Magazine article The New Yorker

HOMECOMING; THE SPORTING LIFE Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

HOMECOMING; THE SPORTING LIFE Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

A buzz enveloped Madison Square Garden last Thursday the likes of which had not been felt there in years. (The Knicks and the Rangers, let's face it, have been awful.) The formidable Houston Rockets, coached by the Knicks' former coach Jeff Van Gundy (with help from Patrick Ewing, the longtime Knicks center), were in town, featuring the giant Yao Ming. It was to be Van Gundy's first appearance at the Garden as an opponent. The big draw, though, was Stephon Marbury's debut in home white. Marbury, who was acquired by the Knicks in a blockbuster trade last week, is not merely one of the league's premier point guards--his arrival brings faint hope for a playoff berth--but a local legend, among the city's best ever kid ballplayers. Nine years ago, Marbury led Coney Island's Abraham Lincoln High to the city's public-school crown--at the Garden, of course.

Coney Island hoops is about as serious and competitive as it gets. The neighborhood's housing projects served as the backdrop for Spike Lee's 1998 film, "He Got Game," and also for Darcy Frey's best-selling book, "The Last Shot," about the lives, in 1991, of four Lincoln Railsplitters--including Marbury, who was then a freshman phenom. (In a serendipitous publishing stroke, a new edition of the book will appear in March.) Two luxury boxes' worth of family and friends from the old neighborhood were on hand for Thursday's homecoming.

There were still many others, however, who didn't get an invitation and were left to watch Marbury's return on TV in their apartments in the projects between Surf and Mermaid Avenues. One such person was Joshua Corey Johnson, a cousin of Marbury's, and one of the "Last Shot" four. Shortly before tipoff, Johnson, who is twenty-nine, dropped by his old boyhood court--they all called it the Garden, imagining moments not unlike this one--and watched a lone aspiring Marbury, perhaps ten years old, practicing jump shots in the frigid dark. Johnson retrieved a few wayward rebounds for the kid, and then headed into a nearby high-rise, where he was joined by another cousin, who goes by the name Boom (short for Tick-Tick-Boom, a reference to his three-point shot), and an old friend, Arva. The player introductions were just beginning at the real Garden.

"Steph's gotta be nervous tonight, man," Boom said. "Yeah, that's the Mecca of basketball they're in. He was nervous even when he visited the Garden playing for Minnesota."

"I think he's just got a little jitters," Johnson said.

Nervous or not, Marbury didn't start well, and neither did the Knicks. "He's like my brother," Johnson said, "but watching Steph--I can't watch him a lot. …

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