Not for nothing, but Stephon Marbury, soon to be an ex-New York Knickerbocker, is responsible for the shoes I wear when I rake my leaves. He is also responsible for the fact that I own letter jackets not only from Hickory High, of the movie Hoosiers, but also one from Carver High in Los Angeles, where Ken Howard used to coach as “The White Shadow,” long before his present gig haunting Boston stages as Tip O’Neill. When I put on the jacket, I think of myself as one of the people down the Carver bench — Goldstein, maybe, or Salami, who was played by one of the several Van Pattens. I think it was Trigger.
Anyway, the reason I own these clothes is that they were, well, cheap. The Starbury sneakers cost less than $15 and the jackets less than that. I considered both of these to be very good deals, since I really don’t believe someone should have to apply for federal matching funds to buy basketball shoes, especially if one is only going to wear them to putter around the yard. Raking leaves does not require great lateral movement or a prodigious vertical leap, not since we got rid of the snakes, anyway. And the Hickory High jacket regularly sets perfect strangers to yelling, “Run the picket fence at ’em!” across the dairy aisle at the supermarket. I believe life should be full of unexpected movie references.
So, just in the sartorial sense, I’ve always been something of a fan of Mr. Marbury. Of course, he’s fallen on hard times. The primary retail outlet for his gear spent the last year tap-dancing along the financial abyss, finally cutting out most of its stores. And, of course, he’s had problems of his own. The Knicks are trying to get out from under him and the $21.9 million they still owe him under a deal he got from Phoenix that was picked up by former New York team president Isiah Thomas, who is what sports businesses contract instead of Dutch elm disease. (Thomas was last seen suffering from that classically New York malady, the Messy Tabloid Episode, for which there is no real cure.) The Knicks hired Mike D’Antoni to coach them, and, although the season is young, D’Antoni has shown a rather impressive disinclination to play Marbury. For his part, Marbury, who acts as his own agent, refuses to talk about a buyout. And around and around they go, for the moment, anyway.
(Let us pause now, though, and consider that the Knicks and Marbury aren’t even the most volatile combination of the week in the Eastern Conference. On Monday, the Detroit Pistons actually went out of their way to bring Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace, two pieces of undeniable human plutonium, together on the same roster. Let us also pause now to pray for the soul — and the sanity — of Detroit coach Michael Curry. Why don’t they just go all the way and move the team to Los Alamos?)
Sooner or later, even the Knicks stop being stupid. (They canned Isiah, didn’t they?) Marbury and his money are going to have to be dealt somewhere, for something, unless he gets waived. Either that or he spends the entire season at the end of the New York bench, glowering like the Witch of the Cold Winds. What fun that will be when the team craters. Find me a way to tell that story without its beginning, “The New York Post has learned ...” Personally, and as a gesture of gratitude for the cheap shoes, I think your defending world champions should take a look at him. He’s still a healthy veteran point guard, and the team has yet to produce a backup for Rajon Rondo, who will become a star if they can somehow keep him intact. (Last week, against the Cavaliers, Ben Wallace rag-dolled Rondo to the floor, hitting him harder than Ellis Hobbs has hit anyone in a month. Rondo looked as if he’d dislocated his shoulder — with his wrist.) Marbury is big and solid, and he played with Celtics star Kevin Garnett once before, in Minnesota, when they were both very young.
I know, I know. There’s a chemistry thing going here, and what this team doesn’t need is a guy with a messy employment history sidling up here from one of the NBA’s most notorious plague ships. And there is the fact that he never really has gotten along with anyone anywhere he’s played. And he does have a new tattoo — on his head. This has caused no little consternation among the NBA’s cognoscenti; one overheated scribe even blamed Marbury, and the tattoo on his head, for a flat-line performance that the Knicks threw out there against Milwaukee over the weekend. My opinion? If you’re so worried about someone who isn’t playing, and about the tattoo on his head, that you go out there and drown in flop sweat at home against a team that starts Luke Ridnour at the point, and we’re barely past Halloween, the season’s pretty much gone anyway. So cut your losses and make the deal, and start setting up those tee times for early June. Bringing Marbury here, at the very least, would put the principles that the Celtics embodied to win it all last year to the severest test imaginable. But then again, what do I know? I once bought shoes from a guy with a tattoo on his head.
OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.