- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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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.
9hMichael C. Wright