Some people, smart people, stick up for whales or eagles or Sarah Palin. Helping the hapless is a sign of strength. Plus it's easy.
Me, I'm weak. And stupid. Must be, because I'm sticking up for [Only registered and activated users can see links. ]. <TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width=220 align=left><TBODY><TR><TD width=220> </TD><TD width=15></TD></TR><TR><TD width=220>Is Stephon Marbury serving time for past transgressions? (Getty Images) </TD><TD width=15></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>Shocks the heck out of me, too, but here I am, and I'll tell you what put me here: A story last week from New York that described Marbury sitting on the Knicks' bench -- not in a [Only registered and activated users can see links. ] jersey but in a rugby shirt, because Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni is willing to trot out Marbury like a show dog but won't let him play or even practice. As if Marbury's a contagious disease that could be passed from teammate to teammate.
And maybe he is. Maybe Marbury is every bit the bad teammate, and bad guy, that D'Antoni is making him out to be.
My question, my problem, is not with the discipline in this instance, but with the disciplinarian.
Why Mike D'Antoni?
Near as I can tell, Marbury hasn't done anything to D'Antoni, certainly not since D'Antoni joined the Knicks. If Marbury has done something to D'Antoni, it's time for D'Antoni to come clean. If not, the Knicks could cut Marbury loose. Release him. Buy out his contract. Something. The longer this goes on, the more D'Antoni looks like a bully. He's starting to make Stephon Marbury a (gulp) sympathetic figure.
Don't tell me D'Antoni is keeping quiet to protect Marbury's trade value, because benching him has already ruined it. Marbury's history -- losing has followed him like stink -- hasn't helped, either. He lost with the T-Wolves. He lost with the Nets. The Suns didn't become a dominant team until they unloaded him midway through the 2003-04 season. Marbury went to the Knicks, where he has lost and lost and lost. He has lost for coach Lenny Wilkens. He has lost for Herb Williams. He has lost for Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas.
He will not lose for Mike D'Antoni. D'Antoni won't allow it, and the Marbury-less Knicks are in fact winning without their highest-salaried player. So maybe this whole thing is supposed to make sense to me: Marbury is a bad guy or a bad teammate or both, and D'Antoni is making a stand. Maybe D'Antoni should be celebrated.
But I can't celebrate this, just like I couldn't celebrate the idea of a teenager kicking an annoying cat. This cat, this Stephon Marbury, is self-centered and irritating -- but he isn't malicious. He isn't Latrell Sprewell choking a coach or saying he can't feed his family on a meager millionaire's salary. He isn't Bruce Bowen kicking opposing players between the legs. He isn't Chris Andersen getting banished from the league for using drugs, or J.R. Smith getting involved in an on-court brawl, an off-court brawl and a traffic accident that left a man dead.
All of those players, with the exception of Sprewell, are playing in the NBA this season. Marbury's not.
Marbury is guilty, and has always been guilty, of only one thing: He's all about Marbury. He walks that way. He talks that way. He certainly plays that way. And if you think that's enough of a crime to be publicly emasculated, as D'Antoni has publicly emasculated Marbury, fine. Send D'Antoni a card. Tell him how strong he is.
</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>Me, I look at D'Antoni and I see phoniness and even some cowardice. In the preseason D'Antoni met with all his players and told them to get into shape. Only players who busted their ass on their own time would be able to play on the new coach's dime, so Marbury busted his ass. He came into camp ready to run.
Center Eddy Curry didn't. He came to camp out of shape, got sick and then injured and was inactive to start the season. Last week D'Antoni activated Curry even though he remains fat, out of shape and too injured to play.
Marbury, healthy and presumably in some of the best shape of his life, sat on the bench in his rugby shirt.
From the outside, which is where I like to be when it comes to the snake pit that is Madison Square Garden, D'Antoni looks to be punishing Marbury for his sins against the coaching profession. With Marbury as their starting point guard, the following coaches have lost their jobs: Don Casey (2000) with New Jersey; Scott Skiles (2002) and Frank Johnson ('04) with Phoenix; and Don Chaney (later in 2004), Wilkens ('05), Williams ('05), Brown ('06) and Thomas ('08) with the Knicks.
D'Antoni refuses to be next. Understandable. But also a little bit, um, cowardly.
Did you see A Few Good Men? I'm reminded of the scene where attorney Tom Cruise pokes some holes in colonel Jack Nicholson's puffed shirt by wondering why, if Nicholson's orders are always followed, did Nicholson fear for a certain soldier's safety after Nicholson had ordered the rest of the base to leave that soldier alone?
It was a great question, and Nicholson had no answer.
D'Antoni isn't puffed up like Nicholson, but at the end of the day, the Knicks are his team. He is the coach. The leader. The man. So I guess my question of Mike D'Antoni is this: If you're as good as you're supposed to be, why is your most talented player on the bench in a rugby shirt?
If D'Antoni was trying to humble Stephon Marbury, the message has been delivered. If D'Antoni wanted to humiliate him, well, he has done that too.
Which means Marbury isn't the only bad guy in street clothes on the Knicks bench.