Usually when you think of basketball and China you think of Chinese stars playing in the United States, like former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming.
At the moment, however, it’s a cultural exchange going the other way that’s making waves, namely, former NBA star Stephon Marbury leading the Beijing Ducks to their first ever CBA title.
The Brooklyn native originally arrived in China in January 2010 to play for Shanxi. After falling out with that team at the end of last season, Marbury signed with the Beijing Ducks during the offseason.
He led the team to its first-ever CBA title on Friday, putting up a team-high 41 points in Beijing’s 124-121 victory over defending champions the Guangdong Tigers to clinch the title. The Ducks took the best-of-seven series in just five games.
“This has been incredible; it has been an incredible experience," Marbury said, according to ESPN. “This shows what this team is made up of, everyone stepped up and everyone played their role. We have been blessed as a team."
Marbury cried tears of joy after the victory – his first major prize in a career that has, at times, been controversial.
Not in the Chinese capital however. After his fantastic performance, Marbury’s teammates tossed him into the air while the fans chanted his name. “I still can’t believe we won the title, and I need some time to accept the fact. Before the new season was launched, the team had been confident in playing better, but it's been a mere dream to win the title for us," Beijing’s head coach Min Lulei said after the game.
Beijing has gone basketball crazy, with 425,000 fans reportedly trying to buy tickets online to the final game, which sold out in less than two minutes. As one might expect, scalpers had a field day with the game, reportedly selling their $100 tickets for five times that amount.
Such stories will only bring a smile to the faces of NBA bosses. With Yao Ming’s recent retirement and the sudden riches in Chinese soccer, basketball in China was facing some challenges. This undoubtedly helps redress the balance.
But ultimately what makes Marbury’s story so amazing has less to do with the sport itself, and more to do with the fact that the New Yorker has captured the hearts of the people in Beijing.
When he first arrived in the Middle Kingdom back in 2010, Marbury said: “I'll communicate with the fans through my basketball. I think this will be a unique experience. To go overseas to play ball, to live, for me it’s a challenge.”
And it’s one he has risen to.