Marbury's first step back on big stage

BOSTON -- This was still some 99 minutes or so before tip-off, before a teenage girl's acoustic guitar version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was interrupted by deafening applause when Stephon Marbury's picture was shown on the scoreboard, before he entered the game to a standing ovation on his behalf the likes of which hadn't been since, oh, the January night in 2004 when he arrived in New York as a supposed savior.

The setting Friday evening was the large news conference area near the Celtics wives' lounge, a separate room with a stage, a podium and an official Celtics backdrop that the team usually uses only during the playoffs.

Down the three stairs Marbury descended after his introductory news conference, he walked straight into an additional question he couldn't find the correct answer to.

"Any idea when your last podium press conference was?" Marbury was asked.

"Cleveland?" he guessed, apparently referencing the 1997 All-Star Weekend when he took part in the rookie game.

"No, Athens," came the response, prompting Marbury to nod his head at the memory of the last big game in which he both played and produced, a quarterfinal victory over Spain at the 2004 Olympics in Athens in which he broke the Team USA scoring record shared by Spencer Haywood and Charles Barkley by dropping 31 points on Pau Gasol">Pau Gasol's team as the U.S. (which was a 3-point underdog) experienced what would turn out to be its high point of the 2004 Games.

"Yeah, and we won that game," recalled Marbury, who joined Larry Brown on the podium that afternoon 4½ years ago in Athens and explained how he had spent a good portion of the previous day shuttered inside the gym at the local American University, hoisting jump shot after jump shot in an effort to rediscover the shooting stroke that had abandoned him to that point.

That was yet another time when seemingly everyone in the world was down on Marbury, a time when he answered his critics by taking over a game practically all by himself.

Moments like that never happened in New York, but a new beginning came at the new Boston Garden, and although we didn't see anything quite that epic out of the Celtics' new No. 8 in his debut in green and white, he did manage to push the Celtics' 5-point lead to a 13-point lead over the opening six minutes of the fourth quarter. The burst included a jumper by Marbury, an assist on a Ray Allen 3 and a driving layup in traffic that gave Boston enough of a cushion to withstand Indiana's late run in a 104-99 victory Friday night.

"Playing in New York was another part of my book, another chapter," Marbury said. "You never know what's in front of you as far as your basketball career."

Little did Marbury know how prescient those words, spoken before tip-off, would end up being.

Marbury was so amped up when he entered to a standing ovation that he ran over to a young boy sitting in the front row wearing a Garnett No. 5 jersey, slapped him five and bounced 180 degrees around, hopping up and down to show how ready he was to go.

"I was so happy, I didn't know how they were going to respond. They really showed me a lot of love. I felt that. I felt wanted," Marbury said.

He hit his first shot but was more than a step slow on defense against Brandon Rush, putting up a minus-9 in the box score for his six minutes of playing time. But his fourth-quarter effort erased any negatives, and Marbury was able to end a day that began with a 5 a.m. automobile departure from his home in New York feeling loved, appreciated and successful.

Say what you want about his track record (every team he has left has improved after his departure), his playoff history (never out of the first round), his attitude (he grates on coaches, teammates and beat writers alike) and his wackiness (just search Marbury and goofy on YouTube), but do not forget that this guy was once a heckuva player, a two-time All-Star and an Olympian who has made it to the interview podium in the past based not on what he might bring but on what he has already brought.

Yes, the last time that happened was ages ago, relatively speaking.

But what happened in the past with Marbury is always partially relevant and partially irrelevant, and you never quite know what's going to ultimately become of the relationship when you enter into one with Steph.

This night was like a first date, with everybody getting home safely and looking toward a future filled with promise. And, of course, Marbury has had enough successful first dates that nonetheless ended in divorces for us to put too much weight on what transpired in his debut.

But remember this: The whole world was down on Marbury once upon a time in Greece, just as the whole city of New York seemed to be down on him and done with him last weekend, last summer and last training camp, too. But if what is to come is more of what came in the fourth quarter Friday night, chances are it won't be another 4½ years before Stephon makes it to another podium interview.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.