By Brian Taylor
Last week’s “Hey” segment was about one of the protagonists of the Knicks-Pacers wars of the early 90’s, highlighting the 7’4” nuisance known as Rik Smits. This week, I wanted to take a look at a guy on the Knicks side that made the battle just as fun, as cutthroat and as entertaining a rivalry I’ve ever seen in sports. I’m talking about your boy (and Spike Lee’s), John Starks.
Everyone loves the story of an underdog. It makes an even better story when said dog is a little on the edge, and bites a few mailmen on the way. That was Starks in a nutshell. The 6’3” guard from Tulsa was on the Kurt Warner Track (minor leagues, bagging groceries until being discovered) to the league, and stands out as one of the few undrafted rookies to make an impact, like Ben Wallace. Starks was balling out in Oklahoma, when his brother sent some of his highlight tapes to the staff at Oklahoma State, where John got some playing time. He had a brief, free agent stint at Golden State, but got into a beef over playing time with then-coach Don Nelson. After surviving “Nellyville” in Oakland, Starks spent a year in the CBA before getting picked up by the Knicks.
In New York, “the underdog” tried to mark his territory off the break, when he tried to dunk on a tree named Patrick Ewing. Starks was blocked, and suffered a fall of Grant Hill-Sprite commercial proportions, which broke his arm. The Knicks’ brass wanted to cut him, but because of his injury, they kept him. Dave Checketts admired his heart and well….subtle craziness and signed him up for the 1990-1991 season.
Fast forward to the NBA Playoffs, where the Knicks were trying their hardest to dethrone the Jordan Dynasty. Starks’ defining moment came in the 1993 playoffs, when New York was hosting the Bulls on NBC. Everyone knows that in those series, Jordan was like the tormenting, older brother, who would basically tease John Starks by doing whatever he wanted, but in this game, John got even.
With the ball on the wing, Ewing set a screen for John on the Bulls’ B.J. Armstrong. Starks, deciding he’d had enough of the Michael Jordan Show, spun away from Ewing’s screen into traffic to bash one of the sickest playoff dunks ever on His Airness and Horace Grant. Don’t believe me? Peep the YouTube clip and tell me you’re not hype afterwards.
Starks would always run into the “Jordan Wall” in the playoffs until 1994, when Mike gave the league a break. With the Knicks beating the Bulls in the infamous “Pippen Headache Game”, New York was finally going to the Finals. Riley’s boys played the Dream’s Rockets to seven games, but in the last game, Starks was brick-tastic, with an anemic 2-18 night, including a missed trey at the end that would’ve won it.
Starks was also antagonized by the Pacers’ Reggie Miller. Who can forget the time Reggie kept stealing the Knicks inbounds passes and knocking down threes like mad, angering Spike Lee and taunting Starks in the process? John gave Reggie Miller a few headbutts in those series, and those two had some great battles, ask Spike.
After being traded back to Golden State (for Sprewell), then Chicago (this was like Larry signing with the Lakers…I couldn’t believe it) John stopped in Utah for the last time before laying it down for good in 2002. He has a foundation named after him that gives scholarships to high school seniors, so if you want to see some NBA positivity, hit him up at http://www.johnstarks.com