Stephon Marbury: The NBA player who embraced China
It’s almost official: American basketball legend Stephon Marbury looks set to get a Chinese green card on Christmas Day.
Already one of China’s most popular athletes, the former NBA superstar from New York, is believed to be the first foreign celebrity to receive permanent residency.
He broke the news earlier this month in a post on his official Weibo microblog page.
"Being the first foreign basketball player to receive a green card means a lot in making history in China," he wrote. "I’m so blessed and thankful to receive my Chinese green card. I feel like my love for China is being shown in the same way."
A difficult permit to get
China’s green card policy was introduced in 2004 and is a notoriously difficult permit to obtain because of the stringent requirements for residency.
Earlier this year however, Chinese media reported the government had eased rules and procedures, in a move to attract foreign investment. Applicants are required to hold professional titles and have made "outstanding contributions" to China.
They must have worked in the country for more than four years and have sound tax records. Officials say that only 5,000 foreigners were granted permanent residency between 2004 and 2013. There are an estimated 600,000 foreigners in the country.
Stephon Marbury became one of these in 2010, when he wrapped up his career in the NBA and joined the world of Chinese basketball.
Welcome to Beijing’
Chinese fans on Weibo welcomed him to the club.
"China welcomes all forms of talent to our shores," said Weibo user Fan Hui Han. "We love the sport that you champion and it is truly an honour to call you one of our own."
"You have brought unprecedented glory to all of us in Beijing! This is the best way we can repay you," commented a user in the capital.
Another said: "Welcome to Beijing! Few foreigners have embraced our country and culture like you have. China loves and supports you."
From NBA to CBA
Mr Marbury was an NBA All-Star player in 2001 and 2003. He has played with several basketball teams including the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and the New Jersey Nets.
Since he arrived in China, he has led the Beijing Ducks to national victory, winning three Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) championships.
This year, China immortalised Mr Marbury with an arena statue, and he got his own postage stamp in April.
Earlier this week, a museum dedicated to the star opened in Beijing, displays photos of his US career and now his life in China.
"Today was one of the best days of my life in opening my own museum," he wrote on his Weibo page. "I couldn’t have dreamed this dream for myself although God has created another miracle in this life for me."
He also added: "Without my teammates, coaches and fans from Beijing, this wouldn’t be possible."
Basketball is a national obsession among many fans in China, where it has often been referred to as the country’s "true" national sport.
US basketball stars like Kobe Bryant, Dennis Rodman and American-Chinese player Jeremy Lin all have official accounts on Weibo - China’s popular and regulated microblogging platform.