Stephon Marbury said he started doubting he would ever return home to New York as a professional the minute he left it to begin his NBA career.
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Coney Island, Marbury fostered dreams of one day starring at point guard for his hometown New York Knicks after leading Abraham Lincoln High as a senior to the 1995 PSAL championship at Madison Square Garden.
When he left Georgia Tech after his freshman year to make himself available for the 1996 draft, Marbury, then 19 years old, was given a crash course on Life in the NBA 101 when he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round (fourth overall) and traded later that evening to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Ray Allen and a first-round pick. It was the first of three trades Marbury would experience in his first seven seasons in the league. With each one, Marbury's dream of playing for his hometown Knicks became more remote. When he was traded from the Timberwolves to the Nets March 11, 1999, and then from the Nets to the Suns July 18, 2001, Marbury said he became resigned to the fact his pro career would never take him home.
"It was like my dream had pretty much come to a halt," said Marbury, before leading the Knicks to a 92-74 romp over the Celtics last night at the FleetCenter. "When I stopped dreaming about it, it just happened."
Marbury got his ticket home Jan. 5 when he was traded from the Suns, along with Anfernee Hardaway, in exchange for guards Howard Eisley (formerly of Boston College) and Charlie Ward, and forwards Antonio McDyess and Maciej Lampe, along with the rights to 2002 second-round pick Milos Vujanic and other future draft considerations.
Last night, disgruntled Celtics fans probably wished Isiah Thomas, the Knicks' president, had never made such a bold move in bringing Marbury to New York. They probably wished Danny Ainge had dealt for Marbury, especially after he sparked a 14-5 run at the end of the second quarter that gave the Knicks a 50-42 halftime lead, an advantage that grew to 27 points in the fourth quarter.
"The excitement I've been enjoying throughout the last couple of weeks has been the best feeling I've ever experienced playing basketball," Marbury said, before scoring a team-high 17 points (all in the first half) and dishing out seven assists in his first game in Boston as a Knickerbocker. "I've never had this much fun and I've never had this much enjoyment as far as playing basketball."
It was a feeling matched only by his Madison Square Garden debut as a Knick Jan. 8 against Houston.
"It just felt good to be there," Marbury said of donning a Knicks home jersey and walking out onto the Garden floor to face the Rockets. "It felt good to know that I was going to have this opportunity before the end of my career, and that was something I was happy about."
Marbury's euphoric New York state of mind has produced results. In 13 games with the Knicks, Marbury has led the team in assists, recording double figures in seven of the last 12, including an NBA and Knicks' season-high 17 in a 108-88 victory over Seattle Jan. 16.
"I think playing in New York now is way better than when I first came into the NBA," said Marbury, who knew the distractions would have been daunting had the Knicks drafted him out of Georgia Tech. "I was young and really didn't know that much about the game, but I've matured tremendously and so now was perfect timing.
"When Isiah brought me in, he felt the move for me was a permanent move. I'm not the only person who's been traded. I mean, Jason Kidd has been traded three times. So people do get traded, people do move."
But it is rare when an NBA player gets the opportunity to move back home. And win.
"Any time you win, it's always fun," he said.