Berkeley students have been able to get away with quite a bit over the years, but former California men’s basketball coach Ben Braun had a rule that no player dare break: Do not, under any circumstances, wear apparel representing another school.
Well, in the late 1990s, a couple years after Braun began coaching the Golden Bears, rumors surfaced that he was going to take the head coaching a job at Michigan. So the next day at practice, in walked center Sean Marks ... donning a Michigan shirt.
“What are you doing?” Braun asked Marks.
“I’ve been hearing rumors. I don’t know what’s up,” Marks responded.
“Sean, there’s nothing to that!” Braun yowled back.
“I haven’t heard it refuted,” Marks answered.
Braun quickly called a press conference to clear it up.
“I don’t like Sean Marks,” said Braun, now the head coach at Rice. “I love him. ... He’s a wild guy.”
More than a decade later, the 35-year-old Marks serves as a backup center for the Trail Blazers, his bank account enjoying a full-course meal thanks to the numerous injuries infecting the organization’s big men. This past November, the 6-foot-10 New Zealand native signed a one-year deal with Portland and has played in 23 of the team’s 44 games.
But this was hardly a foreign scenario for Marks. Turns out that practice at Cal would be a bit prophetic.
Now on his sixth NBA team, Marks has worn a whole lot of different attire.
“It’s not easy moving around, and there are a lot of things that happen that a normal person wouldn’t understand,” said Marks, affectionately known as “Kiwi” among his teammates. “You have to uproot every two years or so, but this is a dream come true. The chance to do what you love for a living is so rare.”
If one had to draw a picture epitomizing Marks’ basketball career, it might include him sporting a fanny pack and holding a camera. The man has been the consummate NBA tourist.
How many people can say they played alongside Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan and Vince Carter in their primes? How many hoopsters can say they played under legends such as Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich?
And perhaps most significantly, how many current Blazers can say they’ve won an NBA championship? Just Marks, actually, who earned his ring with the Spurs in 2005.
Best coach you ever played for?
“Gregg Popovich,” Marks said.
Best player you ever played with with?
“I think it’s gotta be Timmy Duncan.”
Of course, “played” is used loosely in both instances. “Shared a practice court with” may be the more appropriate phrasing.
In his first eight years in the league, Marks never stepped on the floor more than 25 times in a season. In the 2008-09 season, he logged 60 games with the Hornets — clogging up space with his frame and stretching out the defense with his jump shot — but played only 14 the following year.
Portland gave him his chance after center Fabricio Oberto abruptly retired due to a heart condition.
Marks’ reaction to landing the gig? Half a cup joy, half a cup guilt.
After all, his wife gave birth to his son Owen just four days earlier.
“At first there was definitely a little, ‘am I doing the right thing going out there and living my dream?’ ” said Marks, who’s averaging 1.7 points per game with the Blazers and 2.8 for his career. “My wife understands. But if she would have said, ‘no way, you gotta be home,’ then I would have stayed home.”
Marks’ practical-joke quota has dwindled since the days he and Manu Ginobili used to freeze each other’s clothes. He’ll occasionally attempt some Spanish with Rudy Fernandez or try and clown Australian-raised Patty Mills, but nothing much beyond that.
And Twitter users can’t help but poke fun at his less-than-intimidating nature, offering up gems like “Sean Marks already has a double-double — 2 points and 2 rebounds!” or “Sean Marks put Blake Griffin on a layup poster.”
But hey, if you can dish it, you can take it, right?
So Marks chuckles at the barbs, but despite the overwhelming odds against the Blazers, still hopes to have the last laugh.
“When I was part of a championship team in San Antonio, I thought I could walk away happy,” Marks said. “I cherish that, but I want to win another one. That’s a bond that lasts forever.”