'I've bled for Dallas': Ex-NBA champion Shawn Marion on his career, and the future of basketball in India

Shawn Marion, best known for his exploits with the 2011-NBA championship winning Dallas Mavericks, was in the city to inaugurate the ACG NBA Jump program's Mumbai tryouts. The former NBA champion and four time All-Star interacted with the budding basketball talents as part of the program.

The National Basketball Association (NBA), in collaboration with the ACG Worldwide Group, expanded the ACG NBA Jump program on Saturday, with an open tryout for boys between 12 and 16 years of age. It was the first leg of a six city national talent search, which will culminate in 24 boys getting a full scholarship to train at the NBA India Academy, an elite training center scheduled to open in April 2017.

As Marion sat court-side, encouraging the youngsters during their tryout matches, Firstpost sat down with him for an exclusive interview discussing his incredible playing career, his partnerships with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and LeBron James, the current state of NBA, and his experiences in India.

 Ive bled for Dallas: Ex-NBA champion Shawn Marion on his career, and the future of basketball in India

Shawn Marion (C) with the Larry O'Brien championship trophy in 2011. Getty images

Marion's first visit to India has been quite eventful, and he's been looking to 'take in' all the sights. "It’s been great. I think, the people have been awesome and I’m just taking in the culture and taking in the festivities as much as I’ve been able to. I’ve been as open to it as possible," said Marion. He also had some rather honest advice for young Indian kids looking to leave their mark on the NBA like he did. "Try to get into this program! Try and get into the ACG NBA Jump program. I think it’s going to do some great things," the 38-year-old added.

The former Dallas Maverick also noted that there is plenty of room in India for the sport to grow in popularity. "Keep expanding, keep building the resources, and keep giving the kids the opportunity to do it (play basketball)," he said when asked what India needs to do to develop a strong identity in the world of basketball.

"I understand that cricket is the number one sport here, then you got soccer, and then basketball. There’s enough room for all three to be here. You got 1.6 billion people here. So, there’s more than enough room for basketball to get here. Saying that, you got to have the opportunity and have the structure here for it."

Looking back on his career, Marion has fond memories of his 2011 championship win with Dallas. "It was pretty awesome. I’ve bonded with that team and that city for life, you know? They’re a part of me, and I’m a part of them so it’s pretty special. To win that first championship, to be there and raise that banner and see what you did, what you accomplished for that team and for that city is awesome." When asked if he was treated any differently on the streets of Dallas after bringing home the championship, he was quick to reply that Dallas has always appreciated its team. "I’ve always been treated very well. I can tell you this, I’m pretty much a household name down there, you know what I’m saying? I mean, everywhere I go I’m noticed when I’m in Dallas. You bled for the city, and they know that, you know? They know I put my heart and soul for that team."

Nicknamed 'The Matrix', Marion was an incredibly versatile player, stuffing the stat sheet with over 15000 points, 10000 rebounds, 1000 blocks, and 1700 steals during his illustrious career. "I think versatility makes you that much more valuable," he said. "When you can do more than one thing on the court, oh it’s priceless. You’re gonna find a way to be on that floor, and coaches will find a way to keep you on the floor when you’re able to fill a stat sheet."

Shawn Marion with a young athlete at the ACG NBA Jump event in Mumbai. Image credit: NBA

Shawn Marion with a young athlete at the ACG NBA Jump event in Mumbai. Image credit: NBA

Marion has played with some of the biggest names in NBA history during a career which saw him move from Phoenix to Miami, Dallas and Cleveland. His teammates range from floor generals like Steve Nash to Dwyane Wade and 'King' LeBron James. Looking back at these great teammates, he feels that while they have some unique qualities, their performances have always been elevated by the way their teams perform.

"A lot of players do certain things on their own, but you’re only as good as your teammates make you though. You know, a lot of times these great players had great teammates. It’s very hard to go out and try to do something by yourself. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Some guys are definitely better than others, but at the same time it’s a team sport you gotta go out there and do it together," Marion said. 

'The Matrix' also commented on the current "dominance" that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are showing in their respective conferences. "I wouldn’t exactly say it’s 'dominance', you know. They have a great core that they’ve been able to keep together and they get to do certain things. The last two years have been pretty exciting," he said. However, Marion also believes there will be more challengers this year. "This year I think a lot of teams have been actually adjusting their teams. A lot of teams don’t have traditional big men anymore so the game is more 'small ball'. So, the teams are getting athletic and younger and we’ll see what happens. I think San Antonio made some adjustments, so they’re gonna be better this year as well."

'Small ball', a brand of basketball wherein height is sacrificed for speed and athleticism in offence, has been quite popular lately. Marion belonged to the Phoenix Suns team of the early 2000's which was one of the first to adopt this style of basketball, and he feels the evolution of basketball from highly defensive to more offence oriented was inevitable. "It was bound to happen. For some reason during my career, one year I came back and all of a sudden all the seven footers had just retired or got hurt. I was like 'man, what happened to all the big guys?' And then it was just a matter of time. Some guys, especially those my size, are able to do it but don’t wanna play center or play power forward cause it’s a very physical position to play. I was able to do it during my time when power forward was the most dominant position in the league," he said. "I had to guard real power forwards. Now power forwards are not even that physical anymore. The most physical guy in the league at power forward is probably DeMarcus Cousins, and he’s a handful down there. Most guys don’t really wanna bang with him at all! Some young guys are coming and making a presence for themselves right now, but the traditional big has kinda worn away now."

Based on the current crop in the NBA, Shawn Marion sees San Antonio Spurs' Kwahi Leonard as a younger version of himself. "A younger version of me would probably be a two-sided player like Kwahi Leonard. I think I still was more athletic than he is though, and I was a better rebounder!" He also picked Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook as his early tip for MVP this season. "Westbrook, for sure," he said with a smile. With Westbrook already locking in 10 triple-doubles this early in the season, the first player to notch five of them consecutively since Michael Jordan, one can hardly argue with 'The Matrix's' pick. 

Juggling between Reliance Jr Foundation NBA program in Delhi and interacting with basketball aspirants at the ACG NBA Jump talent search program in Mumbai, Shawn 'Matrix' Marion still found time to do a 'mannequin challenge' with awestruck kids at Nagpada Basketball Courts in Mumbai.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 11:57:52 IST