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Facing the Starbury Fear


A Daily Babble Production

Danny Ainge is making my head spin.

Less than 24 hours ago, I spent a few seconds marveling to myself about the likes of Mikki Moore generating hundreds of comments over several blog posts across the Internet over the last two or three days alone. 

Today is Mikki's first full day as a member of the defending champion Boston Celtics, and he is already headed to the back-burner.  That's because the Interwebs are abuzz with the latest personnel rumor.  After Donnie Walsh and James Dolan finally let me down this week, the time has come to confront one of my greatest fears for this season: Stephon Marbury as a part of the Boston Celtics organization.

When we talked about it during the off-season, it was a blissfully long way from becoming a reality.  We're approaching March now, and Marbury is no longer under contract to the New York Knickerbockers.  All signs point to his being a Celtic by the end of the week.  Which makes addressing it a virtual must at this point.

This beloved team of ours is adding one of the NBA players I've come to deplore most over the last decade.

In the Internet age, it is easier than ever to follow teams and players from afar.  But there is still an added level of familiarity that comes from watching a team up close.  As many of you have heard ad nauseam by now, I'm a native of Long Island, New York.  While I've been out in the Midwest for stretches of the last couple of years, I witnessed a significant portion of the Marbury era firsthand, and all it did was make me more convinced of his dis-likability than I had been in the first place.

Since he arrived in January 2004, he stood right there behind Isiah Thomas as the center of the train wreck doubling as media circus that has been the New York Knickerbockers.  Save for when he gave the team an initial spark in 2004 and a few spells of the 2006-07 campaign, he has been continuously demonized by media and fans alike.  Rightly so. 

He played the me-first basketball that has come to be his trademark.  He mouthed off to the media to no end, highlighted by his telling reporters that he was the best point guard in the league on New Year's Day 2005 with Jason Kidd and the Nets in town...only to show that he wasn't the best in the building as Kidd and the Nets took care of business. 

While Larry Brown didn't do his best coaching job in 2005-06 by any means, Steph didn't come halfway to meet him on unselfishness either.  His scoring and assist production dropped to career lows by the end of his tenure in town.  At no point did he guard anyone.  Along the way, his conduct around the Knicks' interns got him embroiled in the embarrassing front office sex scandal that hung over the team in 2007.  In perhaps the worst basketball-related bit of it all, he shamelessly quit on his team in the midst of last season.

Steph earned credit on two occasions during his tenure in New York: At times during the Knicks' 33-win 2006-07 season, he seemed more willing than in the past to put his individual statistics to the side in order to be a better facilitator for the squad.  He also released a line of sneakers that he sold for $14.99, a nice gesture for the customers, especially less privileged youths looking for affordable basketball wear.

But he earned blame in just about every other instance.  He was part of the problem rather than the solution on two of the six worst teams in the franchise's 63-year history.  He quarreled with coaches and the front office, caused innumerable distractions off the floor, alienated his teammates and refused through this week to take a buyout for any more than $1 million less than his second-in-the-league salary of $21.9 million.  Sounds like a guy who was just aching to get back on the floor to show what a winner he really is.

For the better part of five seasons, even when he wasn't playing, he was at or near the top of the basketball stories in New York.  He was one of the faces of the most agitating (for Knicks fans) eras in team history.  He was the one whose lunacy came pouring at us from all angles: in each of the area's four major newspapers, on WFAN and ESPN radio, on local television stations and in the national media.  While the Celtics were busy winning a combined 57 games in 2005-06 and 2006-07, I could take pride in the fact that I didn't have to root for as big a creep as this guy, while my closest friends couldn't stop grumbling about him.

I've written before about the passion with which I detest the Knicks.  Especially during the Celtics' down years, I took an added glee in the misery of the Layden-Thomas era and especially in the role Marbury played.  Here was a guy I didn't like to begin with, a player with a me-first reputation who had forced his way out of a town at least once before, had never made it out of the first round of the playoffs and had each of his previous franchises improve upon his departure.  Now, he was helping ruin the team I hated most.  Loved the concept, couldn't stand him.

As bad as the situation might have gotten during the early portion of the Ainge era, I could take solace that there was no way Danny would acquire a player with a mega-contract and a reputation for being one of the league's premier team killers.

How times have changed.

In just about every way, those changes have been for the best.  I wouldn't trade the last year and a half of Celtics basketball for anything.  It has been a beautiful experience in so many regards.  Rather than the sad sack bunch this team was in spring 2007, the Celts are defending champs looking for more.

Meanwhile, Marbury is different, too.  He isn't priced at $21.9 million these days.  He hasn't played in a regular season NBA game in more than a calendar year.  He isn't a starting point guard in this league anymore.

But at 32 years old, he can likely still do some of the things that for a long time made him one of two players all time to average 20 points and 8 assists per game for his career (his numbers have since dropped below those thresholds).  He can still get to the basket and fill it up a bit, and if he is in the right mood, perhaps he can even distribute.

Stephon Marbury comes to the Celtics seeking redemption, seeking a chance to win and to prove people wrong about him.  They come to him seeking someone possessing the skills enumerated above.

I'll be honest: I don't like the idea of rooting for the guy.  I know it isn't always fair to play character police when we know so little about these "TV heroes" of ours.  Heck, my beloved James Posey got a DUI before last season.  There are countless NBA players who have committed more egregious off-the-court acts than Marbury and plenty who haven't done the good for the community that he has.  I get all of that, and I'm not claiming rationality here.  But for the on-and-off-court reasons listed above and my proximity to and hate-hate relationship with the team he played for last, this has always been a guy near the top of the list of players I simply wanted no part of.

It doesn't help that if anyone finds this guy more deplorable than I do, it's The Guru.  As I've made clear so many times before, beyond everything else that makes the Celtics experience special for me, sharing it with my father is at the top of the list with everything else a distant second.  He tolerates players he considers to be irritants even less than I do.  Perhaps my biggest worry is that he won't be able to enjoy this ride quite as much anymore, that there will be a sour taste for him that mars the experience of watching such a wonderful team

But on the flip side, judging from the massive entertainment value offered by his screeds on Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins over the years (two long-time whipping boys of his since the end of the Kenny Anderson era), maybe Marbury will make our ritual postgame phone calls even more amusing than they already are while also providing plenty of fodder for the Babble.

At the end of the day, I get that the Celtics needed to find help, and I get that the options were limited.  I even buy that maybe a rejuvenated Steph will manage to demonstrate a much smaller-scale version of the Manny-Moss effect and be on his best behavior for one more shot to prove he can win.  Perhaps he'll help us do just that.  The 2008-09 stretch run is about to head into full swing, and right this second isn't the time for another debate about what could have been done differently dating back to last summer.  No matter how short the off-season is this year, there will be plenty of time to rehash that later (in the unlikely event that there is a single member of this site who could stomach another one of those arguments).  For now, however, only two last points seem that relevant for Steph and me.

Some things have changed.  Stephon Marbury's uniform looks to be falling into that category.

Some things haven't.  Fan is short for fanatic, and I'll be going to the grave green.  I'm more concerned with being happy come June than being right for the sake of being right about a guy I've never liked.  So no matter whose name is on the back of that jersey, I'll be rooting for him as long as the front says "Celtics."

So, as tough as it is for me to say it, If you're coming after all, Stephon, welcome aboard.

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