Basketball: Marbury leads Beijing Ducks to finals

Ex-NBA bad-boy Stephon Marbury will attempt to lead the Beijing Ducks to victory this week in their first ever Chinese finals, seeking to upset the mighty Guangdong Tigers.

Beijing face the four-time Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) champions -- and their point guard Aaron Brooks, formerly of the Houston Rockets -- in the best-of-seven finals starting Wednesday.

Marbury, a two-time NBA All-Star who played for the New York Nicks, has been instrumental in the Ducks' run to the final.

On Sunday he scored a game-high 30 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists as Beijing beat Shanxi Brave Dragons 110-98 to win the best-of-five semi-finals, three games to two.

In each of Beijing's two other semi-final wins, the star guard surpassed 50 points, an amazing feat for a 35-year-old.

"This is the best feeling I have ever had playing basketball. There is no better feeling than this -- reaching the finals," Marbury, his eyes tearing up with joy, told AFP after Sunday's win.

"Since I came here, I said my goal was to make it to the finals. A lot of people said I was crazy, but this team showed me something totally different from the teams that I've been on in the past."

Marbury has reinvented himself since arriving in China in 2009 following a tumultuous 13-year NBA career that saw supreme talent on the court, but often poor off-court behaviour and various spats with coaches and teammates.

In China, the multi-millionaire has led by example, taking his gritty, muscular game and infecting a roster of young Beijing players with fight and tenacity.

He has also embraced the culture while working to sell his "Starbury" brand of shoes and sports apparel with a catchy "love is love" marketing campaign that reflects his feelings for basketball and the team camaraderie needed to win.

"This team has worked hard, they did the extra things, shooting the ball before and after practice, doing the extra running," Marbury said.

"We did a bunch of things that was needed to get us to come together as one. Once we got to the point of seeing the light, as far as seeing our vision and what we wanted to do, the guys really started to believe."

The final challenge for Beijing is heavily favoured Guangdong, who besides the lightning-quick Brooks, have five players on the Chinese national team who will begin preparations for the London Olympics after the series.

Guangdong has dominated the CBA for much of the last decade, winning four straight league titles and finishing the 2011-2012 regular season with a league best 21-4 win-loss record.

But this has not deterred Beijing's young players.

"The goal of the team is to win the championship. We will go out and battle, our mission is not complete," said Beijing's rookie power forward Zhu Yanxi, 21, who last week was also named on the national team roster.

Marbury has been key to the team all year, not only as the star player, but as a mentor to the younger members, Zhu said.

"From the beginning, Lao Ma (Mr. Marbury) has been saying we would reach the finals, but to make it here has not been easy," Beijing forward Ji Zhe, also 21, told AFP.

"He has a lot of experience, he has played in the NBA, the CBA, the Olympics, he has played a lot of games. This year he got us ready to play every game. We are all very thankful that he is on this team."

Beijing's win on Sunday drew a standing, frenzied ovation from fans delighted their team had reached the final for the first time.

"The crowd has always been important for us, they are our sixth player on the court," said Marbury's American team-mate Randolph Morris, another former Knicks player, who has also played a vital role this season.

"They bring a lot of energy and ultimately that helps us win."

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