The greatest athletes are not only the best performers, but those who do it when it matters the most.
Pele stands out in soccer as the only player to have won three World Cups, the pinnacle of his sport. Yoga Berra holds the equivalent honor in baseball with 10 World Series wins, golfer Jack Nicklaus has 18 majors, tennis player Margaret Court won 24 Grand Slams in singles (plus another 40 in doubles), while in basketball Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships in just 13 seasons. Michael Jordan may be widely regarded as the game's best player, but his six titles pale in comparison.
While it is a bit of a stretch to compare Stephon Marbury with legends such as Russell and Jordan, the veteran American undeniably has the same winning mentality embedded in his DNA. This season, for example, Marbury's Beijing Ducks finished well below both Guangdong and Liaoning in the regular season, qualifying as the fourth of eight playoff teams. But Marbury, as he did last year when he led the fourth-seeded Ducks to the title, has again put this team on his back.
In the semifinals, the Ducks faced the top-seeded Guangdong Southern Tigers, but blew past them 3-1. In the deciding Game 4, Marbury scored a 3-pointer with less than seven seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, where Marbury scored 9 of his team's 11 points to give the Ducks a 107-105 win.
In the opening game of the Finals, the Ducks went to Liaoning to face a team that had yet to drop a game in the playoffs, and came away with a crushing 19-point win. The Leopards bounced back in Game 2 and edged Game 3, but Marbury's astonishing 42-point effort saw the Ducks come up just a single point short.
Not even the most ardent CBA fan would argue that the league is anywhere close to the level of the NBA - Yi Jianlian is the CBA's reigning MVP among domestic players, but he couldn't hack it in the US - but basketball is a team sport, and Marbury's ability to make everyone around him better, as well as raising his own game at crucial moments, is his most impressive feature.
Marbury's NBA troubles are well documented, but his incredible form late in his career means that he may yet be primarily remembered as the man who made it in China, rather than one who failed in the US.
The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org