2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: One doesn’t have to be a basketball fan to find a core of deep fascination and reflexivity in “A Kid From Coney Island.” Regardless if the name Stephon Marbury hits the buzzer of one’s mind as in the final moments of a game, the documentary balances entertainment and information. This is a look at how a basketball star rose up, fell, and found an unusual second chance. Marbury is not someone who would be an obvious subject for a documentary on the surface, but that’s partly what makes this one work.
“A Kid From Coney Island” offers the perspective that the point guard known as Starbury is one of the sport’s most misunderstood athletes. By framing where he came from, his circumstances, and how his story was mischaracterized, Marbury comes off in a whole new light. Those who followed his career will be fascinated by this second look at him, while newcomers to his life’s story will be just as enthralled.
From birth, Stephon Marbury was destined to play basketball. The entire male Marbury clan are gifted athletes, though all have fallen short of their NBA dreams. He’s the great hope, however. As a child, he was a legend in Coney Island; from playgrounds to Abraham Lincoln High School, he turned heads and became a larger figure. Following one year at Georgia Tech, Marbury was drafted into the NBA. Then, circumstances became far more fascinating for the young athlete.
Marbury was initially paired in Minnesota with fellow superstar Kevin Garnett, but when Garnett received a substantial contract, jealousy was the team Marbury began to play for. This lead to a trade, which would become a recurring part of his career. Especially during his two stints with his hometown teams, the New Jersey Nets and in particular the New York Knicks, Marbury gained the reputation of being a problem.
The documentary makes the case, rather effectively too, that Marbury wasn’t selfish and a locker room cancer, but rather a grinder who reacted poorly to those who weren’t as driven by success as he was. Personal growth truly comes when he leaves the NBA for China, making a new name for himself there and finding a sense of serenity. An unexpected place for the Brooklyn legend becomes the site of his personal redemption.
“A Kid From Coney Island” avoids romanticizing its subject, though the same isn’t true for Coney Island. Despite its warts, the doc sees it as a sports haven and a singular place for developing basketball talent. Interestingly, one of the most astute observations here is how local athletes who come back home professionally are doomed to fail. Marbury is just one example of playing in front of your friends and family being a no win proposition.
Directors Coodie and Chike Ozah keep the commentary elements rather light, with all efforts moving towards reframing Stephon Marbury as complex and misunderstood. The combination of a new angle on the man, as well as the humorous look at the sport/life in Brooklyn, it works to keep its audience engaged. Even just as a love letter to Coney Island and its relationship with basketball, the documentary works.
Whether you love basketball or couldn’t care less, “A Kid From Coney Island” offers a compelling sports related story. No prior knowledge of Stephon Marbury is needed here, though anything you bring to the documentary in that regard is a plus. Non fiction cinema at film festivals are often dark and depressing, so this breezy offering at Tribeca is a breath of fresh air.