In China, Marbury’s famously erratic personality, too, seemed newly conditioned for popular consumption. Despite his renown as an arrogant megalomaniac outstanding in a field of arrogant megalomaniacs, in person he came across as a warm, even earnest man guilelessly fond of almost everyone around him. “I love the Chinese people” was his reflexive response to complaints about flying sputum on the streets or the sharp elbows of the sidewalk throngs. One night at dinner, he summoned the chef from the kitchen to embrace him. More than once Marbury would tell me, with a nearly uncomfortable directness of emotion, how glad he was that I’d come to China with him and that he’d miss me when I left. Nothing in his manner smacked of PR gamesmanship. Rather, he gave the impression of someone desperate to forget all the haters back home and see only a world full of new friends.
And in Taiyuan, his friends were legion. At one point, I remarked that it must get irritating not to be able to take two steps without some stranger panting on his neck. “Nah,” said Marbury. “You never know when the day’s gonna come when people stop wanting your autograph.”
—Wells Tower on Stephen Marbury’s career reboot