Former NBA Bad Boy Stephon Marbury Reborn All Warm And Fuzzy In China

Once among the NBA's most despised players, former New York basketball prodigy Stephon Marbury has reinvented himself in China, where he's the "spiritual leader" of the champion Beijing Ducks. He's also learnin

Marbury is loving life in Beijing (
Marbury is loving life in Beijing (
Zhu Chong

BEIJING -- Former NBA star Stephon Marbury has just led the Beijing Ducks to victory over the Guangdong Southern Tigers, winning the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) championship.

Although Marbury will be excluded from receiving the MVP award from the CBA, which can only be won by Chinese natives, he will nevertheless be made an honorary citizen of Beijing -- and receive a fat bonus.

Marbury, 35, was born in the Coney Island district of Brooklyn, where he was raised in a housing project by his older sister. As a child, he didn't have any toys, but there was a basketball hoop in his local playground (also called "The Garden"). Very early on, he displayed a gift for the sport. Legend has it he was already taking on adults while still in elementary school.

By the time he reached high school, he was the uncontested king of street basketball or "streetball," which is a Brooklyn specialty. Although he went on to NBA stardom and to achieve millionaire status, he's never forgotten his roots and often goes back to Brooklyn for the summer streetball games.

To a certain extent, the reason why Marbury was so arrogant, narcissistic and rebellious during his NBA years was because of the confidence he gained playing inner-city basketball. He was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf." He rarely passed the ball to his teammates, a common trait in street basketballers, because, as he said, "Why should I trust others?"

He was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1996 NBA Draft, and later traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves on fellow player Kevin Garnett's suggestion. The duo was once touted as a perfect winning combination. They led the Timberwolves to the NBA Playoffs in 1997 and 1998. Unfortunately, Marbury quickly fell out with both Garnett and the team management over contract renewal issues.

Back to New York

"Starbury," as he was sometimes called, was then traded to the New Jersey Nets for two years. He scored his career-high 50 points during this period. However, the Nets never made their way to the playoffs.

A lot of Chinese fans still remember his cross-step technique as he shook down Yao Ming, a former NBA star from China, while playing for the Phoenix Suns. It was during that period that Marbury was arrested for driving under the influence. The Suns accelerated his return to New York.

Marbury was traded to the New York Knicks in 2004: his lifelong dream. He made an effort to change his lone wolf style and be less selfish on the court. The Knicks advanced and made it to the playoff the first year after he joined. He was praised as the "prodigal New York son".

However, under new coach Larry Brown, the Knicks performed badly during the 2005-2006 season and didn't make it to the playoffs. Frequent public spats between Brown and Marbury caused a sharp decline in the latter's reputation. The New York Daily News called him "the most reviled athlete in town".

Although Larry Brown was later fired by the Knicks, Marbury's relations with the new head coach, former NBA champion Isiah Thomas, didn't flourish either. One incident during this period changed his life - the sudden death of his father during a game between the Knicks and the Phoenix Suns. Just as he was leaving Madison Square Garden, a young teammate rushed over and told him "Your father had a heart attack during the first half and was sent to the hospital. Go there quickly! ... "

The muscly point guard grabbed the young player's shirt and roared "The first-half? And you tell me just now?!..." The young man cowered and replied hastily "It was Isiah who didn't let us tell you. He said we have to win tonight's game…"

Marbury threw the poor guy out of his way and rushed to the hospital, where he learned his father had passed away. Marbury and Thomas, both New Yorkers, couldn't stand to be in each other's presence after that.

They had endless public feuds, but Marbury seemed to be the one losing the battles. He was the best-paid NBA player, earning over 20 million dollars a year. Yet Thomas consigned him to limbo, manipulating the New York media and making Marbury out to be a devil.

Goodness concealed

Even though Marbury donated $1 million to Hurricane Katrina victims and gave a Mercedes-Benz to one of his teammates, he still came first in the "most undesirable teammate" poll organized by the American magazine Sports Illustrated.

The image of a young and frivolous player concealed his goodness. A former legend had become the object of everyone's hate. Finally, when he couldn't stand this anymore, he gave up. He broadcast himself on a live stream website eating Vaseline… to make people believe that he was indeed insane. After that he was banned from attending Knicks' practices or games.

It took an e-mail from Shanxi in China to change Marbury's life. In the summer of 2009, he was invited by the Chinese to come and play for their team. He hesitated for a while. He had never been to the Far East and he didn't have a clue about what to expect. Although he hadn't touched a ball for ages, he decided to give it a go.

A new fanbase

When Marbery got out of Shanxi airport, he suddenly heard shouting. A dense crowd was waving and screaming in his direction "Ma-Li-Bu!!!". He had no idea what it was all about. And then someone told him they were his fans.

Yang Yi, a Chinese reporter who knows him very well recalls that at that moment, Marbery's face lit up. "Me? They are here to welcome me?" He was stunned.

He never imagined that here - on the other side of the world – people might have heard of him, were looking forward to seeing him, and needed him. He was the New York devil! Were these people really going to embrace him?

The Shanxi police tried to shield him from the crowd and ushered him onto a bus. But all he wanted to do was stay where he was, close his eyes and listen to the cheering that had been absent from his life for so long.

As the bus was leaving the airport, Marbury saw his fans running after the bus, still waving. He waved back.

He says he'll never forget the welcome he got on his first day in China.

The rest of the story takes place in Beijing. Today he is nicknamed "Ma-zheng-wei," meaning Political Commissar. The phrase implies that he is the respected spiritual leader of the Beijing Ducks, suggesting tactics and encouraging his young teammates. Not only is Marbury very proud of his new moniker, he pronounces it clearly and understands what it implies.

In the eyes of Min Lulei, the Beijing Ducks' head coach, it was Marbury who revitalized the team. "I'm not essential to The Beijing Ducks, but Marbury is'.

A new man

Stephon never misses a training session. He insisted on playing even when he was injured. He flies economy and eats in the canteen just like the other members of the team. For his fans, not only is he a great player leading them to victory, he is also someone who never disappoints them. No matter how long the queue is, he signs every notebook handed to him.

He also talks with the old Chinese ladies in his neighborhood, makes Chinese tea for journalists, has learned to use chopsticks and speak Chinese, and he even takes the crowded subway.

After spending three weeks in the United States in 2011, the star quickly returned to China to attend his interpreter's wedding. When his interpreter expressed his surprise, Marbury explains "When I was at a very low point in my life, my interpreter helped me. He is very important to me."

When J.R. Smith, another American NBA player, was in conflict with the Chinese Zhejiang Golden Bulls during his one-year contract, Marbury acted as the mediator. When he heard that one of his fans had leukemia, he went to see him in hospital.

Marbury once told this reporter: "I don't care about statistics and scoring. They are not important. What is important is to win the game." He also told people: "China changed the direction of my life. I gained a lot of things that I did not have before. Coming to China has been a blessing for me."

So who is the real Stephon Marbury? Maybe it's just like what the tattoo on the left of his chest says "Two souls, one body."

Read the original article in Chinese.

Photo -

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!