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Stephon Marbury, an embarrasment to the NBA

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The more I watch Stephon Marbury's streaming Internet meltdown, the more I'm relieved that LeBron James tried to snatch up the video evidence of his getting dunked on at a summer basketball camp. Yes, relieved. Now that we've seen the alternative, a player who's obsessed with his image is a much healthier sign than someone who has descended into the Land of Don't Care.

Starbury TV is what happens when any sense of restraint has been removed, when a person decides he has nothing better to do with his life than rant into a webcam.

"I'm doing me!" Marbury keeps repeating, usually adding a melody and dance. "I'm doing meeeeeee!"

Apparently that now entails eating Vaseline and breaking down in tears in the middle of a prayer. He justified his behavior by saying it was more interesting to watch than someone who just sits around doing nothing. "I'm entertaining to people," Marbury said. "You watch entertaining things."

We're not watching this, we're gawking at it. We're unable to turn away, even if we find it completely mortifying. There's nothing redeeming about this. It's self-destructive behavior from a man who made more than $20 million last year and now would have a hard time drawing a nickel from any rational person who has watched this unfold.

A friend who has worked with NBA players for more than 20 years sent out a Facebook update that read, "My heart is bleeding for Stephon & his family, I've been watching him live on webcam, unreal ... so sad ... its like I'm watching someone calling for help but yet no one can get to him."

This is the flip side of dedication. Marbury was devoted to basketball for three decades, saw the NBA as his only escape from the projects of Coney Island and spent 13 seasons in the league. Now that his career is apparently over ("I don't play basketball no more, because I'm washed up," he told his Web audience), he's completely lost. So he stares into the camera, dances, sings, says whatever pops into his head and responds to online chatters.

"Am I bipolar?" he responded to one of the many messages questioning his sanity. "I don't know. I know I've got ADD."

There's nothing about attention deficit disorder that would explain this. It's also difficult to describe the thin line that separates the inane from the insane.

When you watch Shaquille O'Neal lip-synch cheesy '80s songs, you think, "Shaq's so silly."

When you watch a shirtless Marbury singing "They tried to put me in a box!" you think, "Steph's gone crazy."

Maybe it's because so much of what Shaq does is premeditated. He used to add a polysyllabic word to his vocabulary, mix it into interviews for a couple of weeks, then move on to a new word. Once, when he came back from an injury, he had a ready-made "training" video (complete with a hilarious imitation of Rocky Balboa chasing a chicken) to play on the Staples Center scoreboard screen to accompany his return. Everything he does is a calculated effort to seem more congenial, and he has managed to come off as the most likable giant ever to hit the sports scene.

The irony is that Shaq's embrace of Twitter helped popularize the social networking Web site, particularly among athletes, and made people think that every single thing they do is worth sharing with the world. Yet the Big Tweeter himself was stunned at what has become of Marbury, as relayed in a pair of posts during the live stream:

 "I kno dats not strawberry flavored vaseline, starbury is eatin, wow wow wow""Why is starbury cryin, what the hell is goin on, geeeez"

Unlike Shaq's deliberate moves, there's no sense that Marbury has any idea what's coming next. That's what adds a scary edge to this. What happens when the novelty of this wears off and people stop watching? He'll have to do something more outrageous, especially when there's no pride to keep him in check.

That's why, in retrospect, it's a good thing that LeBron was so sensitive about the dunk video. Anyone with such an ego won't descend to the level where Marbury finds himself. His sense of self-worth and his reluctance to ruin the image he built up won't allow him to.

LeBron and Nike learned that these days, nothing can be controlled. People have come to feel entitled to see anything that happens anywhere. The dunk footage eventually made its way online … and within two days, it no longer was a story. At some point, this episode will go away completely; it won't define LeBron's career.

It used to be that our need to see other people humiliated was satisfied with an hour of "Candid Camera" or "America's Funniest Home Videos" each week. Now, as LeBron discovered, it's nonstop. But if you attempt to feed the Internet beast, you'll discover that it's insatiable. You can become consumed by its need for consumption. So what's wrong with a little discretion? Do we need to see everyone's home pictures and sex tapes? About as much as we need to see every waking moment of Marbury's life.

LeBron can have fun, most notably when he joined Shaq in that 2007 All-Star Dance-Off. He even signed off on having his puppet likeness get clowned by Lil Dez for missing out on the 2009 NBA Finals. We also have seen LeBron show off all facets of his personality, even the childish side, in the Nike commercials. The key point: When he's acting the fool, he's usually getting paid to do it.

Marbury isn't making money, he's costing himself money. Teams or sponsors won't want him to represent them. He already has been reduced to a self-parody, as beholden to the people watching at the other end of the Web as they are to watching this continuous train wreck. Viewers log in while he's asleep with the hope that he'll hop out of bed and resume the show. One commenter said, "He needs to wake up and do more crazy ----"

Here we are now, entertain us. But as we've seen from Streaming Stephon, sometimes the more you give, the more you lose.

Stephon Marbury took a dip in the pool, played table tennis and hummed lyrics to music. He also offered his opinion over and over again.

Marbury was uncensored and unfiltered Friday as he took

to the Internet and tried to host a 24-hour live chat with viewers on the Web site Ustream.tv from his Los Angeles residence.

For Marbury, the time served as an opportunity to bypass the news media, which he has regularly accused of misrepresenting him. Much of it, though, served as a reminder of Marbury’s erratic interview on “Mike’d Up” in the summer of 2007.

Among Friday’s highlights:

¶On leaving the Knicks: “My job wasn’t taken. It was given to Chris Duhon. Don’t get it twisted. And that’s no disrespect to Duhon either.”

¶On philanthropy: “I’m going to set up a foundation for the world. I’m going to take the money and start building cities all over the world. I’m a comet. My man told me I’m a comet. I said, ‘I’m a comet?’ ”

¶On Jeanie Buss, a Los Angeles Lakers executive: “Jeanie Buss, I love her with all my heart. I’d take my heart out and give it to her. That’s how ill she is. I love that lady.”

¶On the best player in the N.B.A.: “No, I’m not the best player in the N.B.A. Kobe Bryant is the best player. I don’t care about the N.B.A. Those days are over with.”

That was the CliffsNotes version. Many topics were covered, including Marbury’s preference for Bugs Bunny over Mickey Mouse. Marbury is still a free agent after a cameo appearance with the Boston Celtics after his exile from the Knicks. He had more camera time Friday than he did all last season.

We've seen him cry. We've seen himswallow Vaseline. We've seen him, during his marathon 24-hour session Friday, go several hours without eating or going to the bathroom, work out in his pool, show off his car, dance in his bedroom, introduce us to his crew and answer countless questions from fans via the live chat function that runs in congruence with his lifecast feed. At times, his personal reality show was vulgar. He swore, as did his chat participants.

If Twitter and blogs are an unedited, authentic glimpse at athletes directly from the source, Friday's social experiment took that notion and flipped it on its head. It was, as Marbury constantly referred to it, real talk. He hammered home that traditional media couldn't edit him here, couldn't cut out the shocking sound bite and leave it out of context. It was live and direct from the entertainer to the consumer.

If you occasionally tuned in, you would have seen him answer "Kobe or LeBron?" (Kobe) "Where are you going to play next year?" (not sure) and "How is your cousin Bassie?" (he doing good) enough times that you'd be able to respond in sync with him. You would have also heard, in typical Marbury fashion, a few goofy quotes.

And, for the most part, he was right: This was access to the nth degree. Marbury invited us into his home to ask him questions, to hang out with him. As he said, "They tried to put me in a box!" Here, in front of his MacBook, he was outside it, for all of us to see.

But there's another person benefiting from Marbury's face time the past few days, besides the fan: himself. Friday's marathon session got plenty of media mentions, from two popular blogs -- Ball Don't Lie and Deadspin -- to The New York Times.

As Marbury sat on his balcony, he showed off countless new designs for his Starbury line of clothing. He pimped his children's books. He gloated about doing big things with his newfound Internet fame. He talked about wanting millions of viewers. He told us his personal motto was "I'd rather own than be owned." On Friday, as a more mobile camera was being set up for him to walk around his home, a Ustream employee brought in to help told him they'd link his channel on the front page of the site, but he'd need to clean up his language a bit. He happily obliged.

On Tuesday afternoon, during a live session on Justin.tv, Marbury dropped this as he looked at his monitor: "Watch the commercial. And another commercial. They got two now. One here and one there. There you go. Watch the commercial. That's money right there. You gotta pay to do that. That's how they keep the Web site going, you feel me? They keep it going, they got the Web site. So when we do it, we do our own, they got to pay us. We got 10, 20 million viewers? Why would you go on TV when you got 10, 20 million people that you could go talk to?"

His Justin.tv feed has 312,000 views at press time, so he's got a way to go until he gets up to 10 million to 20 million. Still, Marbury's dreaming big for the possibilities of his lifecasting.

But he's forgetting one of the main tenets in reality television, one he's constantly derailed the past few days: editing. No one is that interesting for that long. If "The Real World" was a live stream from cameras set up around the house, viewers would get bored fast. That's why people were requesting a five-minute highlight reel from Marbury's Friday shenanigans. The access is great, but only to a point.

It's interesting and fun, but not if it's overkill. Short, entertaining, meaty clips work on the Web. Attention spans run thin quickly. We are not a culture willing to sit on our hands and watch as Marbury answers the same questions over and over (and over and over); we are Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," a culture with an infinite appetite for distractions. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the Web.

On Tuesday afternoon during that same Justin.tv stream, Marbury took off for what was supposedly a meeting, and the laptop's Web cam captured one of his large walk-in closets, and that alone. After minutes of viewers staring into the abyss, Marbury's cousin, Hassan, hopped on and started answering questions.

Chat member "Knicks3085" had this to say: "This starbury show has really gotten boring … im out."

Real talk, indeed.

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