You read Anthony Tao's story about Stephon Marbury earlier today. The photos he took during his time on Marbury's trail offer further insight into the weirdness of the Lone Wolf's stint in the Chinese Basketball Association. With commentary by Tao.
Four days after his arrival, Marbury works on his game inside Binhe Sports Stadium, home to Shanxi Zhongyu (Brave Dragons). He is flanked by his personal assistant, Gaylord (left) — whom everyone here calls "G" — and some bilingual Asian I've not seen since that day.
The CBA is a 17-club league with all teams playing a home-and-away with every other team. The top eight make the playoffs. The day after Marbury landed in China, Shanxi beat Qingdao on the road for its fourth win of the season. On Saturday, in Marbury's CBA debut, Shanxi lost to Dongguan at home for its 14th loss.
Most of those gathered around Marbury are fans who convinced someone or other to let them in. Comparing Marbury with former Shanxi superstar Bonzi Wells, a fan named Fan Qiang said: "He's more approachable. Anyone who wants to get a picture of him is able to. Wells didn't let people do that."
The hype machine started a week before Marbury's arrival, with this picture introducing both Marbury and his fondness for tautologies to the greater Chinese audience.
No slideshow from China is complete without the obligatory photo of someone flashing the V.
Cedric Simmons, pictured here, does not believe Marbury is making only $25,000 a month. The CBA allows each team to have two foreign players with a combined salary not exceeding $60,000 per month (so it goes). When I told Simmons, who plays for Dongguan, that Marbury is reportedly making 25K, he shook his head. "I don't think so." Around this point, a Dongguan coach interrupted and said (in Chinese): "The CBA has rules. You can't interview whomever you want. Go talk to our media relations person first."
Marbury exchanges words before Sunday's game with Maurice Taylor (18.5 ppg through 15 CBA contests), a first-round Clippers pick in 1997 who was waived by the Kings in 2007. His wife knows Marbury's wife, and when it came time for Marbury to decide whether to embark to Shanxi, he turned to Taylor for info.
If you want to know what a thousand thunderstix being popped simultaneously sounds like, scroll to 4:32 of this video (better yet, start at the 4:06 mark, where Marbury has the ball with five seconds left and his team down by one).
Have at it, Deadspin.
CBA teams all have an official sponsor, and Zhongyu's is Fenjiu, a local brand of liquor. On the scoreboard the team name is displayed as "Shanxi Fenjiu" — something like if the Rockies were to become the Colorado Coors Lights.
Almost everyone is wearing black, a rather symbolic color for this coal-mining province. Most ticket prices doubled for this game, and yet people were still buying from scalpers for up to 100 yuan ($14) above the new face value.
Mark Strand, an American who has been in Taiyuan for 18 years, told me before the game that Chinese fans are "brutal." Here, a fan screams at a photographer standing courtside to sit down. (Strand also told me fans were quick to "throw stuff on the floor. ... I've been here for games when that's happened." How prophetic.)
Across the way is the official scorers' table. The game itself was an up-and-down affair that was one of the more entertaining evenings of the season. Both teams missed one of two free throws in the last 10 seconds, and Shanxi had a chance to win when Taylor, off a Marbury pass, got a great look from 23 feet.
Marbury was outplayed by his counterpart, Tre Kelley, who finished with 34 points on 12-for-19 shooting. On an identical play with less than 30 seconds to go, Kelley would use Simmons's screen to drive past Marbury for a layup that put Dongguan ahead 100-99. After his team's loss, Marbury wrote on his Chinese Twitter-like site: "im sorry about the game last night. i wish we would have won for you guys. i will get better every game, i promise."
The best seats in the house are the courtside couches opposite the team benches ...
... and those who sit here could well pass for China's answer to the Gambinos.
Judging strictly by appearance, of course.
I wouldn't want to imply anything.
Those searching for signs that the Marbury-Shanxi relationship may work after all can take heart in the way "Lone Wolf," as the Chinese media dubbed him a while back, has interacted with his teammates. Here he brings the team together for a huddle, which led to someone next to me to exclaim, "Wow, he's like a coach out there!"
Shanxi Zhongyu lost again tonight, 113-104, to the first-place Southern Tigers of Guangdong, despite Stephon Marbury's 15 assists (42-plus minutes, 15 points, 4-for-18 from the floor, 1-for-7 from three). Shanxi was fined 40,000 yuan after Sunday's lighter-throwing debacle, resulting in increased security for today's game. The cops couldn't do anything about the refs, however, and a few bad calls drew the crowd's ire. As matchbooks and bottles flew from the stands, Guangdong's coaches and players vacated the floor. Marbury took a seat on the bench, elbows on his knees, doing nothing of note.