In what might be the frontrunner for the most hilarious piece of sports journalism in 2011, GQ’s Wells Tower traveled to Taiyuan, China to observe the latest chapter in former Knick Stephon Marbury’s career arc. Paid handsomely (by Chinese professional standards, anyway) by the the Shanxi Brave Dragons, Wells chronicles Marbury’s attempts to forge new friendships in a land where he’s expected to subsist on fare such as “Grab Stick, Intestine Duck, Best Thick Seam, Ear Rabbit, Black Fungus, Meat, and Duck Bloody Piece” (luckily for Starbury there’s no shortage of U.S. fast food franchises near his hotel). Though the piece is not an entirely unsympathetic portrait of the Coney Island phenom (particularly where Marbury’s business empire is concerned) it is worth noting that when it comes to matters of the heart, The NBA’s Former #1 Point Guard (Self-Appointed) has graduated from hooking up in a Jeep to finding companionship at the local karaoke hut.
Brother Wong, who had supposedly amassed a fortune as a builder of local roads, was very pleased to see Marbury. He kept laying hands on Marbury’s arms and shoulders and seemed to want very badly to climb into the point guard’s lap. He insisted we go immediately to his favorite karaoke bar.
Marbury and I caught a lift in Brother Wong’s chauffeur-driven Audi SUV. “You starting to see the Starbury movement,” Marbury said. “Brother Wong’s like Mark Cuban without being the owner. He wants to buy the team.” Wong, said Marbury, was well connected with China’s Communist Party, pointing out large yellow O’s in the corners of the Audi’s windshield, evidently emblems of officialdom. Then, at Marbury’s prompting, Brother Wong hit a switch on the Audi’s dashboard and a siren on the roof blared and wailed. “Police! Police!” cried Brother Wong, laughing madly. Traffic scurried from our path, and the Audi made for the karaoke bar at a desperate speed.
No one sang at the karaoke bar, a place the term bar is inadequate to describe. It was a fantastic labyrinth of mirrored hallways, astrobe with neon accents and red and blue LEDs, generally creating the effect of inhabiting a giant article of robot lingerie. In a room twice the size of my New York apartment, a rotund older woman dressed in a plaid field-hockey skirt led in a cadre of young women and briskly directed them, singly and in pairs, to sit beside us on the couch. The girls wore an unhookerly mufti of jeans or miniskirts or T-shirts or Annie Hall–style sweaters and, as far as I could tell, were not quite prostitutes but merely young women who drew a paycheck to ply lonely men with beer and grapes, and pinch them on the knee. The only hitch in the distribution came when the field-hockey lady ushered in a girl resembling an Asian Julia Child whose eyes happened to be crossed. There was no immediate clamor for her company. She stood before the room for a painful length of time. Finally, Marbury, who’d been obliviously drinking Sprite and BlackBerrying through the whole escort-disbursement procedure, looked up and invited the big girl to his area of the sectional, a quiet act of valor that put the rest of us to shame.