Chinese fans penned hundreds of heartfelt social media messages of support on Monday for Stephon Marbury after learning the ex-NBA star would be dropped from his adopted team, the Beijing Shougang Ducks.
"You are the MVP of my heart forever!" one wrote in English on the country's Twitter-like Sina Weibo platform.
"No matter where you go, Beijing is always your home. You are a hero of this city," another wrote in English.
Marbury announced over the weekend that the Shougang club would terminate his contract a year early, despite his offer to take a 20 percent salary cut to continue as a player-coach.
In an interview with online outlet Tencent posted Sunday, 40-year-old Marbury said the club dropped him partly because of his age.
While it was "understandable", he countered: "I'm still healthy enough to do the job. I’m still capable of playing at a high level."
Marbury has been one of the most popular and recognisable NBA transplants to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), leading the Beijing team to championship titles in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
He is so famous in the capital that he has his own statue, museum and postage stamp. A musical and a forthcoming movie -- set to premiere in August -- have been developed as odes to his China career. In 2015 authorities awarded him the right of permanent residence -- a rare honour for a foreigner.
Yet Xie Haitian, deputy general manager for the Ducks, told the China Daily there had been a "big gap" between Marbury and the club in talks about salary.
"Despite not wanting to see him leave, the club has to give up the option of keeping him with the Ducks based on the team's strategic rebuilding process and his personal will to continue playing," the paper cited Xie as saying.
In a letter posted Saturday to his official Weibo account, Marbury said he "fully respected" the club's decision, though it was "hard to take" because of his love for the Ducks and Beijing as a city.
"I want to dedicate this last year of my career in the best way possible on the court for the CBA, then I'll retire and work as a coach to help the basketball here for the rest of my life," Marbury wrote.
He thanked his China supporters for giving him a "second life" in the country, stating, "No matter where I am, I am a Beijinger."