Marbury at 14
Old 07-29-2009, 04:36 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Marbury at 14

Here's a bit of an article from a 1993 Harper's magazine about Marbury's high school team. In the process of copying it - Stephon's name is not spelled correctly and there may be some other little glitches I failed to fix. It's interesting to place this bookend with the one we see now.

The orange court lights have come on now,
displacing the encroaching darkness. Two players
on either end of the court climb the fence and sit
atop the backboards, hanging nets, a sign that
a serious game is about to begin. Suddenly a ferocious
grinding noise fills the air. It gets louder
and louder, and then a teenage kid riding a Big
Wheel careers onto the court. He darts through
the playground crowd, leaving a wake of pissed off
players, then hops off his ride and watches it
slam into the fence. "Ah, yes, Stephan Marbury,"
Corey says dryly, "future of the neighborhood."
Stephon -Eric and Norman Marbury's kid
brother- is barely fourteen, has yet to begin high
school,but already his recruiting has begun. At least
one college coach is known to have sent him fawning
letters in violation of National Collegiate Athletic
Association rules; street agents, paid under the
table by colleges to bring top players to their programs,
have begun cultivating Stephen; and practically every high-school coach in the city is heaping him with free gear - sneakers, caps, bags- in
an attempt to lure him to his school. At firstglance,
Stephan doesn't look like the future of anything:
he's diminutive, barely five feet nine, with the
rounded forehead and delicate features of an infant,
He sports a stylish razorcut and a pierced ear, and
the huge gold stud seems to tilt his tiny bald head
off its axis. Caught somewhere between puberty and
superstardom, he walks around with his sneakers
untied, the ends of his belt drooping suggestively
from his pants, and half a Snickers bar extruding
from his mouth.

With Stephan here, Corey wanders onto the,
court. Russell, too, is persuaded to give up his solo
regimen. Basketball, it is commonly said, is a
game of pure instinct, but the five-on-five contest
that begins here is something else. Corey
and Stephan are cousins, and Russell is as good
as family-the three of them have played together
since they were in grade school. They
seem to move as if the spontaneous, magical geometry
of the game had all been rehearsed in
advance. Stephon, the smallest by far, is doing
tricks with the ball as though it were dangling
from his hand by a string, then gunning it to his
older teammates with a series of virtuoso nolook
passes: behind-the-back passes, sidearm
passes, shovel passes. Corey is lulling defenders
with his sleepy eyes, then exploding to the basket,
where hecasually tosses the ball through
the hoop. Russell is sinking twenty-footers as if
they were six-inch putts.
The game has just begun when a crowd starts
to form: sidelined players, three deep, waiting
their turn. A prostitute trolling for clients. A
drunk yelling maniacally, "I played with Jordan,
I played with Jabbar. They ain't shit. And neither
are you!" A buffed-out guy in a silk suit and alligator
shoes arrives, swigging from a bottle of
Courvoisier. An agent? A scout? The crowd gives
him elbow room. A couple of teenage mothers
with strollers come by; they get less elbow room.
Basketball is so inextricably _woven into the
fabric of Coney Island life that almost everyone
here can recite a complete oral history of the
neighborhood's players. People remember the exact
scores of summer tournament games played at
this court ten years ago, or describe in rapturous
detail the perfect arc that Carlton "Silk" Owens
put on his jumper before he was shot in the elbow
in: 1982. Dog-eared copies of a ten-year-old University of Georgia
catalogue with a picture of
Spoon Marbury playing with future NBA great Dominique
Wilkins get passed around like samizdat.
Russell; Corey, and Stephan are the natural
heirs to this vaunted tradition. But this is a complicated
business: given the failures that have
preceded them, the new crew is watched by the
neighborhood with a certain skittishness, a growing
reluctance to care too deeply. Yet Coney Island
offers its residents little else on which to
hang their pride. So the proceedings here take on
a desperate, exalted quality, and by unspoken
agreement the misfortunes of bygone players are
chalked up to either a lack of will or plain bad
luck, both of which make possible the continuance
of hope. Silk didn't go pro, it is said, "because
that was the year they cut the college draft
from three rounds to two." Another player, the
explanation goes, had that pro game, went to
the hoop both ways, "but he was done in by a
shyster agent."
Still, the suspicion lingers that something larger
and less comprehensible may be at work. Ten
years ago, the Long Island City projects in Queens
produced New York's best players, but the drug industry
andthe collapse of that neighborhood into
violence, broken families, and ever-greater
poverty put an end to its dynasty. In recent years
the torch has passed to Coney Island, which struggles
to avoid a similar fate. It's past midnight now, and the ambient glow of
Manhattan's remote skyscrapers has turned the sky
a metallic blue. Standing courtside, we can see only
the darkened outlinesof the projects, looming in every direction, and the
shirtless players streaking back and forth, drenched
in a pool of orange light.
For Russell, Corey, and Stephen, the hard labor
of winning their scholarships lies ahead; for now this game is enough.
Corey, sprinting downcourt, calls out, "Homeboy!
Homeboy!" Standing under his own basket, Stephon lets fly with a long, improbable pass that Corey somehow manages to catch and dunk
in one balletic leap. The game is stopped on account
of pandemonium: players and spectators
are screaming and staggering around the court knees
buckling, heads held in astonishment. Even
Mr. Courvoisier loses his cool. Stephan laughs and
points to the rim, still shuddering fearfully from
its run-in with Corey's fists. "Yo, cuz," he yells.
"Make it bleed!" Then he raises his arms jubilantly
and dances a little jig, rendered momentarily insane
by the sheer giddy pleasure of playing this
game to perfection.
"Come on, Russell-we're jetting!"
Stephan places his hand against the back of Russell's
bald head and flicks it hard to make the skin
"Damn; Stephan, stop sweating me! Can't
you see I'm talking to my girl?" When Russell gets
upset, his voice jumps to a higher register. "Can't
you see I'm talking to my girl?",Stephon mimics.
Russell tries to ignore him. He whispers something
in Terry's ear, gives her a kiss, then slings
his book bag over his shoulder and marches toward
the locker room. The last class bell has
rung, disgorging hundreds of students into the
Lincoln corridors. Stephan lingers in the crowd
and leans in close to Terry. "You know,when
Russell goes to college, I'm next in line."
Terry js almost as tall as Stephan, and for an
instant I think she's going to hit him. But she says,
"You got some mouth," and walks away.
Stephan does not suffer from the usual array
of adolescent insecurities; but why should he?
As a freshman, he arrived at Lincoln already a
legend and his performance later today, during
the season's first official practice, will do nothing
to lower his profile. Hopes for this year's
team are running so high that everyone gathers
in the gym to see for himself: students, teachers,
other coaches, and a reporter for Newsday who
will cover the team all season.
And the players do not disappoint. All of
them have improved since I saw them in August.
Russell, once a stationary jump shooter, is shooting
off the dribble, driving with authority to the
hoop. For years, Russell had gotten a rap for
"playing white"-taking a lay-up when he could
have dunked. "No one thinks I can dunk 'cause
I never dunked in public," he told me over the
summer. "But between you and me, I dunk in the
park all the time-when no one's looking." I
was tempted to ask if this was a riddle (is a dunk
really a dunk if no one is around to see iti), but
Russell wasn't smiling. "I'm going to dunk this
year. Trust me." And he does. At practice, Russell
drives the lane and goes straight over Corey
for an emphatic jam. The whole place erupts, guys
are chanting his name, yelling, "He flushed
it good!" Russell, ignoring the cheers, walks over
to me and grips my shoulder. "See, it's all part of
the plan," he says. "Just like the shoes." Now
what the hell does that mean?
As for Corey, he seems to have added an extra
cylinder for the coming season. At six feet one,
Corey is so fast he doesn't even bother to fake; he
just wastes his man on the first step and springs
into the air as if coming off a trampoline. "Do the
360!" someone yells from the bleachers and Corey
obliges, performing a gyrating dunk. "Statue of
Liberty!" comes the next request, and Corey takes
off near the' foul line, soars toward the basket,
and then-legs split, arm extended, ball held
high like a torch-throws down a thunderous
backboard-rattling jam. Corey knows how to
work a crowd, sometimes too well. Last year, in
one of the season's crucial games, Corey was all
alone under the basket, tried a fancy lay-up, and
blew it. The coaches rose to their feet, howling
in rage. Corey jogged downcourt shrugging, palms
turned toward the ceiling. "Relax, guys," he said,
nonchalance itself. "It's just basketball."
And then there is Stephan. He is making
his debut as a high-school player today, but he
takes the court as he always does, ever confident,
leaning forward onto the balls of his feet
in happy anticipation, arms jangling at his sides.
"Mission day," he announces with a clap. "Time
to get busy." Within moments he is making
quick work of his competition, stunning the
crowded, noisy gym into a reverential silence.
Here he is, out by the three-point line. He does
a stutter step to freeze the defense, then drives
the lane. En route, he encounters the team's
six-foot-seven center. in midair, so he changes
direction, shifts the ball from right hand to left,
and sinks a reverse lay-up. I hear one of the
coaches mutter, "Holy shit" not even finishing
the thought because here Stephon is again,
off to the left. He drives, sees too many bodies
in the paint, and pulls up for a jumper. He is way
out of position, his lithe body still floating toward
the basket, so he calculates his velocity,
takes a little something off the ball, and banks
it gently off the glass.
"Jesus, this kid's the real thing! Do you realize
Stephen could keep us in TV tournaments for the
next four years?" Bobby Hartstein, head coach of
the Lincoln team, sounds overjoyed and vastly relieved.
Lincoln has had great players before, but
never a virtual child prodigy like Stephon. All
summer long, Coach Hartstein held his breath
as other schools tried to lure his incoming star with promises of a starting
position and a guaranteed supply of his favorite sneakers. One Brooklyn
coach presented Stephon with a new uniform and
treated him and his father to a series of extravagant
dinners. A coach in the Bronx was rumored to
have offered cash up front. But Lincoln had the
edge. Stephon's three older brothers -Erie, Donnie,
and Norman- had all starred at the school.
And to close the sale, Hartstein made Stephon
an extraordinary offer: the forty-two-year-old
coach promised the fourteen-year-old player that
he'd turn down any college coaching offer to
personally shepherd Stephon through high school.

After practice the players all tumble
down the school's front steps. Stephon walks up
to me and says, "Take me to Mickey D's. I'm
hungry. I could eat three Big Macs. You got any
cash?" I've already agreed to drive RUSsell and
Corey home, so I tell Stephon to hop in. "This
is your ride? Stephon stares slack-jawed at my
ten-year-old Toyota. "When I get to college, I'm
gonna get me a-white Nissan Sentra-thatshit
is milk!"
"Just get in the damn car," Russell says. In the
last few weeks, some schools that had recruited
Russell aggressively in September have backed off;
and Russell is taking it hard. No sooner had Russell
made up his mind to sign with Cal-Irvine
than Coach Baker called to say they were no
longer interested - the guard they thought was
leaving decided to come back. Meanwhile, other
schools seem convinced that Russell won't
ever pass his SATs. (Coaches somehow learn of
Russell's test scores before he's even had time to
show them to his mother.) With every school that
courts and then abandons him, Russell goes
through the full cycle of infatuation, falling in
love, rejection, and recuperation; each time he
survives with a little less of the spirit to forge on
with the school year. Stephen wants the front seat
of my car, but Russell says gruffly, "SiX foot three
gets the front. Five foot nine goes in back." Corey
wisely stays out of it. He puts his Walkman on,
pops the hatch, and climbs in the far back, draping
his legs over the bumper.
Autumn is arriving quickly this year. For weeks
now the sky has been a study in gray, and the trees
along Ocean Parkway are already bare. On the
drive to McDonald's we splash through piles of
fallen leaves. "If you crash and I get injured,
Coach is gonna kill you," Stephon advises me:
Then he announces, to no one in particular,
"When I go to college, I'm going to Syracuse or
Georgia Tech."
"How come?" I ask. .
"Because at Syracuse you play in front of
32,820 people every home game - it's crazy loud
in there," he says, meaning the Syracuse Carrier
Dome. "And because Georgia Tech knows how
to treat its point guards." Stephen is no
doubt thinking of Kenny Anderson, the player
he is most often compared with, who left
Georgia Tech after his sophomore year to sign a
five-season,$14.5 million contract with the
NBA's New jersey Nets. Anderson's salary is a figure
Stephen knows as precisely as the seating
capacity of the Carrier Dome.
Driving along, we pass beneath the elevated
tracks over Stillwell Avenue, where four of New
York City's subway lines come to an end. The
Coney Island peninsula begins here; beyond the tracks are the projects.
Few store owners will risk doing businessout there, and the McDonald's
near Stillwell is the last outpost of junk food before
the streets plunge into the shadow of the high
rises. We order our food to go and pile back into my car. Stephon, hungrily consuming his first burger, wedges himself between the two front
seats in order to speak directly into his friend's ear.
"So; Russell. What are they offering you?" Russell snatches
his head awayand stares out the window.
"You mean you're just gonna sign?" Stephongoes on. "And
then when you get to campus and see all them players
driving those nice white Nissan Sentras, what are you
gonna say to yourself? Oh well, I guess they got them from their
We ride along in hostile silence: As we drive down
Mermaid Avenue toward the projects, the trees, shops, and pedestrians
become scarcer, block by block. During the urban-renewal years, the city
knocked down storefronts all along this stretch, but it abandoned
much of its commercial-redevelopment
plan after moving tenants into the projects.
Now the only signs of llfe along some blocks are
the drunks leaning against the plywood of boarded-up buildings and the mangy dogs scavengingvacant lots.
Russell says,"Bythe way,Stephon, the NCAA
does not allow players to get cars."
"Ha! You think the NCAA gives a fuck about
cars?" Stephon, still with his head next to Russell's,
gives a shrill little laugh. "Why do you
think the best players go where they go? 'Cause
the schools promise to take care of them and
their families.They say the magic word: money."

It's no secret where Stephen gets his head
for business. Last summer, while I was watching
Stephen play ball, his father, Donald Marbury,approached
me. "You the guy writing about lincoln?"
he asked. "And you haven't even
interviewed Mr. Lincoln himself?" We shook
hands; and when I told him how much I wanted
to speak to him, a sly smile crossed his creased
and handsome face. "Well in that case I expect
there will be some gratuities for me and my family."
I must have looked surprised because Mr.
Marbury snapped angrily, "Oh come on now! If
it weren't for me and my boys, Lincoln wouldn't
even be worth writing about!"
The Marbury story isa good one, though it may
never be written to the father's liking. After starring at Lincoln, Eric went on to play for the University of Georgia, but he failed to graduate before
his scholarship ran out and was now back in Coney
Island. Donnie, the second son, displayed even
greater promise, but he didn't have a 70 average in high school and had to do time at two junior colleges. After two years, he moved on to Texas
A&M, where he led the Southwest Conference
in scoring. But he too never graduated and was
passed over in the college draft; now he's out in
Utah, at another college, trying to finish his degree. Then came Norman. If ever Coney Island had produced pro material, it was he. The first public
school player in New York ever to be named all city
three years in a row, Norman was a dazzler - fast,
strong, with a deadly outside shot and the ability,
on drives to the basket, to take on the largest foes. He had his pick of
top programs and eventually signed with Tennessee,
which had assured him that if he chose their school, he could still
attend for free, even if he didn't make 700;he would
simply have to sit out his freshman season, as the
NCAA rules require. But in the summer of 1990,
just weeks before he was set to leave for Knoxville,
he came up 40 points short of 700 on his final SAT
attempt. Tennessee broke its promise and withdrew
its offer. Norman, Coney Island's finest product
to date, packed his bags for a junior college in
Florida. (He now playsfor a Salt Lake City junior
For years Donald Marbury had watched his
boys fall short. Now 'he was down to his last -and
most talented- son. "You want information, I expect
that you will have the money to pay for it",
he said to me last summer. I told him that wasn't
possible and he shrugged dismissively. "I'm not
like all them other Coney Island guys too stupid
to know the value of what they're sitting on." He
tapped his brow. "This is a business and nothing
but. And if I don't receive satisfaction, I will,
take my business somewhere else."
Among the coaches who are now recruiting
Stephan, it is said, as one did recently, that Donaid
Marbury "just won't stop dining out on his
son's talent." As for Stephan, the coaches complain
that he's a player always looking to "get
over," to take advantage of any situation. But
how should they act? The entire basketball establishment
has been trying to buy Stephan for
years: summer-league teams pay his way to tournaments around
the country (last summer found him in Arizona); street agents take Stephen into the Nets locker room for chats with the pros;
basketball camps give him wardrobes full of free
gear; and coaches are constantly laying on hands
and giving him awkward little hugs, hoping to
win his affection.
And the Marbury family knows only too well,
from witnessing the fates of Eric, Donnie, 'and
Norman, how abruptly the coaches will withdraw
their largess. So the Marbury policy; as
Stephan explains it to Russell in my car, has become
quite simple: "If you don't ask, you don't
get. Like if I wasn't getting my burn, I'd be up and out
with quickness."
By the time I reach the tag end of the
peninsula, where Corey, Russell, and Stephan
live, everyone has finished his burgers and fries,
and I swing by their buildings to drop them off.
It's not yet 6:00 P.M., but the drug dealers are already
out. Russell spots a kid he used to play
with at the Garden loping down, the street with
a rangy gait and his Georgetown cap on backward.
"Look at him. Just doing the same ol' same
ol'. Shoot 'em up. Bang bang." Dealers and players
make up the principal social groups among
young men in Coney Island, although there's
cross-pollination, with washed-up players joining
the gangs and dealers disrupting games to
show off their playground moves. One major difference, however,
is that the dealers own white
Nissan Sentras whereas players like Stephan just talk about them.
Russell, Corey, and Stephan have never been
involved with the gangs, but that leaves them
broke most of the time, with few options for
making money besides hawking sodas on the
boardwalk during the summer. It's hard work,
lugging a case of Cokes from the nearest supermarket
a mile away, then selling them one by one
in the blazing heat. For their trouble, they usually
get a summons from the police. Later on
those summer evenings, when the athletes start
their workouts, the dealers often gather at the
sidelines to jeer. "They ain't doing nothing with
their lives, so they don't want you to be doing
nothing either," Russell explains. He climbs out
of my car with a pile of SAT review books under
his arm. "Man, I hate Coney Island. After I get
to college, I'm never coming back. Until then,
boys"-he gives us a wearysalute-"I'm staying
I drive down the block to drop off Stephan and
Corey.They live on thefourth and fifth floors of
the same building, directly over the Garden. After
leaning into the window to slap my hand,
Stephan starts walking with that King Marbury
stride toward his building. I watch as he swaggers
across the deserted playground, trailing his hand
along the jungle gym. Ali the guysdrinking their
afternoon beers call' out to him as he goes by:
I've spent some time in Stephan's building, and
it's not the most pleasant place to come home to
after a long practice. It's fourteen stories high
and the elevator never works. The long halls
stink of urine, and the dark stairwells, where the
dealers lurk, echo with the low rumble of drug
transactions. The apartment doors don't even
have numbers on them, though they must have
at one time because just outside the Marburys'
apartment someone has scrawled violently across'
Everyone is hoping that Stephan will keep
his head together as his notoriety grows throughout
his high-school career and that, more to the
point, he or his father won't accept some "gratuity"
that raises the interest of the NCAA enforcernent
division. Given the family's circumstances,
however,and the lessons they have
learned about how this recruiting game is played,
one can hardly blame Stephan and his father
for wanting theirs, and wanting it now.

Last edited by LX; 07-29-2009 at 04:45 PM.
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Old 07-29-2009, 05:48 PM   #2 (permalink)
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What a story. Wow.

PS I can't believe I read the whole thing.
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Old 07-31-2009, 08:56 AM   #3 (permalink)
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same here, cant believe i read it all

i guess he always was the way he is
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