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Marbury, Unburied

The former NBA lightning rod has found fans—and feeling!—in the Chinese league

Stephon Marbury, once the poster boy for dysfunctional pro athletes, chose the Chinese Basketball Association about as much as Napoleon chose St. Helena. But since being exiled there in 2010, the two-time NBA All-Star has reinvented his image, revealing himself to the public like few before him. Even more improbably, the 35-year-old point guard has lifted the perennially mediocre Beijing Ducks into the CBA finals for the first time in franchise history.

Ma Bu Li, as Marbury is known in the Far East, takes the subway to work, writes a column for the China Daily newspaper and interacts with 260,000 followers on Weibo, China's Twitter. In a populace obsessed with access, he's found crossover stardom. And that stardom is well deserved. He scored 26.6 ppg during the regular season, and he openly wept after a tense playoff semifinal win over Shanxi (above), calling it "the best feeling I've ever had playing basketball."

The Ducks entered the finals last week as heavy underdogs to four-time defending champ Guangdong, but through Monday they held a 2--1 lead in the best-of-seven series behind 32.7 ppg from Ma Bu Li.

"He's got a fresh start," says teammate Randolph Morris. "It's just straight business over here."