Incredible Basketball Bond Between Father and Son
Roy Marble reflects on his battle with stage 4 cancer
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. Roy Marble, father to the Magic’s Devyn Marble, lost his battle with stage 4 cancer in September. The Magic honor Roy and his heroic fight.
By John Denton
Oct. 9, 2014
ORLANDO -- The ceremonial passing of the torch between Roy Marble Sr. – the former University of Iowa legend – and Devyn Marble – son of Roy and a blossoming rookie with the Orlando Magic – came in the driveway over the summer with a heated game of knockout, basketball-style.
Roy Sr. walked outside with a cup of coffee in his hand to investigate when he heard a basketball bouncing on the pavement early on July 4th in Des Moines, Iowa. After taking some ribbing from Devyn and his younger brothers, the former college star sat down his coffee mug and engaged in the battle.
Soon, it was just Roy Sr. and Devyn still alive in the can-you-top-this shooting game, and quietly even the ultra-confident Roy Sr. didn’t like his chances against his strapping 6-foot-6, 200-pound son.
Shot by painstaking shot, Roy Sr. saw his 22-year-old son make the conversion from the pupil to master in dismantling the 47-year-old father. Trick shots that Roy Sr. had used for years to beat his son were now in his son’s arsenal. Even in defeat, the dad couldn’t help but beam with pride even though his healthy ego was a bit bruised.
``Everyone else was in the house and it was morning and I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. I just went outside to drink a cup of coffee and we got to teasing around and Devyn shot the ball and the next thing you know I said, `Man up!’’’ Roy Sr. remembered. ``We went for about 25 minutes, sometimes at least five minutes on each shot, because we’d both keep making ‘em.
``Devyn shot it up over the backboard, made the shot, laughed and handed me the ball. Next time, left hand off the glass,’’ Roy Sr. continued. ``I was mad that I lost, but I was actually proud of him. It was really him showing me who reigned around the house and it made me proud for him. I was actually really proud that I could turn it over to him.’’
That moment, Roy Sr. said, let him know that his oldest son was ready for anything that the NBA could throw at him in the months ahead as he tried to defy the odds and make the Orlando Magic’s roster as a second-round pick. And as it turns out, that momentous day in the driveway let Roy Sr. know that his son could handle the devastating news that would come just three weeks later.
In early August, Roy Sr. went to the doctor after being bothered by a swollen eye that was becoming increasingly blurry. Doctors found three tumors – one behind his eye, one on his temple and another on his face. More tests at University Hospital in Iowa City – just miles away from where Roy Sr. had become Iowa’s all-time leading scorer three decades earlier – also revealed that the tumors were malignant and that the Stage 4 cancer had spread to his lungs.
Roy Sr. initially downplayed the diagnosis when talking to Devyn, not wanting to burden his son and distract him from the summer work that he was putting in to get ready for the upcoming season with the Magic. Roy Sr. said his parents often shielded him from family tragedies years ago when he was preparing for big games, and he was simply doing the same for his son.
Uncle Jeron Marble (Roy Sr.’s brother) ultimately grabbed the phone that August day and devastated Devyn with the severity of his father’s condition. It was not a pretty picture, and it immediately left Devyn wondering just how much time he has left with his ailing father.
``He told me, but he kind of just brushed it off and didn’t tell me all of the story,’’ Devyn recalled. ``I didn’t have tears, but I just didn’t understand. Even though I’m a grown man, I just didn’t understand it and refused to think that he was sick. I kept telling myself that he was going to be all right. After going back to (Iowa) and talking to the doctors, it kind of hit me that this is serious. Now, we’re just taking it day-by-day and hoping for the best.’’
So far, Roy Sr. has been through radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy and he’s showing much of the same fight that allowed him to become one of the best basketball players in Big 10 history. A proud native of Flint, Mich., Roy Sr. still considers himself a tough guy and he said nobody would even know that he had cancer unless they had heard the scuttlebutt previously.
Fatigue is the only symptom that Roy Sr. has had to battle so far from the poisons being pumped through his veins to slow the growth of the tumors. That weariness wiped him out early Tuesday night even though Devyn was making his NBA preseason debut with the Magic. A phone call later than night from University of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery woke Roy Sr. up with the news that Devyn had scored 13 points – eight of them in overtime to lift the Magic to victory – and Roy Sr. had to wipe the tears away from his eyes.
Later, the proud father and son traded texts and he conveyed the pride that he was feeling. Roy Sr. said he was overcome with two prevailing emotions: One, his son had put to use all of the basketball knowledge that he had taught him the last few years as they had grown closer; and two, there was no surprise that Devyn had made jaws drop with a four-of-five shooting performance that included three deep 3-pointers. On Wednesday, he professed that his son’s success made him feel better than any medicine a doctor could have prescribed to him.
``Devyn has no idea – and I have tears in my eyes right now just talking about it – just how proud I am of him,’’ Roy Sr. said. ``He’s close with his dad just like I was close with my dad. Maybe it’s a first father/son thing. He knows basketball is basketball and life is life. Basketball is helping him grow up, but what he’s doing out there is giving me strength, too.’’
FAMOUS FATHER, FAMOUS SON
Roy Sr. starred at Iowa from 1985 through 1989, where he scored a school-record 2,116 points over four seasons. His stellar play with the Hawkeyes, where he regularly bested the likes of Michigan star Glen Rice and Michigan State standout Steve Smith in the Big 10, allowed him to be the 23rd pick of the 1989 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks.
Roy Sr. lasted just 24 games with the Hawks before he began playing for a series of CBA and professional teams in Canada. He did ultimately get another shot in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets where he played just five games before being relegated once again to the basketball backwaters of the minor leagues.
Chasing his basketball dream kept Roy Sr. away from Michigan home and his son, Devyn, who was raised predominantly by his mother. When Devyn would see his father from time to time, he would tell him that he would someday be a college basketball star and play in the NBA – just as his father had done years earlier.
``He was telling me in the ninth and 10th grades that he was going to play in the NBA and I’d tell him, `Man, you are built like a noodle,’’’ Roy Sr. remembered. ``I told him that everybody could say it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. When he said that about the NBA, I told him, `Man, hold that down and don’t tell a lot of people.’ I had to try and temper him a little bit.’’
Devyn ultimately blossomed into a standout high school player, and when it came time to pick a college, he had a couple of choices that included Iowa. Would Devyn dare attempt to follow in his father’s massive footsteps with the Hawkeyes? Why, of course, he would because he had the same sort of Michigan-bred swagger and chip-on-the-shoulder toughness as his ultra-competitive dad.
``I never thought of it like (following in his father’s footsteps). Everybody was telling me not to go there, but they weren’t telling me why. So I never understood why I shouldn’t go there,’’ Devyn said. ``We’re a competitive family and going to Iowa I always thought that I was going to be the best to ever play there, better than him.’’
Roy Sr., who still lives in the Iowa City area, said he had pause about his son playing for the same program where he starred. Roy Sr. has had a few run-ins with the law in recent years, but he is still a legend in the Iowa City area and said that to this day he regularly gets noticed at the gas station and grocery store by Hawkeyes fans. He ultimately came around to Devyn’s desires to try and outdo his dad.
``I had a 24-hour stretch where I thought about what he’d be facing because his dad really did tear this place apart when I played here,’’ Roy Sr. said with a big laugh. ``I was listening to a few people who had concerns. My thought was to talk to my son and look him in the eye.
``I realized by thinking he couldn’t follow me at Iowa that I was treating him like he’s inferior to me and he’s not,’’ Roy kept going. ``All competitors want that challenge. He wanted to roll with it. His mom wasn’t keen with (Devyn going to Iowa), but I didn’t want anybody underestimating him and that chip he has on his shoulder. He was working on his game relentlessly and I knew he’d do well here.’’
Ultimately, Devyn played so well at Iowa that he and his father became the first father/son duo in Big 10 history to each score at least 1,000 points. And in some ways, Devyn even managed to top his father by being named first-team All-Big 10 as a senior, something that Roy Sr. never accomplished.
One rub that the son had with his father’s alma mater: Devyn said that the school insisted on listing him as ``Roy Devyn Marble’’ or ``Roy Marble Jr.’’ to capitalize on his father’s fame. But Devyn had different plans, saying: ``I was proud of what he did and it gave me something to work toward. I wanted to be great and be better than somebody who was considered the best to ever come to the school, which was my father. … We’re just different players. Same bodies, but different players. I was able to establish my own identity, and with my personality, the fans were able to grasp onto me as Devyn Marble and not just his son.’’
Most importantly, Devyn’s four years at Iowa allowed him to spend more time with his father and catch up on lost time. Many afternoons, Roy Sr. would venture to campus and he and his son would play seemingly endless games of H-O-R-S-E that were filled with the old man’s trick shots.
``Once I got more into high school and college, we got closer. I grew up just with my mom and we had a long-distance relationship,’’ Devyn said of his dad. ``Once I got to (Iowa) and I was able to see him every day our bond started to develop. We share a lot of commonalities and that helped us repair that relationship.’’
NO GUARANTEES, NO STOPPING HIM
Roy Sr. hails from the hardscrabble area of Flint, Michigan, home to many other superstar athletes such as 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, two-time Super Bowl winner Carl Banks, NBA champion Glen Rice, one-handed Major League pitcher Jim Abbott, and numerous others such as Andre Rison, JaVale McGee, Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson.
While in Michigan, Roy Sr. got to know Scott Perry, who was once a highly successful high school coach in the area and ultimately went on to work for the University of Michigan and the Detroit Pistons. Perry, now a Vice President and Assistant General Manager for the Magic, played a major role in Orlando’s landing Devyn in a trade on draft night back in June.
As a second-round pick, there were no contractual guarantees for Devyn when he showed up in Central Florida for the Orlando Pro Summer League. He was basically on a make-good deal and knew that he needed to play well to have any shot of sticking with the Magic long term.
Devyn, a versatile and long-armed wing player capable of defending three positions, became one of the Magic’s surprises of the Summer League. He had a game with 16 points and another with eight rebounds. He ultimately averaged 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and hit five 3-pointers in five games. It was enough for the Magic to reward him with a contract and an invite to training camp.
``I’ve got a lot more work to do because I feel like I can be a very good player,’’ Devyn said. ``I just have to continue to grow each and every day. I just have to find a way to make an impact. Every night is not going to be me scoring, so it has to be rebounding or defending.’’
Roy Sr. said there was no shock whatsoever when his son won over Magic coaches and executives and earned a contract for the season. He took a trip to Chicago in May and saw his son working out with former NBA point guard and fellow Iowa alum B.J. Armstrong to get ready for the NBA Draft. Roy Sr. saw a player who would not be denied of his dreams of playing in the NBA.
``None of it surprises me because I’ve never seen a guy start in May like he did and then not stop until you’ve put out the last drop of sweat that you can put out,’’ Roy Sr. said of his son. ``I knew that when everybody saw how hungry this kid was that he would do well.
``Me and B.J. joked four or five years ago that (Devyn) would be here at this point,’’ Roy Sr. said. ``And for Scott Perry to be where he is now with the Magic, it’s amazing. I’m an original Flintstone and Scott Perry taught me about the integrity of basketball. And now he’s helped my son.’’
Devyn certainly helped himself on Tuesday night in his first official game as a NBA player. A starter throughout his four years at Iowa and someone who played 30.2 minutes a game last season, Devyn had to adjust to sitting on the bench for three quarters on Tuesday in Miami.
But seconds after entering the game midway through the fourth quarter, Marble drove hard to the hoop and banked a difficult shot high off the glass. That heighted his confidence and allowed him to bury a 3-pointer late in regulation and two more threes to start OT. Ultimately, eight of his 13 points came in the extra period as the Magic defeated the Heat 108-101.
Said fellow Magic rookie Aaron Gordon, who has spent several months with Devyn in Orlando while preparing for the season: ``I’m extremely proud of Devyn. He got out there on the floor and made the most of it. I’ve known for a long time that Devyn is a bucket (maker). That’s what he does – he’s a ballplayer – and it’s not surprising.’’
The surprise for Roy Sr. was the strong emotions that he felt late Tuesday night when he was awoken and told of his son’s exploits in his first NBA game. He went to the internet on Wednesday and reviewed each of his son’s baskets the way a coach would while scouting an opponent. What Roy Sr. saw was some of the high difficulty shots that he and his son would attempt during those shooting sessions in the driveway or at Iowa during the offseason.
Seeing his son do it in an actual NBA game, it sent energy coursing through Roy Sr.’s veins and breathed life into a body being ravaged by metastasizing tumors and Stage 4 cancer.
``I just really feel like I’m going to be OK. I’m going to prolong my life as long as I can, so I don’t want anybody throwing the towel in on me just yet. I want to be able to get down there to Orlando to see my son play,’’ Roy Sr. said.
``I just went through my second round of chemotherapy and I’m thinking positively because of what a lot of people told me I would feel like, but I haven’t shown any symptoms – thank God – and I’m still strong,’’ Roy Sr. added. ``What Devyn is doing, that just makes me stronger. People ask me what I’m doing on Friday and I say, ``Excuse me, I’m watching the (Magic) game (against the Indiana Pacers). I’m just looking forward to watching him to grow as a man and as a ballplayer. I will continue to build strength through him and hopefully he will do the same through me.’’