John Levell Starks (born August 10, 1963 in Tulsa, Oklahoma).
John Starks’ story is really interesting. He was not the typical NBA star. John Starks has not been drafted by any team as none of them thought that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He finally signed with the Warriors, as a free agent, in 1988 but got cut a year later. He then played in the CBA and tried again to play in the NBA with the Knicks in 1990. This time he did it but with some help from his, latter, good friend; Patrick Ewing. The legend has it, that during a practice Starks tried to dunk on Ewing but the huge Jamaican threw him on the floor. Starks got injured and the Knicks could not get rid of him and this is how they got “stuck” with him, which was something that finally worked out in the benefit of both sides.
John Starks was not the super talented all-star shooting guard. But he became an all-star because he was determined, hard worker and competitive in nature. Although he was not an original New Yorker he had all the characteristics of the tough straight outta Harlem guy (at least the way documentaries or stories about Harlem describe them as I have never been to Harlem!!!) that made him really popular amongst the Knicks’ fans. Of course the main reason that Starks became so popular in New York was his attitude and the way he approached the game that fitted perfectly the style of play the Pat Riley wanted for his Knicks during the 90s. Another thing was his role in New York’s rivalry with two of the most hatred figures in Madison Square Garden; Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller.
The rivalry between the Bulls and the Knicks was the greatest of the 90s and John Starks had been considered, falsely, as the solution to the MJ problem. All I have to say is that I enjoyed their duels and although MJ was the clear winner, John Starks stood tall and had his moments. I will never forget “the dunk” in 1993 play-offs nor the “360 degree lay-up” in 1996 play-offs. But during the 90s the Knicks was a team that simply created rivalries everywhere (Bulls, Pacers and Heat) and John Starks had to face another great competitor; Reggie Miller. This was a more balanced battle but I could say that Miller made some emphatic statements on whether he was better or not during the 1994 and 1995 play-offs where he literally abused the whole Knicks defence and left John Starks wondering!!!
Anyhow, John Starks was never a superstar but he knew how to handle his superstar opponents; by trying to even the difference in talent with a lot of attitude and some times pure inspiration. Starks had his best season in 1993-94 when he participated in the only all-star game of his career, as a sub for the Eastern Conference, and had also his best numbers in ppg. with 19.0, apg. with 5.9 and spg. with 1.6. 1993-94 was also the season that himself and the Knicks came close to win the NBA title as they lost 4-3 to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. In the previous season 1992-93 he had been selected for the 2nd all-defensive team, in 1994-95 he led the NBA in 3pt field goals made and attempted and finally in 1996-97 he was coming from the bench but was named Sixth Man of the Year. In January 1999 he was traded to Warriors (with Terry Cummings and Chris Mills for Latrell Sprewell) and missed New York’s second unsuccessful trip to the NBA Finals (lost 4-1 to the Spurs).
I could write more and more things about Stark’s career as there were many more interesting moments and performances but this is not the point of this post. I will always remember John Starks not as a rival of MJ or Reggie “Killer” but as John Starks; an all-star player that combined hard work, attitude and imagination.