By Mike Vorkunov
Stephon Marbury walked into a secluded courtyard off East 12th Street in Lower Manhattan Wednesday afternoon and settled into a chair between two tables stacked with boxes of shoes.
Dressed in a gray suit and a light pink shirt, Marbury was there to speak to students at New York University, one more intriguing landmark in a life that continues to take unexpected turns.
The shoes on the table were his own — Starbury sneakers, the brand he created more than a decade ago.
Born in Brooklyn, where he was a high school phenomenon, Marbury, now 40, had a long, and often frustrating, 13-year career in the N.B.A., including an extended stint with the Knicks in which he too often was in the doghouse, feuding with coaches or the front office.
Finally, in 2009, the Knicks bought out the remainder of his contract. He then proceeded to play 37 forgettable games with the Boston Celtics, after which Marbury’s life took a complete turn.
He signed to play basketball in China and, surprisingly, stayed for a while. Actually, more than a while.
Although other former players in the N.B.A. become professional tourists in China, signing short-term contracts to play there before departing, Marbury settled in. He eventually became a star with the Beijing Ducks, where he won three championships. He earned the key to the city. A statue was put up for him, and a museum was built in his honor. This summer, he starred in “My Other Home” — a movie about himself.
And on Wednesday, Marbury went to Founders Hall at N.Y.U. to talk to some 125 first-year students and tell his increasingly unusual story. Most of the students weren’t old enough to remember when Marbury was one of the more prominent members of the N.B.A., although he is the sole member of the 1996 draft class to still play professionally.
“I’ve been trying to get Stephon Marbury to come to N.Y.U. for a long time — for two reasons,” said David Hollander, a clinical associate professor of sports management and the person who extended the invitation. “I love his whole story. I love the evolution of himself as a human being, and I am drawn to the potential of Starbury.”
After a discussion led by Hollander and a second professor, Michael Funk, students peppered Marbury with questions. They asked about his career, the N.B.A., his toughest opponents and his future. They wanted to know what he thought about the new, and very expensive, Big Baller Brand of sneakers being marketed in connection with the N.B.A. debut of Lonzo Ball.
But one student, Sheng Kang Zhou, could barely control himself. Zhou, 19, sat in the front row, holding a scarf for a soccer team from his native Beijing. When he received the microphone to address Marbury, he could utter only a few sentences before succumbing to tears.
He said he had watched almost all of Marbury’s games as a teenager and was overcome by standing face to face with him now. Marbury jumped out of his chair and hugged Zhou, welling up as well.
To understand Marbury’s changeover, it’s important to understand the depths he reached before he left. His downfall, he says, began in 2007. While his career came apart, he was hit by a burst of losses in his life. The coach who helped develop him and his brothers as basketball players at a young age died, and then so did his aunt, and then his father. Not soon after, his mother fell ill with pneumonia. It was an unsettling sequence of events.
Then his relationship with the Knicks unraveled. When Mike D’Antoni took over as coach before the 2008-9 season, Marbury lost his job as the starting point guard and dug into a prolonged fight with the Knicks over how much he should be paid to go away. In February 2009, they let him go.
By the time he left for China, he told the students, he was at a low.
“I was depressed,” he said. “I was down. I didn’t want to live because of the things I was experiencing.”
Going overseas, Marbury said, allowed him to reset. He found success on the basketball court and reorganized his personal life. As his career prospered, he rejuvenated his Starbury shoe brand, which sells low-price footwear. He began selling the sneakers again in 2016, after a seven-year hiatus. The shoes range from $15 to $50, he said, and cost about $6 to $20 to make.
He recently struck a deal to get Starbury sneakers into Citi Trends, an American retail chain. He intends to play one more year before he retires — he will finish his career with the Beijing Fly Dragons — and said he now considered himself both a C.E.O. and a basketball player, giving equal weight to the two titles. But Marbury says he believes he was invited to N.Y.U. not to serve as a role model or a cautionary tale.
“It’s more of a story,” he said. “My lane and what’s gone on with me.”
He continued: “The transformation and going someplace else and coming back. I think people having the opportunity to see what I’ve been able to do going abroad and coming back to America and they can look at that and say, ‘You can do that.’”
Certainly, Marbury has a story that perhaps has some more surprises ahead.