Dream Weaver

Next Great Baller Has the Family Ties to Avoid Any Nightmares

"People ask me if it's in the genes," says Telfair. "I tell them it must be; how else can you explain it?"

But despite all that rich basketball blood, the fact remains that only one member of the family is earning an NBA paycheck. "Sebastian knows how difficult it is to get to this level," says Marbury in the Nets locker room. "So when he asks me about my approach to the game, I tell him that every night before I step onto the court, I say to myself, 'Who am I going to be tonight? Am I going to be the best player I can possibly be? Damn right.'

"If not," older cousin warns, "you'll end up one of those should-have, could-have, would-have-been guys, and that would be a shame."

Family man: like cousin Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair pulls up for a big three.
photo: Pete Kuhns
Family man: like cousin Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair pulls up for a big three.

While most talented players and coaches, especially at the high school level, hate to have labels and expectations pinned to their tank tops, Telfair says boldly, "Bring it on."

"I never look at it like I can't meet anyone's expectations of me," he says. "I just think, 'Hey, you think that much of me, you think I'm supposed to be that good? Well, I like that challenge; I want to be as good as you say I can be.' "

Much like his weave routine, the kid in him seemed to be getting the best of Telfair, who will surely find out that living up to expectations, especially in a sports-crazed town like New York, can at times be a frustrating and humbling experience.

Just ask Felipe Lopez, the most ballyhooed prep school baller in history, who came out of Harlem's Rice High School. Lopez was the subject of a feature in The New Yorker(complete with a full-page Richard Avedon photo) before his senior year was complete, and his mug landed on the cover of Sports Illustratedbefore he played in a single college game.

"Shit, when I was coming up, they compared me to Michael Jordan—Michael Jordan!" says Lopez, who now plays with the Washington Wizards. "Now, how can anyone live up to that billing? It's crazy."

Lopez, who never lived up to his potential as a great college player while at St. John's, still did enough to impress NBA scouts, and after a few long winters spent honing his skills in Vancouver—the NBA's version of Siberia—he has, ironically enough, landed a starting job with Jordan's Wizards.

"I've heard of Sebastian, and every time I hear people talk about him, I think about what I went through," says Lopez. "My best advice for him would be to concentrate on his goals, stay away from the wrong crowd, and let the rest fall into place.

"He needs to keep believing in his potential, but not get too overconfident," adds Lopez. "For me, I had a good support system, and that helped me deal with all of the criticism. Sebastian has to know that all great players coming up are going to be compared to great players before them, and he has to learn to deal with that."

He's trying. But sometimes, when people want to know if Telfair really is the second coming of Stephon Marbury, the 15-year-old in him emerges again and does all the talking.

"I'm not the second coming of Stephon Marbury or anyone else," he says. "I'm the first coming of Sebastian Telfair."

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