Stephon Marbury is an extremely optimistic fellow. That’s part of what makes him so interesting and his infectious enthusiasm has gained him millions of fans here in China. The way in which he deals with the haters is admirable too: reposting messages of hate and wishing them all the best.
But he’s also full of shit. OK, so maybe that’s a little harsh – he’s often just trying to promote the sport of basketball here – but consider one of the things he said to the China Daily newspaper on Thursday:
“I foresee the day when the No. 1 player in college basketball in the US comes to China”.
Fearless prediction: that day will not come – at least not in Marbury’s lifetime. Sure, some people laughed when they said the world was round, but come on Stephon, that’s just nonsense.
It’s only natural that Marbury would try to build up the reputation of the league. For all his dominance in the CBA – and his rehabilitation, both on and off the court, has been a fantastic story – the fact remains that if a NBA team really wanted him four years ago, he’d still be in the US. This is a guy, remember, whom the New York Daily News once called “the most reviled athlete in town” – and New York has seen some pretty fierce competition for that title in recent years.
Chinese basketball is still light years behind the competition. With one obvious exception, China has seen very, very few athletes play – let alone succeed – in the NBA. Five Chinese players have graced the NBA courts:
- 1. Yao Ming: all-round superstar
- 2. Yi Jianlian: 273 career games, 2,148 points, career average 7.9 ppg
- 3. Wang Zhizhi: 153 career games (152 coming off the bench), career average 4.1 ppg
- 4. Mengke Bateer: 46 career games, career averages of 3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg
- 5. Sun Yue: 6 points total in 10 career games
The fact that Marbury is still talking to the China Daily about Sun Yue’s NBA potential, even though Sun’s failed stint with the Lakers in 2008/09 netted him just six points in ten games, shows that there is no one else coming through. Yi Jianlian, the only one of that group who was ever mentioned in the same breath as Yao, saw production decline from a career high of 12.0 ppg in 09/10 down to 5.6 ppg in 10/11 and to 2.6 ppg in 11/12, and has returned to the comforts of the CBA. China would dearly love a successor to Yao – be it in boxing, tennis, golf, snooker or whatever – but the emergence of replacement in basketball appears ever more unlikely, no matter how positive Marbury may be about the CBA’s future.