Jeremy Lin was a bench-warmer for the New York Knicks before he became an NBA sensation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Knicks reject Stephon Marbury is tearing up the Chinese league.
While “Linsanity” is now known across the globe, in China it is competing with “Marbury madness” after the Brooklyn native led the Beijing Ducks to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) championship semi-finals in style.
On Sunday, Beijing beat Zhe-jiang 105-91 to win the best-of-five quarter-finals 3-0, propelled by a 14-point third quarter from Marbury that included a thunderous dunk, drives to the rim and a pair of laser-guided three-pointers.
For some, the heroics have even eclipsed those of Lin, a fellow point guard who has captivated audiences in China and his parents’ homeland, Taiwan, with his fairytale emergence from bit-player to superstar.
“I’ve been watching what [Jeremy] Lin Shu-hao is doing in the NBA, but Marbury is my hero,” one supporter, Meng Zhaoping, said from his second-row seat at Beijing’s sold-out home arena.
“The main reason a lot of people are coming to the games is to watch Ma Buli,” he said, using Marbury’s Chinese names.
The Knicks gave up on Marbury in 2009, after a spat with coaching staff, but his play and that of other imported players has long been key to the development of China’s future basketballers.
Now the 1.90m Lin, who is US-born and bred, is giving China’s estimated 300 million basketball fans hope that the country might one day produce a home-grown point guard of his quality.
The only Chinese-born players to make it in the NBA are towering centers like the 2.28m giant Yao Ming, who retired last year.
While the CBA’s level is far below the NBA, tattooed sinophile Marbury, 35, has stood out this season and he added to his legend with Sunday’s monstrous, two-handed dunk which was endlessly repeated by Chinese media.
“I had a wide-open lane to the basket, so I just went up and dunked it,” 2.18m tall Marbury said after the game, with a big grin on his face.
“I haven’t dunked at all since I’ve been in China, but today I had my legs under me,” he said.
Such play helped Beijing register 13 straight wins at the start of the season. Marbury, who is averaging 24 points and 6.4 assists a game, has won accolades from coaches around the league for his leadership and determination.
The former NBA All Star and multi-millionaire has adjusted well to China after arriving in 2010, manufacturing his “Starbury” brand of basketball shoes in Chinese factories and selling them online.
He writes a regular column for the English-language China Daily and has more than 200,000 followers on his Twitter-style microblog. Marbury, whose Chinese name is etched on his forearm, one day hopes to coach in China.
“Marbury madness is all over China,” said former Atlanta Hawks member Randolph Morris, Marbury’s team-mate with the Ducks.
“He is so charismatic that people flock to that. He is a genuine person who is genuinely in love with China. People are picking up on this, it is a great thing for basketball and for America and China,” Morris said.
With last year’s contract dispute, numerous NBA stars played in China this season, including Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Winston Chandler. All lost to Marbury’s Ducks and all three have since returned to NBA careers.