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Stephon Marbury’s ‘A Kid from Coney Island’ is an intimate portrayal

‘I went from making $20 million a year to zero,’ he says in the film

Stephon Marbury got surprised by Stephon Marbury.

Not exactly what he expected when he watched the first screening of a documentary about his life, which hits theaters in limited release this month. He’d lived his life. He knew what was coming. He knew about the highs and lows. The good and the bad. The censored and the uncensored. The things he should have walked away from and the things he should have fully embraced.

But to see it all come together in one fell swoop? Well, even he walked away with a better understanding of exactly who Stephon Marbury is after he watched his life story unfold in 89 minutes.

“I’m not perfect,” Marbury told The Undefeated. “I’ve said things, I’ve done things, but I didn’t create any harm to you. I’ve created harm to myself. This is my story.”

The documentary A Kid from Coney Island follows the career of Marbury, 43, who played in the NBA from 1996 to 2009. The film displays the ebbs and flows of the two-time NBA All-Star’s rise.

From left to right: Kevin Durant, Stephon Marbury and Nina Yang Bongiovi attend the premiere of A Kid From Coney Island at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 5 in New York.

Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for 1091

He grew up in the housing projects of Coney Island, New York, and eventually transitioned to China, where he played professionally in the Chinese Basketball Association and became a six-time All-Star. In the film, an intimate portrayal of the hoop star is revealed.

To do that, Marbury had to seek and find vulnerability. “I went from making $20 million a year to zero.”

“It’s like watching somebody drag bags through the snow. Eventually, they’re going to get to the building, and then you finally see them, like, ‘Man, I watched you drag all those bags, and you made it,’” Marbury said. “It’s like one of those moments.”

And this isn’t a novelty project. There’s real depth and muscle behind the doc. The film is directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, a directing duo who cut its teeth creating some of the most dynamic music videos (Kanye West’s Jesus Walks, Erykah Badu’s Window Seat and a 2012 30 for 30 film, Benji), and is produced by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi.

The film is executive produced by current NBA star Kevin Durant and sports agent Rich Kleiman.

“I grew up in New York City and we’re the same age and I was a basketball junkie from the time I was born. And he was a superhero growing up,” says Kleiman. “I followed his story and felt for him as things unraveled, and then celebrated him when I saw that he was getting his life together and becoming who he was overseas in China. But it didn’t feel like people had gotten out their old impression of him, and what he had become. To be able to play any part in that story I thought was something we have to do. From Kevin’s perspective, I think it was from a pure hooper standpoint. He had a real deep respect for his game and his work ethic and passion that he had around the sport, and also knew that this story needed to be told. So we both had similar motivations, some different, but both realized that this was something we really wanted to be a part of.”

Durant co-founded Thirty Five Ventures with Kleiman. Aligning with that team, especially Durant, was key for Marbury.

“I’ve loved this dude since he was a freshman at Texas,” Marbury said. “So, for him to see a vision in working with me … you see the same themes in our lives, like our vision is clear on what we see, what we look for, what we’re looking at.”

“I don’t care what he’s doing in the media. It can go good or it can go bad. Quick. I picked the person who I’m doing it with. It wasn’t a media company. I picked him, Kevin Durant,” Marbury said. “I said, ‘this is an easy slam dunk. I’m down.’ ”

Plus, Durant gets Marbury.

“People don’t realize you’re not going to play basketball forever. Like my mother said, ‘You can have all the money in the world … but if you’re not happy, and if you don’t know God, it’s not going to mean nothing, because you don’t have no feeling inside of you, son, and you have to have a feeling inside of you in this life, as you live as a human being, because you’re not going to be here for long.’ You’ve got to really understand this concept when it comes from your mom and from an adult. You’re not going to be here for long. That right there should tell you that you definitely need to have a connection, and that connection with his mom, I see that same connection [with my mom],” Marbury said.

Telling Marbury’s story as a documentary was a smart choice, even though much of his career and his life has been told in hundreds of headline-grabbing stories. The archival footage in the documentary and interviews from rapper Fat Joe, ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, rapper Cam’ron, former NBA star Chauncey Billups and the timeline unfolding throughout the film is mind-blowing.

And Marbury wants everyone to walk away with a lesson.

“Know that you are the controller of you and what you do in your life. Everybody’s got a connection with God or whoever they pray to. I pray to Jesus, that’s my Lord and savior, that’s what keeps me balanced. I played basketball because I loved playing basketball. I loved working at it to be better, to be consistent, and when people watch this, it’s about the ball, but it’s also about the game of life,” he said. “My ups, my downs. For you to be able to have that opportunity to see that space in my life can help you become stronger. You can use my story. Now you have something to springboard off of, like, ‘Yo, I loved that movie, watching it, and saying to myself, ‘I’ve really got to trust me more, instead of trusting other people.’ Everybody is not down to see you go up, and you’ve got to understand that it’s people that want to see you go down, up, sideways, all of that. But it’s what you want. That’s what it is.”

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.