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.