Another team, another protracted problem with saying goodbye to an iconic player. A couple of years ago, Wang Zhizhi, perhaps the best player to have ever worn the red Bayi Rockets uniform, was obliged to unretire by the Chinese military to stop the team’s losing streak. This season, Yi Jianlian left the Guangdong Tigers for the NBA, only to return, ignite a needless powerplay and then see his team get destroyed in the CBA Finals as a result.
Now, it is Beijing’s turn to ignore the hints of Father Time. The Ducks have won three CBA titles under the leadership of Stephon Marbury, who himself is probably the most beloved athlete in the city. But Marbury will be 41 by the end of next season and the Ducks would really like to move on with their own rebuild whilst their roster of local players is still competitive. The American has other ideas and this is quickly becoming the story of the current CBA offseason.The Marbury story has been bouncing around Chinese media for at least a month. As I noted in my initial recap of the story with Vice Sports, when the Ducks lost in the final game of the regular season, they were eliminated from the play-offs. In doing so, it appeared Marbury would also retire on the spot having suggested as much in the summer of 2016. But instead, Marbury made it clear he wanted one more year and an already anxious Beijing front office suddenly had a big problem on its hands.
A few weeks on from the initial frenzy, Marbury is still making it clear he is coming back. This weekend, he will be putting himself front and center at the Beijing Film Festival and has already been pictured with Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan. Meanwhile, Marbury’s own film, ‘My Other Home’ is also set to debut at the festival. Marbury’s desire to associate himself with Beijing is part of the American’s appeal to rank-and-file locals and means he enjoys tremendous sway in the capital. The Ducks front office has clearly been briefing to the press that they want Marbury to retire but they also know the fanbase would explode if the veteran point guard appears to be evicted from the team.
Because the final year of Marbury’s contract is a team option, the Ducks technically have the advantage but the player has the popularity. Sina Sports run an article this morning suggesting that the Ducks want their beloved foreign guard to maintain his initial promise of retiring to the bench. However, the article also implies Marbury could play on with another team if he doesn’t get his way. It’s possible that this is conjecture on behalf of Sina but considering the lack of firm comment by either camp up until now, it is also clear that a proxy war is being raged through the Chinese media. According to the Ducks front office, ‘the final result will be decided [upon] within two weeks’. Until then, both sides are holding their cards close to their chest whilst the entire city of Beijing waits to see who blinks first.
Edit (4/23/2017): Beijing didn’t blink. He’s done as a Ducks player. To say that’s a big deal would be an understatement.