he's a waste."

That's exactly right, and why Marbury is ultimately so depressing.

When the Knicks brought him in, I think most fans (myself for sure) wanted him to succeed. We wanted the "hometown hero brought back to save the franchise" storyline to play out.

We had just lived through the ridiculously bleak Layden years. Isiah and Marbury could have been the breath of fresh air, the beginning of a new era.

And it didn't. It wasn't. It's been all these years, and it's still bleak.

So, sure, you can try to detach yourself from it all and say "but his numbers are great, and he can play with the best of them."

But to do that you have to ignore the results. He was brought in to be the savior, and he didn't save anything, or anyone, not even himself.

"So he's a waste."

At 9/29/2008 3:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

In case anyone's concerned, I changed it from "Activa" to "Activia" because I meant the JLC yogurt line, not the sports bra company.

And did someone really say that the Knicks were swamped with versatile swingmen? Looking at my 2007-08 Knicks tee, I see no one who fits that particular bill.

At 9/29/2008 4:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

To DJ Foster and QS: While I agree with you guys on the results, this is Free Darko. Winning and losing have no place here - only style and potential. And those Knicks of the Isiah era were awash in FD potential and style, but never properly manifested.

This is, after all, a team that started and played four combo guards on the regular. How can you not argue the potential stylings of a team that threw out lineups last season that included David Lee, Jared Jeffries or even Renaldo Balkman playing center, alongside Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford, Q-Rich and Wilson Chandler. Or other such misfit lineups from Nellie's worst nightmares.

Completely ineffective, yes. Lots of losing, yes. Oddly stylistic, like something that Don Nelson would try out first at home during a season in NBA Live? Absolutely. You can be FD and still stink, right?

I need a ruling. Am I just Stockholm-ing?

At 9/29/2008 4:27 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Without Marbury, Curry and Randolph, yeah, it looks great. Unfortunately, those are the team's three most high-profile players.

At 9/29/2008 4:30 PM, Blogger Derek Harper said...

Mike Lupica voiced what was bothering me about all the Knicks bashing, here of all places. Is it because it's New York? Why is it okay to lose beautifully in Memphis? The Payroll? Isiah's smug grin or Stephon as a fetish for anthropologically racist The Last Shot stans? I have the same shirt Shoals, (thanks to this site) swingman was probably the wrong word but that team was nothing if not versatile. Has anyone ever been at MSG on a Jamal night? I saw him drop 50 on the Heat once. The angles that kid is able to make work should not even be physically possible. Remember discovering Ariza was a beast? Nate blocking Yao Ming? Finding out how much fun Q can be when you let him play in the paint? The "god finally at long last" dominance of Eddie Curry in the first half of 07? You want to call losing a waste or say I can't enjoy the ride if we don't make the playoffs that's fine. The Post has a Knicks blog where you'll find many like minded dick head New Yorkers who are calling for Girardi's blood right about now. I expect better from FD. Up with the revolution, for EVERYONE.

At 9/29/2008 6:02 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

I think the key word there is losing "beautifully." There is nothing beautiful about the way the Knicks lose. For the isolated, month-or-two stretches when they've looked like they give a fuck the last few years, they've been a joy to watch. The only problem is, those stretches consisted of those couple months where Eddy was actually playing well, and that one February under Larry Brown before the wheels came off. As awesome as it is when Jamal goes nuts and drops 30+, it's harder to get excited when you've spent the last six months watching valiumball.

At 9/29/2008 6:02 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

I always thought that the philosophy here about watching for style and potential as opposed to wins/losses meant that if it was fun and exhilarating to watch, who cared about the outcome of the game?

I think the problem with the Marbury era is that he is not fun to watch. He is a human sulk, a giant black cloud that sucks the joy out of any enterprise.

If it was just watching Eddy Curry try to figure out his potential or watching Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, and David Lee do their thing, playing weird and erratic and still losing but being damned interesting in the process, they'd be just like those other "beautiful losers" celebrated here.

But the presence of Marbury colors the whole thing in dark and surly tones. I don't think that translates at all into "Knick bashing."

At 9/30/2008 1:02 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

I agree with GhostDeini.

Marbury couldn't accept a lesser role, because deep down he feels he is better than anyone on the court. This is his fatal flaw. He didn't feel KG was on his level. Funny thing is, based on pure basketball talent, no mental blocks included, it may have been true. But that will never be the case, because athletes aren't robots. Steph has always been The MAN. A New York legend since he was a boy. And if you know anything about NYC, then being a deity in Gotham is makes or breaks you. It broke Marbury, and the fractured view he has of himself will never allow him to be considered the lesser half of any whole. Not to KG, not to Larry Brown, not to Isaiah, and eventually no one at all.

To a lesser extent, this is the same problem that plagues Lamar Odom. The NYC Legend tag. Shoulda, coulda, woulda will always follow him. Phil knows for certain that Lamar's ego could never accept being a 6th man. What they should've been overrides what they are.


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