China's uphill search for the next Stephon Marbury

How far away is Jimmer Fredette from being the next Stephon Marbury? Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

As the first and only licensed foreign sports agent in China, Matt Beyer has a busy job. The Beijing-based Wisconsin native oversees a portfolio of foreign clients -- many of whom play professional basketball in the country -- managing their contracts and assisting with other aspects of their lives on foreign soil.

Beyer witnessed ex-New York Knicks star Stephon Marbury's successful transformation from NBA castoff to revered Chinese basketball heavyweight. Now representing eight foreign players including 2016 Celtics first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele, Beyer is determined to find the next "Lao Ma" -- Marbury's Chinese nickname.

"China has become a destination for players who are looking to make a salary while enjoying a shorter season," Beyer told ESPN.com.

However, Marbury still stands as one of a kind despite being nearly 40 years old. Many Chinese fans say that there are two kinds of foreign players: Marbury and everyone else.

That might sound extreme, but it gets at a greater truth: There likely won't be another Marbury in China anytime soon.

"He's a hard worker, which I think is the most important thing," said Beyer, who doesn't represent Marbury but has worked with him in the past. "He is also an extreme competitor. You don't really see that type of tenacity and anger [among other foreign players in China]. He puts all of his skills and physical dedication into the game."

Over the years, Chinese leagues -- including the top-tier Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and other second-tier divisions -- have developed a voracious appetite for foreign players, especially Americans, hoping that they can bring excitement to the game and boost ticket sales. Today, thanks to the teams' deeper pockets and an increased willingness to spend, China has become a hotbed for former NBA players hoping to make some quick money before jumping to more competitive leagues.

"For foreign players to succeed in China, being competent is the first thing," said Will Shao, a Chinese basketball insider and former reporter who closely followed Marbury in Beijing.

And for most Chinese teams, competency means getting buckets.

Every summer, Chinese team officials travel to the United States and Europe on aggressive scouting trips. But with the exploding salary cap in the NBA, many Chinese teams say it is becoming more difficult to find quality players at a price they can afford.

Du Feng, head coach of the CBA's Guangdong Southern Tigers, has noticed a drop in overall quality.

"Many players who have proven themselves probably didn't show up [in the CBA]," he said. "Maybe it's related to the high salary in the NBA."

"You are given a different role," Beyer said. "[In China], guys are encouraged to score and to lead."

The opportunity to put up big numbers comes with plenty of pressure, though.

"If you have two or three bad games in a row, you might get cut," Beyer said. "The league cuts about 45 percent of foreign players in the middle of every season. You have to bring it every night and be tough."

Similar to the NBA, the 20 teams in the CBA are located across the country. Long travel on commercial airlines and bus rides -- on top of the three-games-a-week regular season schedule -- weigh on foreign players, who also have a hard time finding comforting food and training facilities on the road.

When the likes of Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin embarked on their journeys to play in China, local fans couldn't hide their excitement over another "Lao Ma" for their own city. But their stints were cut short by misfortunes such as injuries, difficulties adapting to the local lifestyle and internal issues with their teams.

Language, of course, is another barrier. Few Chinese players speak English well, making the teams' translators often the go-to person for foreign players.

"Many CBA teams are in second-tier or third-tier cities," Shao said. "Even if [foreign players] want to be more involved, the opportunities are not there. Some translators speak some English, but their lack of overseas experience makes it tough for players to communicate with them effectively."

All of that, plus unfamiliar officiating rules and overwhelming expectations from fans and media, have made it difficult to replicate Marbury's success in China.

"Most importantly, foreign players must have the willingness to blend in and be part of [everything]," Shao said. "Many teams now value this quality given Marbury's story. Some players are willing to do everything to help their teams win while others -- who have no intention to stay long in China -- just focus on racking up stats for themselves so they can get another job later elsewhere."

To combat these obstacles, Beyer and his teams give their clients a crash course on the inner workings of Chinese culture when they arrive, including how to manage the relationships with their teams, coaches and front-offices.

"The personality part is extremely important," Beyer said. "Chinese people in general are very warm people. If you buy into the culture and be warm to them, they will be warm to you 10 times of that."

Former Brigham Young standout Jimmer Fredette is helping his Shanghai Sharks lead the standings in his first CBA season while averaging more than 37 points and eight rebounds a game.

Both Beyer and Shao agree that Fredette, who had a lackluster NBA career, is closer than anyone to becoming the next Marbury (now a three-time CBA champion and permanent resident of China).

"First off, [Fredette] can score a bunch without taking too many shots," Shao said. "He is able to motivate and lead his teammates and they like him a lot."

Location is the other key.

"Shanghai, like Beijing, is a global city," Shao said. "Foreigners have no problems living here, and he is very comfortable with it."

The waves Fredette has made in the past months -- including snatching an All-Star 3-point shootout title -- have put many Chinese fans on "Jimmer Watch." He even earned a recent shoe deal and nickname: "The Lonely God."

However, it's unclear if he will stay with Shanghai long-term. With one call from the NBA, he could be gone.