Ask Eric, and he won't tell you. "Stephon will see what it means" is all he says.
In The Last Shot, Darcy Frey's 1994 book chronicling basketball in Coney Island, Don Sr. is depicted as a cackling opportunist trying to shake down Frey for cash in exchange for the Marbury family story. Stephon is not much more flatteringly portrayed. He angles for meals and rides, boasts of putting himself up for bid to warring New York City AAU teams, and names the make of car he'll get from the college of his choice. With withering understatement, Frey calls Stephon, then a ninth-grader, someone with "an attitude that needs some adjustment."
The Marburys despise the book. "It tries to make my family look like a bunch of niggers trying to get out of the ghetto and not anything else," Stephon says. But it's a portrait that, rightly or wrongly, has taken hold. Adidas powerbroker Sonny Vaccaro has persuaded the Marburys that with another year or two of forbearance their payoff will come and that a more developed sense of public relations is called for in the meantime.
Lou D'Almeida (SI, Nov. 6, 1995), to whose Gauchos AAU team Stephon ultimately became loyal, keeps him flush with pocket money, in apparent accordance with NCAA rules, while the Marbury patriarch, who over the years had picked up a reputation among recruiters as someone unafraid to assert his prerogatives, is gracious and charming with the press. He'll discourse on Nixon, jazz and New York City politics, and cry honest tears in his living room while recounting the sweep of his and his five boys' lives. "We have a working agreement, my wife and I," says Don Sr., whose progeny have earned him the nickname the Creator in the neighborhood. "If there's something positive, that's hers. If there's something difficult—a problem—I take care of it."
Stephon had verbally committed to Tech last January but had failed to return his letter of intent well into the April signing period. Early that month Jerry Tarkanian happened to take over as coach at Fresno State. Reports indicated that Tark, in discussions with the Marburys, employed the perfectly permissible recruiting tactic of dangling an offer of an assistant coaching job to someone close to his quarry—in this case, brother Donnie. As word of these negotiations filtered out, Cremins couldn't get his prospective signee on the phone. Panicked, he flew to New York. Stephon then reassured the coach he would sign with Tech and on April 28 did. "Why don't people believe a kid's word?" Stephon says now. "I don't even know where Fresno is."
Last year D'Almeida gave Stephon a used Acura—because "he deserves it," D'Almeida has said—but after the arrangement hit the papers over the summer, Marbury gave up the car amid fears that his eligibility had been compromised. (The Suzuki that Marbury drove to Hasan's belongs to Tech teammate Maddox.) "I'm doing without some things that are essential to me," Marbury says. "It's hard without a car here. But I'm doing without one."
A lightbulb seems to appear over his head. "It's good for me not to have a car," he says. "I have no choice but to watch film. Just makes me watch film a little bit more."
That the Marbury men are thick with one another is common knowledge throughout Brooklyn. "Stephon looks up to his little brother," says Tech freshman guard Gary Saunders, a Gaucho teammate. It's the Marbury women few know about. "The father will charm you one minute, then go off on a tirade the next," says someone close to the family. "Give him $1,000 and he'll want $5,000. But Stephon and his mother and sisters, that's a beautiful story. The innocence is there."
The Marbury women—Mabel and her 30-year-old twin daughters, Marcia, an education reporter with KFDM-TV in Beaumont, Texas, and Stephanie, a special-ed teacher's aide in Brooklyn—account for Stephon's soft side. Stephanie in particular deserves credit. She was 12 when her little brother was born. Name him after me, Stephanie pleaded, and I'll care for him—feed him, wash him, dress him, scold him.
Within a few years Stephanie, already large for her age, was regularly taken to be Stephon's mother. After Stephon fell off a bike, she dressed the gash that's now a scar on his right leg. When Stephon lost the city championship game as a junior, it was Stephanie who consoled her sobbing brother, wrapping him up in her arms at midcourt. When he wanted to go to Georgia Tech and the Marbury men stood solidly for Syracuse, she dried his tears and told him, "If you really want to go there, go there." In the second half of the Kentucky game last month, bench-ridden with a bloody nose, Stephon sneezed and more blood gushed forth. Rushing from her seat behind the bench, Stephanie tended to her brother, draping herself over his shoulders. There was no question that Stephon's daughter, whom he calls "the light of my eyes" and who was born last March to his girlfriend, Nicole Thompson, would be named Stephanie.