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Retired NBA and CBA star Stephon Marbury loved wearing the USA jersey
SHENZHEN (China) - Stephon Marbury wore the USA shirt as a youngster and at the 2004 Olympics.
The New York native nowadays is a permanent resident in China, where he followed up a 13-year NBA career with another nine seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) before retiring in 2018.
Marbury, a special guest at the draw for this summer's FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, relished being in Shenzhen where he shared with FIBA his memories of wearing the national team shirt and all the opportunities it created for him came flooding back.
🗣️ “My mother made me cancel my prom to go and play with [USA Basketball]."— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) March 23, 2019
📖 That was 1994. @StarburyMarbury went on to the Junior World Championships & Olympics, and now halfway around the world, he still cherishes those memories in red, white & blue.https://t.co/ZibMXbHm3O
"Every experience (of being with the national team) has always been amazing, not just playing basketball but also being able to travel to other countries," Marbury said.
"Being able to experience different cultures and having the opportunity as a young black kid from Coney Island; a lot of kids don't get those kinds of opportunities to do that."
"WHEN YOU PLAY PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL, IT'S A LITTLE DIFFERENT BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY GAMES IN THE NBA. BUT EVERY GAME COUNTS IN INTERNATIONAL BASKETBALL."
Following his freshman season at Georgia Tech University, Marbury got to travel across the United States. Between the time he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and 2009, when be brought his NBA career to an end, he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
In 2010, he signed with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons of the CBA and played for teams in Foshan and Beijing until retiring in 2018.
While he never envisioned playing in China in his prime, he embraced the opportunity when it came and not just because of the basketball.
"I always look more toward the opportunity to visit the country, be exposed to different people and visit the monuments," he explained. "It's because, playing basketball, even if you travel all over the world doing it, it's really not the most important thing. For me, it's about getting to integrate with all kinds of people."
Marbury was never far from the headlines as a player and for good reason. He was an amazing talent. Though he never competed at a FIBA Basketball World Cup, he made his mark in the USA jersey at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Had he not exploded for a then USA record 31 points in the Quarter-Finals against an unbeaten Spain and led the USA to a 102-94 win, the Americans would not have made it on the podium.
On that afternoon of August 26, 2004, the 6ft 2in (1.88m) guard amazed in the OAKA, drilling one 3-pointer after another and also scoring on pull-up jumpers and drives. He entered the game having connected on just 2 of his 16 attempts from beyond the arc in the USA's first five games, but made 6 of 9 against a sensational Spanish side that had Pau Gasol, Jorge Garbajosa, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon.
Marbury was 6 of 9 from deep and scored a then USA record 31 points
in a 102-94 win over Spain at the 2004 Olympics
Marbury followed that up with 18 points in a Semi-Final loss to eventual gold medalists Argentina, and then signed off with 14 points in the USA's 104-96 Bronze Medal Game triumph over Lithuania.
"When I played at the Olympics, I always took pride in the fact that I was representing a lot of people back home - a lot of guys that didn't make it, (and) a lot of people who wanted to see us go out and win," he said. "We represented the USA."
Two years later, though, Marbury was not on the USA team - one that had LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade - that lost to Greece in the Semi-Finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006 in Japan. Since that time, however, the USA have not lost a game at a World Cup or an Olympics.
"YOU CANNOT MAKE THAT MANY MISTAKES. YOU HAVE TO REALLY UNDERSTAND THE RULES. YOU HAVE TO KNOW THE PHYSICAL PLAY. THESE ARE ALL THE DIFFERENT ATTRIBUTES THAT ARE PART OF THE GAME. THAT JUST DIDN'T TRANSLATE FOR US BACK IN 2004."
The USA, the No. 1 team in the FIBA World Ranking presented by NIKE, are the two-time reigning world champions and as such are favored to capture a third straight title in China.
Marbury, however, cautions against complacency. He has a warning for the USA players that end up making the team, players that have thrived in the NBA, about the dangers of what Jeff Van Gundy - who coached the USA team during the Americas Qualifers - called "FIBA Ball".
"I think when you play professional basketball, it's a little different because there are so many games in the NBA," Marbury said. "But every game counts in international basketball."
He discovered that while playing for the USA youth teams.
After an undefeated title run at the 1994 U18 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Argentina, his team at the 1995 U19 FIBA Junior World Championship - which included Vince Carter - went 4-4 and finished seventh.
Marbury in action at the 1995 U19 FIBA Junior World Championship
At the aforementioned 2004 Olympic Games, the Americans went 5-3 and had to settle for the bronze medal.
"You cannot make that many mistakes," Marbury warned. "You have to really understand the rules. You have to know the physical play. These are all the different attributes that are part of the game. That just didn't translate for us back in 2004. I don't think that as a group, we were all one. We weren't all together, from the coaching down to the players."
The 42-year-old remembers the 1994 U18 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament as if it happened yesterday.
"The platform that we played on, the opportunity to get to play against Argentina in the championship, was amazing," Marbury recently told USA Basketball. "I played against those same guys in Greece. We played against the Argentina team for the championship and we beat them in 1994 and they beat us in 2004."
Cherishing the bigger picture though, Marbury understands what it means to both the player and to those younger players watching.
"It was an amazing experience and being chosen as an Olympian was a dream come true," he said. "You dream about those things when you see (Michael) Jordan and (Charles) Barkley and Karl Malone, all of those guys playing and you’re a younger guy and you’re watching that."