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Stephon Marbury is ‘100 percent’ at peace with decision to retire

His 22-year career will end with his final game in China on Feb. 11

After 22 years, two-time NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury’s days as a professional basketball player are coming to an end.

Marbury said he is at peace with his decision to retire after his final regular-season game with the struggling Beijing Fly Dragons. The three-time Chinese Basketball Association champion will play his last game Feb. 11 against Jiangsu Tongxi, just nine days before turning 41 years old. Marbury averaged 19.3 points, 7.6 assists and three rebounds during a 13-year NBA career that included stops with the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.

Despite announcing his retirement on Thursday, Marbury said he would stay in shape just in case an NBA team showed interest during the rest of the season. Marbury reflected on China, his NBA career, his Hall of Fame dreams and what’s next in an interview with The Undefeated.


So why are you ready to retire nine days before you turn 41 years old?

I’m just winding down. My season will be over on the 11th. We are not going to make the playoffs. We have a struggling team. We’re young. I wanted to play until I was 40. I got to stay in Beijing and didn’t have to leave. So, it worked out.

I’m tired, man. I’m tired. I played 22 years. I wanted to play in the NBA this year. But if nothing comes, I’m not forcing it. If I get called, that is the only way I am going to do it. I am going to leave to go back home [to Los Angeles] on the 16th. I am going to take a couple of days off. Then I’m going to go to L.A. and train some more and just stay ready until [the NBA regular season] is over with just in case. But I’m not calling nobody. It’s all good. I’m straight with how it is right now. It’s cool. And I like that. I like being able to have control over going out the way I want to go out.

If you play your last game on Feb. 11, are you at peace with that?

One hundred percent. Man, I got three championships in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. People don’t know how hard it is to play in China. They think it’s easy for the foreign players. But it’s really not. It’s really difficult. You can ask guys like J.R. [Smith] and Tracy [McGrady] how difficult it was. It’s not just so much about your ability to score. It’s about being able to try to win. I accomplished so much in doing something where basketball has taken off, heightened to a whole other level. And I had something to do with it. I’m not a younger player seeing all this. I’m an older player seeing all this. I’m in the moment seeing all this happening while it’s happening. So, I can see that everything is all transparent while everything is taking place.

So, for me seeing all that and winning championships and how things have changed from a [small] arena to a 15,000-seat arena. And watching how they created the same atmosphere as they created in the NBA for so many years, I am a witness to it as well.

What kind of impact do you think you’ve made on Chinese basketball?

I helped them see change and how they can see things better. They trust me. I want to help. I want to continue to put them in a situation where they can be better. Being a bridge in sports, not just basketball, sports. I think that is the most amazing thing about doing all of the things that have been done.

What is next?

I have a couple of things [in China]. I will keep you up with what I’m doing. … They are making sure that I ain’t going nowhere.

How indebted are you to China?

What they’ve done for me, I will never, ever … Anything they ask me for, even if I don’t want to do it, I will do it. They gave me a different type of platform globally. I can’t neglect or deny.

Are you going to play in the Big3?

I am leaving it open, but I doubt if I do that.

How do you want to be remembered?

Game-changer. You can be who you want to be and still create an outcome by doing the things you believe in and things that you are trusting. A lot of people said that I couldn’t win. A lot of people said I was this or I was that. I never listened to any of that, because I always won. I didn’t start losing until I went to New Jersey and everyone was hurt and not playing. From that time, I always won. I never lost.

I never listened to what people said despite what was going on. And then when I came to China, I got the opportunity to display that. Playing in China is the hardest place to play because of the coaching barrier, language barrier and culture barrier. You have to learn something completely different from what we know. You have to immerse.

How do you look back at your NBA career now?

It was a steppingstone. The NBA, for me, for preparation for me to do something someplace else. All of the knowledge, all that I gained, all that I was able to do to learn from playing in the NBA allowed me to come someplace else and to inject that and give that type of energy to a culture of basketball that needed that. The China basketball needed that type of view to be able to understand and see exactly how things actually happened with someone who committed themselves into the basketball community in China.

It wasn’t like I came, then I left and then I came back and I left and didn’t come back. I stayed. And it was important for me to stay. At the time, I could have left and went back to the NBA. But I had to make a decision. You could go back to the NBA and have an opportunity to make a lot of money because I know I can play. And if I go on the court and I do my thing, I can make money. But I chose to stay in a place where I loved. I chose to stay where I felt it as a human being and I was appreciated most.

So, it was a decision that I had to make. And I made that decision based on how I felt and how I was treated. My mother always said, ‘It’s always good, Stephon, to go where you are loved. If they love you, that is where you should be at.’ How could I not go where I am loved? It played a different kind of part in my life. I feel like I am indebted and obligated.

Do you hope your team and the Chinese Basketball Association does something special for you on Feb. 11?

They already did a lot of stuff special. They put me on a credit card, man. They did enough. I don’t need nothing. The game could go on and end and they don’t need to do nothing else. I’m cool. I swear. They won’t do that. I don’t need nothing else. They gave me a statue, a museum, a green card. Honorary citizen. They put my face on a Visa credit card on a bank that people use. I am not asking for anything. They’ve done enough.

Sometimes it’s a little bit too much from things that have gone on and happened. For me, all of the stuff they have done has broken you down in a humble way. It makes you so humble. And it’s not money. People think they are going to come to China, they’re going to blow up and they’re going to do this. It’s not like that. They’re not stupid. They know there is a lot of money in China. They’re not stupid. They know how people think and what they are thinking.

It’s not about money in China. The respect, the love, the appreciation it generates and creates over a time period. To be able to continue in that space and be able to evolve as a human being and a basketball player, it’s natural. The older people are more celebrated and more taken care of. They make a lot of money over a duration of time because they accomplished something. They’re not being given anything. They’ve earned what has been given to them.

The old iconic people still [are successful] because of what they’ve done. It is not because of what you can be or think you can be. It’s like, ‘We already know you’re a master at what you do. So, because you’re a master, this is how we take care of you.’

Should you be in the Hall of Fame from an international standpoint?

My numbers are Hall of Fame. That’s first. You look at guys who have never won championships on the globe, they are in the Hall of Fame. Two, what I have done to help basketball globally to bridge the gap from America to China, with China being one of the main components on the Earth for basketball, that right there alone should bridge that gap. It’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. So, for basketball, I played in Olympics, I played in the Junior Olympics. With what I’ve done and given to basketball is all Hall of Fame.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.