ONE: Oh my god, where do I even begin? Here is Shanghai Sharks guard and Mormon basketball legend Jimmer Fredette—last seen in these pages balling out with Carlos Boozer—getting raked across the arms and the face by Stephon Marbury, not getting a foul call, losing his shit, getting a running start, and SHOVING CONEY ISLAND’S OWN STARBURY, who jostles back and immediately gets so deep into Jimmer’s face that you can fucking feel his voice vibrating on your nose. I would pay approximately three million dollars for a transcript of what Starbury was saying there.
TWO: Then, it just gets weirder. Taiwanese player Tseng Wen-ting, sporting a statement ponytail for the ages, sees the argument breaking out and STREAKS down the court, his ponytail flapping behind him in the wind, and stands between them as the refs head over to break it up. The camera catches Jimmer walking away first, his chest puffed out and shit, his eyes betraying a capacity for aggro machismo the likes of which you never saw at BYU. Then he slaps hands with Nick Minnerath, a tattoo-sleaved forward who, I shit you not, almost ended his pro basketball career before it began by liking cocaine too much. The deeper this thing goes, the weirder it gets.
THREE: Meanwhile, Steph is still jawing while former Duke star and Boston Celtic Shavlik Randolph tries to calm him down. Also, for reasons that I honestly can’t even begin to comprehend, a bunch of security dudes in pitch-black uniforms and little black hats, comically short in the presence of ten fucking basketball giants, swarm onto the court, the kind of security overkill that I suppose you would expect during a Chinese Basketball Association game. As Jimmer continues to yell, Starbury, wizened with age, heads back to the bench, taking a supportive arm from his coach, Liu Peng, who is coaching in pre-distressed and weathered jeans and a gigantic striped sweatshirt.
FOUR: On a certain level, there are no two basketball-playing human beings who are less alike than Starbury and Jimmer. Starbs was a Coney Island basketball prospect who grew up in poverty, so hyped that someone wrote a fucking book about him when he was a high school freshman, played in the NBA for years and years, an All-Star talent whose tendency to shoot, like, entirely too much for his position and personal eccentricity sunk a career that seemed like a sure thing. Jimmer, on the other hand, was a fringe prospect at best, a suburban upstate New York Mormon who made himself a candidate for the NBA by having a fabulous career at BYU, wielding a precise jump shot and a total non-commitment to defense to become a national star.
But here, watching these two men colliding in the weirdest way possible, you see that they have, somehow, become bizarre warped mirror images of the other. Both washed out of the NBA, for different reasons and under different circumstances; both turned to China, with its national basketball culture and a guard-heavy league whose playing style perfectly fits their no-conscience, "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality. Starbury excelled on occasion in the NBA but headed overseas in his thirties, and did so much for Chinese basketball someone cast him in bronze for his contributions. Jimmer, on the other hand, proved to be an NBA player with absolutely no traction at all, drifted in and out of the D-League, showing flashes of basketball brilliance that nevertheless betrayed his lack of genuine NBA utility. But, like Starbs before him, he headed overseas, and has spent the past two years putting up insane games for the Sharks, maybe thirsting somewhere deep inside for the NBA but, in all feasible practice, having found the one major basketball league on the planet where a point guard can shoot and shoot and shoot without giving a fuck and not really be expected to play particularly stout defense.
And so, in seeing Starbury get so deep into Jimmer’s face that you can practically see eyeballs getting pushed into the back of his skull, it makes you wonder: Can these two men, who came from such drastically different worlds and have lived such different lives, see that, in this moment, they are nevertheless a pair of six-three dudes playing in a far away place that is weirdly perfect for them, screaming at each other over a basketball game I suspect neither of them ever thought they would be playing in while they shot practice threes when they were 15 years old? This basketball fight is, in its way, a beautiful manifestation of the human condition, the way that different paths and lives find themselves drifting into each other through the providence of the wind. Beautiful stuff.