Steve Smith, Stephon Marbury, & The Art of The Comeback

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. will go down in the history as one of the best trash-talkers in football. Who can forget the week 3 match-up versus division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals? In true Smith Sr. fashion, he called out the defensive backs whom he torched for 186 yards on 13 catches. Adding insult to injury, he called them by their jersey numbers with a choice expletive reserved for inner-city playgrounds. It really doesn’t get any better than that!

Smith Sr., in his 15th season, was having himself another solid statistical year. Prior to his season-ending injury in week 9, Smith Sr. was on pace to match his receptions, targets, and total yards from 2014. In his first season with the Ravens, he made previous Ravens’ #1 wideout Torrey Smith obsolete — hauling in 79 of 133 targets.

At the start of the season, there was a lot of chatter about 2015–16 being Smith Sr.’s swan song. Assuming he would have stayed healthy, Smith Sr. would have racked up his 9th 1,000+ yard season overall and his second 1,000+ yard season with Baltimore.

At 36, he was more than capable of making big plays downfield with his break-away speed. In fact, watching how incredible the rebirth of Steve Smith Sr. has been in Baltimore makes me sad that he didn’t stay in Carolina. Just think of the post-game commentary Smith Sr. would have for all the people who have been vocal about their disdain for Cam Newton and by extension, the Carolina Panthers.

Steve Smith Sr. will return to the Ravens next year. No one knows what shape quarterback Joe Flacco will be in after ACL surgery. What we do know is Smith Sr. isn’t done writing the closing chapter of his career one of the game’s best under-sized receivers.

When it comes to American sports, basketball is the most transcendent in terms of globalization. As a global game, basketball has given opportunities to international players to study under the tutelage of American greats. It also gave way for NBA teams to diversify their rosters. Signature moves such as the Euro-Step have become a dominant source of inside scoring for homegrown stars like Dwyane Wade and James Harden.

One of the underrated gifts of the NBA going global is that it allows fringe veterans in need of a tune-up to go overseas — not only to make great money but to re-discover their love for the game.

Former star point guard Stephon Marbury is the most recent NBA player to do both.

Credit: HDXposure

If you’ve ever had a chance to watch a Chinese Basketball Association game in the post-season, you might question the need to label Marbury a “former star”. Since signing a contract with the Beijing Ducks in 2011, Marbury has stayed true to his basketball form while building an entirely new brand and re-claiming his basketball roots.

You may remember the video where Stephon Marbury recorded a livestream going on erratic rants over the course of 24 hours. This troubling event came at a time where his NBA playing days were fading and his gimmicky sneaker company was tanking. He revealed in a HBO Sports feature last January that that time period in his life was plagued by depression.

It wasn’t about basketball. It started to become about me because I was that depressed, was that sick.

When you play a professional sport, there are certain milestones that are natural to desire. You spend your entire childhood and college year(s) dreaming of hitting that big shot, raising the trophy, and the milestones that come with being a professional athlete. But the fact is somewhere along the way, some athletes lose that zeal for the game they play. Instead of them genuinely enjoying it, it becomes a job.

Once you begin to approach sports that way, your mentality changes too. You burn out. Whether you’re ousted as Marbury was or retire at-will, there will come a day where — amidst the moping and alienation — a player understands that he needs to change his path.

Since signing with the Beijing Ducks, Marbury has rallied the team to three championships. The Ducks have won 3 rings in the last 4 years, 2 of which Marbury was a huge driving force. The franchise’s turnaround might go down as one of the greatest in Chinese Basketball Association history.

Marbury’s career trajectory is one of the interesting stories from New York basketball. There was a time when he was in the top five conversation of point guards in the league. His polarizing position and the eventual homecoming to Madison Square Garden, that was marred with public fights with coaches and teammates, was the last straw. And of course, there’s the losing part. Nobody is going to give you a second chance if your leadership isn’t translating wins.

As a fan, it was hard to watch Marbury’s decline. His immediate black-balling left little hope to see a comeback. I honestly believe had it not been for the parity and allure of playing high-level basketball in China, Marbury’s might have become another cautionary tale taught by high school and college coaches.

On the path to winning his third CBA championship last spring, there was one Instagram post from Marbury that inspired me:

Photo Credit: @ StarburyMarbury

Marbury has accomplished what many in the league said he couldn’t do. He’s a 3x champion and 6 time CBA All Star. He’s built his Starbury brand into a formidable revenue generating machine in China. VICE Sports chronicled the musical dedicated to Marbury’s life. And he capped off an incredible year of restoration by being the first American athlete in China to have an entire museum in his honor. The House of Marbury, located near Tiananmen Square, showcases his career in multiple exhibits. A black kid from one of the harshest areas of New York is now the face of basketball for an entire nation!

Stephon Marbury will be in the Hall of Fame conversation eventually.

The main point to take away from Smith Sr’s and Marbury’s comeback stories is that you don’t have to copy someone else’s journey to accomplish the same level of success. In fact, you shouldn’t.

Over your lifetime, you may be forced to start over a few times. That doesn’t mean that you should let go of the bigger vision in your mind. As cliche as it sounds, it’s important to listen to your instincts and know that the decisions that scare you are the decisions that will most likely benefit your future.

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