Stephon Marbury was dope when you were a 12-year-old basketball fan. You weren't worried about his boisterous over the top swagger or his persistence of bad shot selection as a terrible three-point shooter.
His swagger, actually, was the best part about him, and you know why? Because the start of the new millennium was the beginning of Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers Lakers and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs ruling the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.
Let's backtrack for a minute or two and set the scene.
We are in 2003, fresh off back-to-back-to-back Lakers championships. The Spurs, after winning the championship in Tim Duncan's second year in the league in 1999, were unable to make it back to the finals in those three years due to the aforementioned Lakers and PENNY HARDAWAY'S PHOENIX SUNS.
(Yeah, seriously, Penny and Cliff Robinson. Jason Kidd broke his ankle, remember? Let's bask in that memory for a second....)
(Feels good, huh?)
(Ready? You're right, one more minute.)
This year, it's the Spurs' year. They tied for a league-high 60 wins and it's San Antonio legend David Robinson's last year in the NBA. The Lakers dynasty has hit a serious road bump after winning only 50 games in the regular season, leading to a possible Western Conference semifinals matchup instead of what you would assume as the Western Conference Finals battle of the titans.
Looking ahead to finally bringing down the giant, all the Spurs had to do was get by the Phoenix Suns in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 seed matchup to get there.
At this point for the Suns, it was remarkable they were staying afloat. The best period in franchise history from the late 80's to the mid 90's had to hit a down period at some point, but a generational talent in Jason Kidd surrounded by legitimate All-Star talents like Antonio McDyess, Cliff Robinson and Hardaway led the Suns to three 50+ win seasons with that previous core exiting.
After a transition year in 2001-02 and trading Robinson and Kidd, 2002-03 brought new levels of excitement. The end of the regular season saw 25-year-old third team All-NBA Marbury, 24-year-old All-Star Shawn Marion and 20-year-old rookie of the year Amar'e Stoudemrie as a core three for the future the Suns could have serious playoff aspirations about.
This was the beginning of that journey and as a 12-year-old Suns fan, I wanted nothing more than them to stick it to the two teams I despised the most. I dreamed of a Finals run, upsetting the Spurs, putting the final dagger in the Lakers Shaq and Kobe duo and making it two championships in three years in the Valley.
That, of course, is pure child nonsense. The Suns were about to get pumped by the best team in the NBA.
My dad and I had the typical father and son discussion about the backcourt of the team. He loved Hardaway for his effortless and unselfish playmaking, while I adored Marbury for his flashy and exuberant scoring and dishing. Every long two Marbury took was met by multiple swears from my dad and every crossover that was the prelude to the long two had me in awe.
The hatred for Marbury seethed through to Game 1 when Marbury took a game-high 28 shots and only made nine of them. As a preview to being benched for Speedy Claxton in the finals, Tony Parker wouldn't play much better. The newest sworn enemy shot 2-of-13 and Marbury had the better of him all night despite the low field goal percentage.
Except for a third quarter run by the Spurs that my dad called "the beginning of the end," the game was close throughout. I never lost faith and knew in my heart this was the beginning of something special. I kept telling my dad that and he probably still has neck pain from how much he was shaking his head.
We fast forward to the end of the fourth quarter.
Down three with 15 seconds left, Marbury rushed the ball up the floor and everyone knew he wanted to shoot. With three defenders in his gravitational pull, Marbury swung it to the unable to drink legally at a bar yet Stoudemire on the left wing, who showed no hesitation to chuck up a three with his horrendous looking jumper.
Money. The kid stepped into the shot in rhythm like he was Kyle Korver coming off a screen. To this day, I've never heard my dad yelp like that. As pessimistic as ever, he was waiting for the Alfonso Soriano home run to follow and end any prayers of even dampening the Spurs hopes just a bit.
Duncan, coming off his second straight MVP award, was going to take the shot. He did, and he missed. We knew this was our chance. The league MVP does not miss those shots in the playoffs.
After an overtime crawl that saw Marbury take four out of five of Phoenix's first shots in the period, Hardaway was called for an offensive foul with 26 seconds left and down two. That was it. These were the Spurs and they weren't going to screw this up.
Duncan gets fouled and makes one of two free throws, providing a little breathing room.
Marbury goes for the quick two, gets it and then Parker is fouled. The 20-year-old makes the first, but misses the second!
The hope for about 0.4 seconds is evaporated by none other than Duncan. He gets the offensive rebound and his redemption to end the game at the foul line, needing to make both to make it a four-point game with 5.1 seconds left. Now it's really over.
Inexplicably, he misses the first. I shot a look at my dad, who was muttering to himself about the horrible shot Marbury is about to dart down the floor to chuck up to try and tie the game.
Then, the unthinkable. He missed both! We can win the game! I jump out of my seat, practically headbutting the TV I'm so close to it as my dad screams at me to move. I dart out of the way as Marbury brings the ball past half-court, looking for that shot my dad and I knew was coming that wouldn't be real pretty. (It's amazing to watch Marbury during the rebound. He goes to his normal default position for an outlet pass and then has the ball tipped right to his area to start the run himself.)
Marbury, facing the right corner of the floor as he glides up to take the shot, turns and fires, overextending his hips to face the left corner. It was as bad as my dad had predicted.
BUTTER! I do something more ridiculous than Frank Johnson, parading around the bedroom and refusing to even see the results of the review. I knew it was good. My dad was fist-pumping like he knew it was coming the whole time. He wasn't even mentioning the fact that he banked it in, a small victory for me.
A shot of clarity and homerism shot through us after two minutes of dancing around. Screw David Robinson's swan song. Screw Tim Duncan's second MVP. Marbury eviscerated the entire city in their house and had to leave them to think about if that second title was ever going to come for at least the next two days.
My dad knew that was the moment of the season and to expect nothing more, but I was still seeing the title on its way. For those 48 hours in-between Game 1 and Game 2, that possibility was some of the best time I ever had growing up as a Suns fan.