While the New York Knicks continued to stink up Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, losing 107-97 to three-starters-less Sacramento, there was a positive for Isiah Thomas' dreadful bunch.

The return of point guard Stephon Marbury.

Not every Knicks fan, I'm sure, was excited to see their mercurial No. 3 back in uniform, but I sure was pumped. Marbury is a key cog on my fantasy team, and his 16 points in 30 minutes Wednesday was a solid first game back.

But enough fantasy, let's talk reality.

Wednesday marked a full month since the death of Marbury's father, Don, on Dec. 2. During the month, Marbury briefly came back for bits and pieces of three games, but he missed 10 games. His case is extremely rare in today's fast-paced sports environment.

Usually, an athlete mourning a family member's death will miss one game — or two at the most — before returning to their team. Rejoining their teammates and staying busy is the best way for them to grieve, for them to get over their enormous personal loss.

But not for Marbury, which is very interesting.

I can only speculate as to what Marbury has gone through the past month. Losing a family member who was very close to him must have been extremely difficult. But returning to one of professional sports worst franchises couldn't have been too enticing either.

Was there more to Marbury's absence? Or was it a combination? I find it hard to believe that if Marbury was a key player on, say, the Dallas Mavericks, he would have taken off a month.

That's just me — and I might be entirely wrong — but it's not as if everything was rosy for Marbury before his father's passing. Almost three weeks prior to Marbury's personal tragedy, Thomas fined him a day's pay for leaving the team in Phoenix, because Marbury was angry about being pulled from the starting lineup.

Since then, there have been conflicting accounts from both parties as to whether Marbury informed Thomas he was leaving. But by all accounts, it was not a day in the sun for the soon-to-be 31-year-old Knick. Marbury flew to Los Angeles for the Knicks' next game against the Clippers, and there he was shaking Thomas' hand before playing 34 minutes in another loss, but were things truly peaceful between player and coach?

Again, questions we may never know the answers to.

To go back even farther, Marbury's name surfaced during the sexual assault case against Thomas prior to the season when it was learned he had consensual sex with an intern working for Anucha Browne Sanders. The former Garden employee eventually settled the lawsuit against Thomas and MSG to the tune of $11.5 million.

So the last four months of 2007 weren't exactly smooth for the bald-headed Marbury. His already flailing reputation as a point guard who shot too much and simply didn't win games was hurt by the benching incident followed by the flight out of Phoenix. His off-the-court reputation wasn't helped by the revelation in the lawsuit — Marbury is married, after all.

But a month removed from his father's death, a more-at-peace Marbury made his return to MSG Wednesday night. Longtime New York Times columnist George Vecsey described Marbury's demeanor as "as soft and gracious as he had ever seemed." Marbury, Vecsey said, came back because of his faith in God.

Which sounds good, but how many times have we heard an athlete thank God or praise God for their accomplishments? How many times, during the course of a game, do players point to the sky with both fingers to salute God?

Very, very often.

So what was Marbury's motivation for sitting out for most of a month? Is he, now in his 12th season in the NBA, depressed about his situation? Forget the $20 million he's making, we all know money doesn't buy happiness. Marbury has yet to lead a team anywhere close to the NBA Finals. He's no longer considered one of the league's premier point guards — or even one of the top 10 PGs.

Again, lots of questions, no real answers.

It's often easy to label athletes: Some are selfish players, some are consummate team guys; some are brainless, some are smarter than we think; some have a knack for getting in trouble, most are pretty decent citizens.

With Stephon Marbury, however, it's hard to know.

I'd like to think the month he took off was because he really was struggling to get over the death of his father, because he didn't think his return would be beneficial to the already-unfocused Knicks. I really would like to think that.

But as long as he produces for my fantasy team, I guess I won't worry too much about what's going on within that shaved noggin.

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