I am a Stephon Marbury apologist.
There aren't many of us left, especially amongst my fellow Knicks fans, but for some reason, I have always, and continue to, root for Stephon Marbury.
I don't know if it's his tremendous basketball talent, or the fact that he created his own sneaker line, one that sells for around $15 a pair so that every kid could afford a pair of sneakers that are worn by a pro ball player (and yes, he actually wears them in games).
Maybe it's because Marbury was a product of New York City, and the state of New York basketball, from the pros to the playgrounds, needs a savior. Maybe it's because as flawed as Marbury was as a person and a player during his time at The Garden, he gets too much of the blame for the demise of the Knicks.
When Marbury came to New York in January 2004, it had all the makings of a sports fairy tale. The pride of Coney Island and former Lincoln High School star would return to the "City That Never Sleeps" and help restore a dwindling Knicks franchise to it's rightful position amongst the NBA's elite.
Marbury was even featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine with Isaiah Thomas sporting the headline "Can Steph and Isaiah Save the East ?".
We all know now that that didn't happen, and Marbury's time with the Knicks, like most of his pro career, has been a story of "what could have been".
Looking back, however, there is one missed opportunity in Marbury's career that not only could have made his time in New York successful, but would have changed the whole perception of Steph's game. The same way it did for Allen Iverson.
He should have listened to Larry Brown.
Larry Brown's coaching tour came to Philadelphia prior to the start of the 1997-98 basketball season. He took over a team that had won only 22 games the previous season, but had a budding young star at point guard, out of Georgetown University, who had just won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
His name was Allen Iverson.
Iverson was a scoring machine, even at 5'10" and 160 lbs. He was an excellent ball handler with a deadly crossover dribble, but he began to get criticism for his shoot-first mentality, his tendency to shoot a ton of shots at a below average percentage, and his poor relationship with shooting guard and fellow lottery pick Jerry Stackhouse.
Brown realized that Iverson was a special talent. A guy who could score, handle the rock, was quick as lightning, played excellent defense and sacrificed his body was rare in today's game, and Brown knew it.
He traded away Jerry Stackhouse, and later Larry Hughes, and made Iverson a shooting guard, and the focal point of the team.
Brown and Iverson would butt heads at first, with Brown criticizing Iverson's work ethic in practice and Iverson complaining about Brown's strict rules and practice schedule (remember the infamous "we talkin' 'bout practice" press conference).
Eventually, however begrudgingly, Iverson fell in line and listened to Larry Brown. Brown, in return, built the entire team around Iverson, and by Brown's second season as coach, the Sixers were in the playoffs.
The more Iverson bought into Larry Brown's system, the better the team played. Iverson became a better shooter, and began to make his teammates better. The 'Sixers would find themselves in the NBA Finals by the 2000-'01 season, and Iverson would win MVP honors.
The 2000-'01 Sixers established Iverson as a player who made the players around him better, and was, to borrow a boxing term, the toughest "pound-for-pound" player in the NBA. Take Iverson off that team, and Philly not only doesn't make the finals, but they probably don't make the playoffs.
Just look at the rest of the roster: Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, Pepe Sanchez, Matt Geiger, Tyrone Hill, Raja Bell, Dikembe Mutombo, Todd MacCulloch, George Lynch, Toni Kukoc, Kevin Ollie, Theo Ratliff, Jumaine Jones, Nazr Muhammed and Rodney Buford. Some decent players, but not exactly a team that's going to strike fear in the hearts of it's opponents.
Stephon Marbury should have take notice of what Larry Brown did for Allen Iverson's career, and maybe things could have been different in New York. Instead, Starbury butted heads with Brown, which caused Brown to butt heads with Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan.
It became a war, and when it was time to choose sides, Brown was let go after one season without a fair chance to save the Knicks or Marbury's career. Brown helped make Allen Iverson a future Hall of Fame basketball player, and it's a shame he wasn't given the chance to do the same for Stephon Marbury.
With Marbury finally agreeing to a buyout with the Knicks, and being released, he has a chance to resurrect his career and his reputation. He was immediately picked up by the Celtics to be Rajon Rondo's backup for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.
If he can fall in line, listen to the veteran leaders of that team and coach Doc Rivers, play team-first basketball, and help Boston win another title, then maybe a team will take a chance and sign him next season.
Maybe now, Marbury will finally "get it." Maybe he can finally live up to his basketball potential. Maybe this is the beginning of the resurrection of Stephon Marbury's career and reputation.
Maybe somewhere in North Carolina, Larry Brown is watching this whole soap opera play out and thinking to himself "I told you so."
As a Stephon Marbury apologist, I hope it works out for him. But as Knicks fan, I'll always wonder what could have been.
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