Sports reporter Tommy Craggs spent a lot of time with basketball star Stephon Marbury last year while writing a profile of him for New York magazine.
One of their interactions that did not make the final story dealt with the revelation that Craggs was an atheist.
Craggs tells his story at Deadspin:
It began when I spotted a Bible on the end table and asked if [Marbury] had read any of it today.
“I’m in Genesis,” he explained. “I’m reading from the front to the back.”
“The good stuff’s up front,” I offered.
Marbury agreed. “Genesis is hot.”
He turned to me. I knew where this was going. “What’s your religion?” he asked.
I told him I had none.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about you and your relationship with — you believe in God, right?”
“You don’t believe in God?”
Marbury chewed on this for a moment. “Everybody’s different,” he said. “You don’t believe in God. So … are you an atheist?”
Yes, I would say so.
Some bad Abbott and Costello dialogue ensued. Marbury began poking at the edges of my non-belief. He was trying to take its measure.
“So that’s like you not believing — like, if I said to you, somebody could jump from the free-throw line, you automatically don’t believe it?”
It’s nothing like that.
“So you don’t believe there was a Jesus Christ?”
I do. He was a great carpenter.
Marbury laughed. “That’s cool. That’s what you believe.”
We went on in this vein for awhile. I expressed the standard skepticism about Noah and the 300-cubit-long boat that could somehow accommodate the rough equivalent of the San Diego Zoo, at which point Marbury dropped the following thought on my head that we now pick up midstream:
“… Why does green mean that’s the color green? Why can’t you say another word for green being green? Know what I’m saying?”
I did not.
“If your mind can transform thoughts to create rockets to go into space, who is to say if an Ark was built? Like, if you could build spaceships to go from off this ground, to go up into the sky, and go land on the moon — you’re saying, these things can’t happen? So everything gets challenged, you understand what I’m saying?”
I did not, but he was rolling now.
“So at that time, they probably would say, ‘Nobody can make a rocket to go up into space.’ You know what I’m saying? Who’s gonna build it, how they gonna built it to go all the way up?”
It soon emerged that Marbury had never met an atheist. And so, for a half-hour, he turned the questions onto me. He asked if I felt lost. He asked if I felt confused. He asked what I wanted out of life. He invited me to church. (Marbury goes to Christian Cultural Center, a megachurch at the far edge of Brooklyn. It’s the sort of church that has ATMs. A few weeks after this interview, I texted Marbury and asked if his offer was still good, joking stupidly that God might strike me down at the door. He responded: “GOD will never strike you down. GOD is love and love is love. You don’t get it, and that’s ok. In time.”) Atheism seemed to confound him. I ventured that in fact he probably had met an atheist before, and that many, if not all, of the journalists covering him are very likely atheists (not that I had any evidence). “For real?” Marbury replied. He thought that over for what seemed like a long time.
The next day, after practice, I was milling around the sideline with the rest of the media. I heard someone call out.
“Hey, Tommy! Tommy!”
It was Marbury, splayed lengthwise and propped on an elbow. He was rolling back and forth on some sort of padded cylinder. I went over to him. The beat guys, none of whom knew me from Adam, turned to look at me. “All?” Marbury asked, gesturing to the press. “All of them?” Embarrassed, I explained the matter to my colleagues. Howard Beck, from the New York Times, just shook his head and smiled thinly and began to walk away. “I’m not even going to touch that.”