Shawn Marion Q&A: 'I was a big part of what the game is right now'

Shawn Marion Q&A: 'I was a big part of what the game is right now'

Interview

Shawn Marion Q&A: 'I was a big part of what the game is right now'

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While in Chicago for NBA All-Star Weekend, HoopsHype sat down with 16-year NBA veteran Shawn Marion, who discussed his underrated career, the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns, his championship with the Dallas Mavericks, today’s NBA, life after basketball and more. You can listen to the full interview above or read the transcription below.

Looking back at your Phoenix Suns teams, you guys were ahead of your time – playing at a faster pace and shooting a lot of threes and things like that. When you look at the NBA today, would you agree that those teams were on the cutting edge and had a huge influence on the league?

Shawn Marion: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s part of the transition that happened throughout the years in the NBA and that’s the style of play in the game now. It’s just the evolution of the game. Guys are more skilled and talented now, and you’re able to do different things on the floor now. Unlike traditionally, there aren’t a lot of guys playing with their back-to-the-basket anymore.

If that 62-win Suns team from 2004-05 was playing in this era – with you, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, etc. – how would that team fare in today’s NBA?

SM: Oh, very well. It’d be hard for teams to beat us, especially with bigs being perimeter players now. They would buy into what we’re doing and that would make things a lot easier.

Steve Nash recently said that while those Suns were on the cutting edge when it came to that style of play, he wishes you guys would’ve doubled down on it even further – shooting even more threes and playing more position-less basketball. Mike D’Antoni has said the same thing and we’re sort of seeing him do that now in Houston. Do you agree?

SM: I mean, I guess we could’ve. It would’ve been hard to play any faster since it was pretty much just one pass and then a three sometimes (laughs), which is what they’re doing now typically. But it’s just part of the game now. Now, if you have an open shot, you have to take it. With analytics and all of this other stuff, nobody is taking mid-range shots anymore typically. But some guys are really good mid-range shooters. I’m like, “A shot is a shot.” If you could put it in the hole, put it in the hole! But, whatever.

You were a freak athlete and an incredible two-way player who filled the stat sheet. You had a tremendous career and your peers hated playing against you because you made things very difficult for them and were able to adjust your game to match-up perfectly against whoever you were facing. I don’t think you get the credit and recognition that you deserve. After such an amazing career, do you feel underrated?

SM: I’ve heard it. It is what it is. Sometimes, I have to educate people on the game or educate people on what I did (laughs). It’s okay, it’s part of it, man. But I gave a lot to this game. I think I helped it. I was a big part of what the game is right now. I think anybody who really, truly knows basketball sees that. If they see it, they see it. If they don’t, they don’t. I can’t force somebody to open their eyes, you know? It is what it is. I’ve come to deal with it and I’m at peace. I’m good. I used to hate hearing certain things, but at the same time, dog, if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a competitor. I used to eat and sleep this game. And I still do, to a certain degree, but I’m nowhere near as competitive now (laughs). I’m not competing as much as I used to since I’m retired. I still play a little bit, here and there. But my body went through a lot. It’s truly been a blessing and an honor to be part of this great game.

Your game was so unique, but are there any players in the NBA today that remind you of yourself?

SM: I see signs in a couple of guys, but no, not really. The only person who I would say is Kawhi Leonard because he plays on both ends of the court with a tenacity. Even, at times, Paul George does too. But the way I rebounded and was able to do a few other things on the floor, especially from a defensive standpoint but offensively as well, they’re a little different from me when it comes to that standpoint. But for the most, the way I jumped and stuff? They don’t jump like me. I think we all jump differently. But they have some similarities, a little bit. But, for the most part, no, I don’t see no comparison with nobody in the league right now. Because the way I played and what I did on the floor, I don’t see nobody doing it. At my size? No.

When I interviewed you and your Dallas Mavericks teammates at the 2011 NBA Finals, it was clear that you guys were super confident that you’d beat the Miami Heat and you weren’t backing down at all. And you were really annoyed that people were viewing you guys as the underdog. Would you agree with that?

SM: Yeah! We was tired of hearing that! But it is what it is. That’s what happens a lot of the time. People always feel like they have to pick an underdog, to a certain degree. I guess you don’t have to; you could actually say, “We have these two great teams here and it’s even – winner-winner.” But people always want to say that somebody is better than somebody else or that they’ve got a better chance at winning. But a lot of times, they’re picking wrong. They’re picking based off of something that they don’t know sh** about. I’m being really candid. It’s amazing how so many people stipulate things off of a certain game or a certain skill set, but all that they’re basing it off of is what they’re seeing. It’s not the same as actually going out there and physically doing it and being part of it. It’s a different kind of mindset, a different kind of mentality, a different kind of approach. It’s a different kind of feeling. There are so many different things involved in this game. It’s easy for somebody to sit back and watch and say something about it and make their own stipulations about it. But when you’re in them trenches and actually going through that work… There’s nothing that you can do about it. You don’t know what it is. I don’t care how much you think you know basketball, you don’t know what it is. You don’t know what it feels like, unlike you’ve been in them trenches. But there’s levels to it. What part of them trenches are you in? Are you just spectating a little bit, dibbling and dabbling? Or are you in it, in it? You know what I’m saying? There’s so much about this game that’s speculated about and people say what they see, but you don’t really know what’s going on out there unless you’re really in it and you really dug down deep in it.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I loved that team’s attitude. You did an amazing job shutting down LeBron James in that series, and it seemed like you got in his head too. What was the key to shutting LeBron down? And when you played with LeBron on the 2014-15 Cavaliers, did you guys ever talk to that series?

SM: No. At the time, we were focused on the current task at hand and that was to win a championship with the team that we were on. But I think it wasn’t just me, it was a collective team effort. We locked in and we knew exactly what our game-plan was and we executed it to the fullest, and that’s why we were able to prevail.

When I had DeShawn Stevenson on the podcast, he said that there’s no question that you guys would’ve repeated as champs if that Mavericks team had stayed together. 

SM: Oh, I think it’s possible too. If we had a chance to run it back, I think so too. Yeah.

That happened to you a few times (in Phoenix and in Dallas), where a team was broken up and it was sort of out of the players’ control. How frustrating is that?

SM: It’s real, tough, I think, especially when you have that chemistry with guys and you really know them and do things with those guys. It’s really family-oriented. The NBA family is family, but your team is a much closer-knit family, to a certain degree. It’s tough sometimes because you develop relationships with guys and you want to see these guys and you feel like you can win with these guys, but then something happens and it’s broken up.

You were known as one of the top fantasy basketball players for many years; you would be a top pick in most fantasy leagues. Would fans ever come up to you and talk about having you on their fantasy team?

SM: Oh yeah, for about five or six years! For that six-year span, I was the No. 1 fantasy player (laughs), and I talked to so many people who played it.

You won a lot of people money!

SM: Yeah (laughs). I didn’t know too much about fantasy ball or anything like that. I never really got into it. I remember they used to have a thing on ESPN called “The Iron Unkind” and I just used to check that and make sure I wasn’t on that (laughs).

Speaking of money, when you see how much money players are making these days and look at how well you would fit in today’s NBA, do you ever feel like you were born too early?

SM: Yeah, everybody says that. (laughs) They say, “You were born a generation, a decade, too early!” Yeah, but it’s okay though. I had a big piece of that last decade and did pretty well!

You’ve defended so many superstars and had a lot of success against them. Who were the toughest guys for you to cover?

SM: Well, I guarded [Michael] Jordan, Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron. One of my favorite players was Jamal Mashburn. I just loved him because he was so versatile. He was a bigger small forward, but he was able to do a lot of different things on the floor and he was very skilled. But I guarded everybody, so I also guarded Tim DuncanKevin Garnett and all of the big guys too. I even had to guard Shaq a couple times! (laughs) I always accepted the challenge. You have to have that mindset when guarding those guys.

I feel like you should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame. What would getting inducted mean to you?

SM: I mean, that’s part of your legacy. That’s what you [strive for]. We all set our own goals and achievements we want, and that’s a big one. I would love to be enshrined in it.

What was it like for you to transition into retirement? I know it’s easier for some players than others, but what how was your experience?

SM: It was actually pretty easy. I was staying busy and I was open-minded toward a lot of different things. I was kind of looking forward to it a little bit. I was already preparing myself beforehand. It was different for me than a lot of guys because I had just become a father right before I retired, so your priorities change when you have a little baby. My little son is amazing. That’s the reason I kind of walked away from the game a little bit early. I probably could’ve played another year or so. But sometimes you have lingering injuries when you’re older and all of this other stuff and I was like, “You know what, man? My son is little.” That first year, I was watching him grow up through my phone. I was watching him get bigger and do these different things, so I’m thinking, “I done won a championship and I done gave the game what I could give it; maybe it’s time for me to go ahead and just be a father.” I came to peace with it and decided it was time for me to ride off into the sunset. I didn’t want to watch my son grow up through a phone. Those first few years are some of the most exciting years! It’s way more fun now, of course, because I can do more things with him. But not experiencing those first things – his first steps, first time speaking and things like that – was hard. You’re not around as much as you want to be because the season is so long and that’s hard.

I think he’ll appreciate that when he’s older too since you made the choice to be there with him. What has fatherhood been like?

SM: It’s awesome, man! It’s something new every day. My son is a very smart guy and he has the same personality as me, and I love it. He’s a funny guy!

I read that you’re a majority shareholder in the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL. How is that going and how did that come together?

SM: (Points to his Breakers shirt) Myself, Matt Walsh and Barstool Sports  and it’s a great unity that we have. We’re all on the same page and it’s been a lot of fun.

The Breakers had RJ Hampton this year. Do you think we’ll see more high school players go that same route and what do you think of RJ’s game?

SM: It’s possible, it’s possible. RJ is a talented young player and I wish him the best. I think he just got home. He had a little, minor injury toward the end of the season. Hopefully he has a bright future. I wish him the best of luck.

What other endeavors are you involved in? I know you’ve said that you aren’t interested in coaching right now because that would take you away from your son, but else do you have going on?

SM: I work with the Dallas Mavericks and I work with the NBA. I’m an ambassador for both and I do different things with them. It’s cool, it keeps me around the game and I’m able to be around the guys. It’s just enough.

How much basketball do you watch these days and who are some of your favorite young, up-and-coming players in the league?

SM: Of course I’m watching guys like Luka [Doncic], Trae [Young], Ja [Morant] and Zion [Williamson]. This year’s rookie class is pretty decent and last year’s guys too, of course. There are some talented young guys coming into the league and we’re going to be in some good hands in the future.

What do you make of the Houston Rockets playing without a center after their recent moves? If you played in today’s NBA, you might be a center! Like you said, you did guard Shaq a few times.

SM: Right now, it’s almost position-less basketball. It’s position-less. And you have some guys out there who are just spot-up shooters; they can’t do anything else but shoot. But that’s what it is. That’s how the game is transitioning now.

Check out more episodes of The HoopsHype Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or anywhere podcasts are found.

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