Exclusive! Former NBA star Shawn Marion compares Nagpada to Illinois

Updated: Dec 04, 2016, 14:59 IST | Gaurav Sarkar |

Former NBA star Shawn Marion sees bright future ahead for Indian talent; says he is enjoying life after retirement with son

Shawn MarionShawn Marion

Four-time NBA all-Star player Shawn Marion looks around Mastan playground at YMCA, Nagpada, and thinks it resembles his hometown in Illinois. “It looks the same,” says the basketball star.

Marion, who is currently in the city for the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA programme, is notorious for its own brand of basketball — physical, intimidating and full of sledging. With its frayed net dangling from the hoops and chipped court surfaces, not to mention more than a hundred children dodging the ball at any given hour of the day — this is the epicentre of basketball in Mumbai, where even the best teams have a tough time scoring against local Nagpada schools.

No surprises why Marion was keen on visiting this court. If anything, it reminds him of home.

The former NBA star, who held a brief interaction with young fans of the game yesterday, shared tips and tricks from the sport and also participated in a mannequin challenge with them. “With so many kids playing here, one of them will hopefully become a future NBA star…they’ll be awesome,” he says.

In between playing with the young boys, Marion spoke exclusively to mid-day on his love for the game, career highs and lows and the future of Indian basketball.

Marion seen taking a walk around the court. Pics/ Suresh Karkera

Early speed-breakers
Marion was born in Waukegan, Illinois, and played high school basketball at Clarksville High School in Tennessee. “Our high school team was pretty good. It was with them that I won a championship for the first time,” he recalls.

But, it was only during college that he began eyeing pro-leagues. “I was good in high school, and was already playing against some of the pros, which was an eye-opener. It was just a matter of time before I went to the next level,” he adds.

It was in 1999 that Marion made his foray into NBA. “I didn’t graduate; I played only three years of ball during my college years, after which I got drafted to the Phoenix Suns. It was like suddenly having a dream come true.”

However, Marion’s entry into the big-boy league of first-tier basketball wasn’t a smooth one. “I had a knee injury in my first season itself because of which I missed about 20-30 games for my team that season,” says the centre-forward. “But, when I came back, I was good to go.”

And, good he was. Marion quickly became known for his dribbling and for consistently putting up points on the board for his team. He even earned himself the nickname ‘The Matrix’ by an ESPN commentator who saw him pull off some Neo-like moves on the court.

Former NBA star Shawn Marion during an interaction with fans of the game at Mastan playground in Nagpada

“It is important for players to stay focused and hungry,” says Marion. “The thing about basketball is that you cannot score if you do not have the ball. It is important to create opportunities on the court, to think and play, and to make the most of the ball when it’s in your possession,” he adds, Marion believes that the best players are those who can make magic even when they aren’t in full control of the ball. “There are a lot of guys who can keep the ball and not give possession away. But, the best are those players who can share the ball with their teammates, making it a team effort.”

The future of Indian football
For the kids from Nagpada, seeing Marion on their home turf was an unmatched high. Looking at the sea of children playing on the faded blue court, Marion said there is “a lot of history right here”. “Basketball is a global sport. Nowadays, more and more doors are opening every year. I never got the opportunity of learning from a former NBA player when I was little. So, I think this is priceless.”

On June 18, 2015, following the Cavaliers’ NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, Marion announced his retirement from the NBA after 16 seasons. “I’m a father now,” he says. “I have a two-and-a-half year old son, and spend much of my time at home. I don’t know exactly what I want to do during retirement. As of now, I’m travelling and just enjoying life.”

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