NBA Star Stephon Marbury Talks China "Rebirth" in New Documentary (Q&A)

A Kid From Coney Island - Stephon Marbury -Publicity - H 2020
Andy Chan

'A Kid From Coney Island' chronicles Marbury's NBA flameout before redemption from Chinese basketball fans.

New York's Coney Island is famous for Nathan's Hot Dogs and Stephon Marbury, a kid from the housing projects who went on to have a turbulent career in the NBA, before ultimate redemption and fame from millions of basketball-crazy fans in China.

Now Marbury is headed to movie stardom with A Kid from Coney Island, an intimate documentary about the rise and fall of a legendary pro basketball player who, as a child, dreamed of fame and fortune in the NBA, before a career rebirth in China while playing for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons and the Beijing Ducks.

The film, directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, executive produced by Kevin Durant and Forest Whitaker, captures the very public turmoil of Marbury's NBA career, followed by emotional and career stability as a global ambassador for basketball in China.

"You can go someplace else and do the same thing and never give up on what you love and what you want to do. And you can be inspired," Marbury told The Hollywood Reporter about going beyond the negativity and self-destructiveness of his NBA career to having a statue of him erected outside the stadium where he played in Beijing and a museum dedicated to his career for his Chinese fans.

The RTG Features and 1091 Media film is also executive produced by Rich Kleiman and Nina Yang Bongiovi and produced by Jason Samuels and is set for a theatrical release this month. Marbury sat down with THR to talk about a film that, along with his close friends and family, chronicles his dream of basketball glory ultimately realized a world away from Coney Island.

Why release this documentary now?

My basketball career was completed when I retired. We wanted it to come out to talk about what I'd done in China. I didn't want to do a book while I was playing because my story wasn't finished. We had the idea to put this film together years before. It's a story about playing in the NBA and going to China from when I left the NBA. Because there was a time when I was thinking about not playing basketball anymore. But it was the opportunity to go to China, that's when the rebirth happened. So its giving people the opportunity to see the story and know that you can always do what you love to do no matter where you are, it doesn't mean it has to be where you're from. You can go someplace else and do the same thing and never give up on what you love and what you want to do. And you can be inspired.

You first appear in the documentary when you get to China and reinvent yourself. Why such a late entrance?

First my family is telling my story from another side, and we have other people speaking, people who know me and love me, unconditionally. My story is about where I've been, what I've done. And I wanted it to be told by those who are informed. Because a lot of people were misinformed. They got a perspective of what people thought and what they knew. But they only got part of the story. They didn't get the second part of the story, the redemption part. You come from out of this abyss, this big hole that you get out of as a kid, trying to play basketball. A lot of people just knew that because of what others wrote and said about me. The film is about trying to move past that. Because you can't control what people people write and say, you can only control what you do. So you change the narrative by showing what you do.

The film shows China changing your life. How did that happen over time?

When I first landed in China. I was greeted by 5,000 people. When I moved from America, my NBA career was over. When I landed, there were so many people with smiling faces. That's not what people were writing and seeing on TV. I was up against the system and my emotional state of what I thought about my game. Then I go to this place where there's 300 million people who play basketball. And I'm thinking who are you all here for? And they said, we're here for you. They said they were happy I came to play in their country and their city. I'd never been to China. I had no clue. So when you are received with this type of love, this new energy, you're completely immersed into a world of how other people live and are, that's the uplifting part. I dove into the culture and that's when my life began to change because I had a new culture inside of me. I loved all the positives and I had a new attitude of what I could bring to other people. It made me want to grow and become a different and better human being than I was.

Do you think the Chinese responded to you in part because you weren't going there at the end of your career just to make money, but embraced their culture with open arms?

Over time they started to understand that and that's when our relationship became stronger. When I was asked [after I arrived] to explain why I came to play basketball, I got a chance to show who I was as a human being. It wasn't even about basketball. When they saw what kind of person I was, it was easy for me to do the things I did in China. It was really simple because I never asked for anything. I never asked for a statue of myself or a museum in China. For me, they knew what I wanted and I knew what they wanted. And it matched.

The NBA followed you to China and last year the Houston Rockets' general manager got the league into hot water over comments he made about the Hong Kong protests. What did the NBA get wrong when it came to speaking out about politics in China?

I'm not going to say anything about that. You can ask me the next question.

The film has backing from Kevin Durant and Forest Whitaker. What did they say early on to convince you to make this film?

Kevin Durant felt he came from the same background I do. I liked Kevin Durant since I first saw him in college. He's watched me play from when I was younger. He has a media company that has vision and is creating opportunities for people to see what's going on, and what people who played basketball can do in life. As for Forest Whitaker, we had dinner and it wasn't about basketball. It was about our synergies and our energies and what we could do together. Collectively, we all had the same vision to tell a story told through the lens of our eyes of what we'd experienced, and not what others have experienced and saying what they saw or heard. We came together to tell a really good story.

The film is directed by two people with roots in music videos. What is the influence of hip hop on your life and how did it influence the look and feel of your documentary?

This film has a blend of cultures. Hip hop is a culture. Basketball is a culture. It's entwined together. The directors have a feel of how to create a feeling when people are watching how we grew up. From their work, you can see the creative, when they did animation to create cartoon characters to address all different audiences and ways to show the movie. We call it creative flavor in our community. They put that flavor to how we like to look at life and what we think about it.

At the end of the film, we get the sense you've made peace with the NBA and even look forward to getting into the Hall of Fame.

My relationship with the NBA is good. I met with [league commissioner] Adam Silver in China when they came to Beijing. We had a real hug. We saw each other and spoke and he invited me to come to the NBA All Star Game. For me, I'm one of the people born from the NBA. Sometimes things don't work out. So you go in another direction. I'm blessed that I was able to do all that I've done, playing basketball in China. And I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to work with the NBA in China for the last two years, opening up schools and doing other projects. As far as the Hall of Fame, my numbers speak for themselves and what I've done in the NBA are all the same numbers. As far as my impact on basketball, I'll let others decide that. In China, there are 300 million people that can attest to what I've done for basketball.