Native New Yorker, ex-Knicks player cheering on former squad

During the early 2000s, the NBA featured a stellar group of electrifying guards who won MVPs, titles and were considered the greatest performers in the sport’s history.

The list included the iconic Kobe Bryant, a premier showman − Allen Iverson, and other Hall of Famers such as Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Tony Parker, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Gary Payton and Dwyane Wade.

The first decade of the century also spotlighted Stephon Marbury, a backcourt standout and native New Yorker, who was a two-time All-Star and was twice named to the All-NBA Third Team.

Marbury posted seven consecutive seasons of 20-plus points per game, and after leaving the NBA, he became a national sports hero in China as a player and then coach.

Nowadays, Marbury, who spent parts of five seasons playing for the New York Knicks, can be found screaming his lungs out at Madison Square Garden − for the team he’s rooted for since he was a kid growing up in Coney Island.

The Knicks will play the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 on Friday with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Boston Celtics are waiting.

“Before I made it to the NBA, the Knicks were already my team,” Marbury told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s the stage that every basketball player on earth wants to play on.”

During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Marbury, who wore No. 3 during his tenure in New York, has shouted encouragement to his squad, beside another famous Knicks guard who wore the same number, John Starks.

“He’s straight NYC. I can feel his energy,” said Marbury of Starks. “To watch these guys go on a basketball court and do what they are doing. It’s phenomenal, especially being there live.”

The pair of former Knicks No. 3s has enjoyed seeing the players from their baseline seats, especially the current New York player who dons their former number – Josh Hart.

Hart made headlines for playing 39 minutes or more in four of the first five games of the Pacers series, including back-to-back games in which he logged 48 minutes.

When Hart finally exited the game, it was a big deal.

“They had breaking news – Josh Hart was subbed out of the game,” said Marbury. “That number has a lot of energy.”

Like Hart, the other two Villanova alums on the Knicks, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson, have also excited the 47-year-old Marbury, who has received significant buzz for election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

“He’s a one of one,” said Marbury of Brunson, who scored 40 or more points in five of his first 11 games this postseason. “This is what he was made to do.”

Marbury envisions a new wrinkle ultimately entering Brunson’s arsenal to make him even more effective.

“You are going to start to see him dunk more, probably,” said Marbury. “But he doesn’t have to do that because he is already electrifying us.”

While heaping praise on both Hart and Brunson, Marbury, who was the 1995 Mr. New York Basketball award winner, was downright giddy when speaking about DiVincenzo.

“When you have guys like Donte, ‘The Ragu’ – coming through, the way he do,” said Marbury. “He brought a sense of urgency. He brought what Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) preaches every day, over and over.”

One of the few knocks on the trio, (especially Hart), as well as the rest of the team, is the high number of minutes the core players are playing. Through the first 11 games of the playoffs, three Knicks played 40-plus minutes per game.

Marbury doesn’t see that being a huge issue.“They’re conditioned from the summertime. It’s not during the season,” Marbury said. “Those three, four months, maybe five months for some guys – instead of them chilling, hanging out, going here, doing that, those guys were conditioning.”

During the past two seasons, the Knicks have turned their fortunes around, elevating from an also-ran to a team with a legitimate chance to advance deep in the playoffs. And this version of the Knicks just may be the best one in decades.

For that turnaround Marbury points squarely in the direction of the front office.

“I believe that (team president) Leon (Rose) and Wes (executive vice president and senior basketball advisor William Wesley) have (infused) new energy into the culture of basketball in New York, and they’re making people respect it,” Marbury said.

Led by the Villanova trio, Thibodeau, and an astute front office, the Knicks have provided their fans with a great deal to cheer about.

And whether their run extends to the NBA Finals, there is one fan who will ride shotgun. “I love supporting this,” Marbury said. “For me, I’m like a kid at the game.”

This post appeared first on USA TODAY