Sneaker deal helps Marbury get some praise off the court

From the Associated Press

Playing in his hometown hasn't always been what Stephon Marbury expected.

From the boos of disgruntled fans to the criticism of coaches, the point guard from Brooklyn hasn't always been rewarded with the affection he anticipated when he was traded to the New York Knicks.

But Marbury finally found it this summer -- in shopping malls outside New York.

A tour that spanned 40 cities in 17 days to promote a fan-friendly sneaker deal boosted Marbury's reputation. The embattled point guard was so moved by the frequent "thanks for what you are doing," that he finally broke down in front of Andy Todd, president of the Steve & Barry's store chain that carries the Starbury One brand, on the last day of the tour in Syracuse, N.Y.

Marbury was overwhelmed, taken aback by stories from parents and conversations with kids who thanked him for a campaign that markets the same sneakers he wears in games for $14.98.

"It's not about basketball. They're trying to make it basketball and the sneaker. You can't add both of those together," Marbury said. "This is not about basketball, this is about change and it's about growth and it's about people being able to have something that they never had before."

Many basketball or running shoes typically sell for $100 to $200. Marbury sees his new line as an alternative for families who can't afford those prices.

"The key component is that it's something that people need, not what they want," he said. "It's a difference when you want something. Like, 'Oh I want juice instead of water.' You need water to live. You can't go without water. This is what it is. This is a lifeline, a lifeline of supply to people to have an outlet of feeling good about themselves."

The campaign has been well received in New York. Teammate Steve Francis showed his support by wearing the sneakers in a game earlier this season, and Marbury made a gesture to remember his roots this week by donating 3,000 sneakers, a free pair to every varsity player in the city's Public School Athletic League -- where Marbury won a championship in 1995 with Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High.

But even the shoe deal has brought more headaches for Marbury. Critics wonder if the media tour took up too much of his time and prevented him from being in top shape when training camp began. When he was bothered by a sore right foot near the end of preseason, Marbury had to deal with questions about whether the Starbury One was giving him the same protection a top-priced shoe would.

As usual, Marbury shook off the criticism.

"It doesn't bother me, because they're still talking about the shoe. There's no such thing as bad press. And I know, I understand how the business goes," he said. "When something like that happens, it's just a story. It's something that they could write. What happens if we play well and we do good? Does the shoe get more pub? Do they talk about it even more?"

That hasn't been an issue yet. The Knicks are off to another poor start, as is Marbury. He has been benched by Coach Isiah Thomas during the second half of a couple of recent home games and his scoring average is barely half the 20.2 points he has averaged during a career that has included the Olympics and two All-Star games.

"Steph has a lot of pride and I'm sure that's tough to deal with," Knicks center Eddy Curry said of the benchings.

Last season may have been even tougher. Considered a possible playoff team after the arrival of coach Larry Brown, the Knicks instead went 23-59, matching the franchise record for losses.

Marbury struggled through a variety of injuries and a number of clashes with Brown, some behind closed doors at team practices but many played out through the media. The Knicks were out of playoff contention as early as January, and fans and talk radio hosts wished for him to be gone by the end of the season.

But none of that affected the sneaker line, which already was in the works before the season had started. "The people on the street, they know what's up," Marbury said. "I know the real people who know what's going on. It's not the people who have, it's the people who want to have.

Those critics point out that he has never been past the first round of the playoffs, but Marbury refuses to define his success by what happens on the basketball court alone and wants to stay relevant long after he is retired.

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