At 6’1” tall New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury is short by National Basketball Association (NBA) standards. Yet he more than makes up for whatever perceived physical shortcomings he might have by playing with tenacity, ferocity, relentlessness, and unrivaled skill.
If nothing else, the iconoclastic, argumentative, and heavily-tattooed but extremely articulate Marbury is somewhat similar to boxing’s Bernard Hopkins. He is quick to speak his mind, regardless of who he might offend, and is a man who lives by his own code of principles.
He refuses to listen to Larry Brown, who has coached numerous teams to NBA championships. As a result of his strong-headedness, Marbury has been traded four times during his relatively short career. Because he is such a superb player, his being traded so often speaks volumes about his inability or lack of interest in either playing along or going along.
“He’s one of the best players in the NBA, but he should listen to his coach,” said esteemed boxing photographer Teddy B. Blackburn, a diehard basketball fan who, while playing for the Huron High School River Rats in his native Ann Arbor, Michigan, competed against Magic Johnson of Lansing High in 1975.
“Not listening to Larry Brown is like a fighter not listening to Emanuel Steward. There is a reason why Larry Brown is the coach, and I think Brown’s record with other teams and players speaks for itself.”
Marbury was in attendance at the championship doubleheader featuring Zab Judah vs. Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck vs. O’Neil Bell at Madison Square Garden on January 7. He was happy to discuss a wide range of topics, not the least of which was boxing.
“I think basketball is a lot harder sport than boxing, but they do have a lot of similarities,” said Marbury. “Both are thinking games and both are sports that not everyone can do. They are both very physical and in order to be the best you have to always anticipate what your opponent is going to do before he does it.”
Like many boxers, Marbury, who grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn, says he was destined to be a professional ballplayer. He didn’t personally know any fighters, but realized early on in his life that his home borough was a hotbed of fistic talent.
Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe both hailed from Brownsville, which is just a few neighborhoods to the east of Coney Island. As much as Marbury likes boxing now, basketball always was, and still is, his passion.
“In basketball you have to be able to adjust your body and your game to anything,” he said. “It is the hardest game in the world to play.”
Not surprisingly, his three favorite boxers – Floyd Mayweather, Winky Wright, and Zab Judah – are or were known for being adaptable in the ring. (This interview was conducted shortly before the heavily-favored Judah was defeated by the unheralded Baldomir).
“I like Floyd’s accuracy, persistence, and consistency,” he said. “Winky has a great defense and Zab has a lot of heart and confidence.”
Marbury said that he had played ball against Mayweather. Although he described him as “a better boxer than a basketball player,” he did acknowledge that Pretty Boy “can play.”
Judah, he said, was a fine representative of Brooklyn because he marched to his own drummer and didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought of him. When asked to pick a winner in a bout between Mayweather and Judah, which was scheduled for the spring until Baldomir upset the applecart, Marbury was non-committal.
“I’m going to stay neutral,” he said with diplomatic aplomb.
He wasn’t so hesitant, however, to pick a winner in the expected matchup between undisputed middleweight king Jermain Taylor and Winky Wright.
“Jermain’s not a fraud, but I pick Winky to outthink him and wear him down. Fighting Winky is like going against North Carolina when they go full court. They turn offense into defense and hold the ball for so long you never know what’s coming next.
“That’s kind of the way Winky fights. It’s hard to tell if he’s coming or going. He out-waits you and frustrates you so much. When you make a mistake he beats you down until you want to quit.”
“That’s the way Marbury plays basketball,” said Blackburn. “He’s good, real good. If he wasn’t so stubborn he could be even better.”