Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Stephon Marbury's recent public dalliances have been nothing if not interesting. Today, as a guest author in the New York Post's Knicks Blog, Marbury professes an urge to play ball in Italy:
"When my contract is up in two years, I want to go play overseas in Italy and retire over there. Berman has the story in today's Post, but I'd like to explain it further.
During the Olympics, David Stern told us about how big basketball was becoming around the world. He was right. Now I want to make it even bigger for the United States.
For my 14th pro season, I want to go when I can still go hard and give the people what they want. I'm looking at how David Beckham is getting love for coming here. He's 32. I'll be 32 at the end of my Knicks' contract. Imagine if someone told him not to follow his heart to play soccer in the U.S.
I want to do the same thing for basketball and spread the Starbury Movement so people all around the world can benefit. I want to make things affordable for everybody."
However unhinged Marbury is these days, there's nothing strange about yearning to live in Italy. There's something endearing and sincere about Marbury's wanting to spread his Cult of the Affordable $20 Shoe to the far reaches of the Apulian Plain, but I wonder if Marbury isn't romanticizing the life of the European ballplayer -- whether he's a fringe NBA player or a former superstar. I remembered that John Amaechi had some insightful comments in Man in the Middle about the relationship between fan and player in Europe. "Europe had not developed an American-style star system within its professional teams. Fame was derived more from your exploits for the national team." The cult of personality that reigns in American pro basketball is evident only on a nationalistic level in Europe, to the extent it exists at all.
How adoring are some of the fans in, say, Greece, home to three of the 24 Euroleague teams?
"At game time, the court perimeter...was lined with baton-wielding riot cops and whole sections of the roof were kept empty to separate the warring factions. It was not exactly family-friendly fare...The air stank of acrid smoke, mostly from freshly ignited road flares that fans lobbed at one another...During one game, a fan nailed Hugo Sconochini with a flare. Fans sharpened the edges of their drachmas, heated them with pocket lighters, and hurled them down on the court...There were plastic screens between the bench and the fans, the better to protect us from the spittle that showered opposing teams -- or an underperforming home team..."
Things in Europe are considerably more genteel these days -- and it's not as if the States are devoid of misbehavior -- but the notion of an American player enrapturing European basketball fans seems pollyannaish. On the other hand, a future where there's an exchange of players across oceans with some top American players migrating to Europe would be great for the development of the game, even if it doesn't indulge Marbury's insatiable desire to be affirmed by everyone.