Out at the Meadowlands, just minutes after finishing off a 15-point, 11-assist performance in Sunday’s 110-90 Nets win over the Warriors, Stephon Marbury was asked to rate his season. The famously outspoken Nets point guard, who drew foul calls from the press when he dissed Knicks point duo Charlie Ward and Chris Childs last season and his own teammates this season, responded mildly: “I definitely think I could be doing better. I wish my turnovers were down, but it’s been tough, not only because this is the first year for all of us playing together, but because we put in a whole new offense three games into the season.”
Marbury made no mention of the absurd snub he received from the Eastern Conference coaches who vote for the All-Star reserves, sticking to the silence he’s kept since the February 1 announcement. In fact, not only has Marbury avoided speaking out—issuing only vague statements about knowing he’ll “get his some day” and that the named stars “deserve it”—but he has resisted the chance to burn his detractors by scoring 50 one night. Instead, he’s tucked the slight away, leaving his greater concerns to righting a team that had lost six straight games in horrific fashion before Sunday’s laugher. And yet, in a league where perceptions die hard, Marbury’s rep seems to live larger than his calm play and demeanor—larger even than his 22.2 points and 8.5 assists per game.
As Dave Del Grande, longtime NBA reporter for the Oakland Tribune, put it at the Meadowlands, “You can now say he’s having a decent season, but better than Allan Houston or Ray Allen? No way.” Del Grande became a part of my Sunday after he heard me ask Warriors’ general manager and head coach Garry St. Jean what exactly Marbury had to do to get some love from the NBA at large. “Saint” played like the veteran NBA politician he is, saying, “The only reason I have a problem with him is because I have to sit on the opposite bench and watch him play.” But Del Grande passed on the private executive view of Marbury: “The league-wide reputation of him is that he’s been very selfish. The negative taste started out West when he kind of ruined the Minnesota franchise by forcing his way out. Then, when he was shooting 30 times a game at the beginning of the season, and the Nets were losing, people seemed to say, ‘Oh, we were right. He is selfish.’ ”
Of course, the executive view overlooks the fact that Marbury stopped his machine-gun act three games into the season, and that he carries considerably more of his team’s weight than either Allan or Allen. Marbury’s haters also conveniently ignore that he probably deserved an All-Star bid back in 1998, too, when he put up some great numbers for the up-and-coming Timberwolves but was apparently already rubbing people the wrong way.
The fact is, the fourth-year guard is one of the most competitive players in the NBA, given to outbursts of frustration when he and his teammates do not play up to their potential (which, at 18-29, has happened way too often). He also committed an apparent sin when he forced the trade that brought him close to his Brooklyn-based family, members of which attend every single home game, and seems to get bad press because of his candor (unlike bulletproof teammate Keith Van Horn, who’s pre- and postgame comments are about as exciting as his fading game). Over in the Golden State locker room, John Starks, who had stirred the echoes Sunday with a vintage 3-for-14 performance, gave his take on the Marbury conundrum. “I was very surprised he didn’t make the team, considering the season he’s having and since they didn’t even take a true point guard,” Starks said. But, added the onetime local hero, “In New York, controversy sells. If he does something bad, well, the media is going to take it to the extreme.”