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John Starks: The Fierce Competitor That Won The Heart Of New York City

John Starks: The Fierce Competitor That Won The Heart Of New York City

The height of the NBA's popularity occurred in the mid-90s. Michael Jordan was dominating the league, when he wasn't playing baseball, that is.

The Detroit Pistons, known as the “Bad Boys” of the 1980s, were gone, and a new team took over that “Badboy” persona.

That team was the New York Knicks, and they were led by star center, Patrick Ewing. Along with Ewing, they had some hard hitters like Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.

One of the fiercest players they had wasn't one of their big men, he was a little guard that wouldn't back down to anyone, including Michael Jordan. I'm talking about John Starks.

College Career

John Starks' college career isn't like most other players. Starks attended four colleges during his four-year college run.

Starks first attended Rogers State College, in Claremore, Oklahoma, in 1984. His stay at Rogers State wouldn't be long.

Starks was expelled for stealing another student's stereo equipment in retaliation for the student breaking into Starks' dorm.

Rogers State held him and his roommates financially responsible for the damage.

Starks transferred to Northern Oklahoma College and in the spring of 1985, he made the basketball team.

Before he ever played a game of basketball for Northern Oklahoma College, Starks had to serve his 5-day sentence for the theft of the stereo equipment.

Starks would play at Northern Oklahoma College for only a little while before getting caught smoking marijuana in his dorm.

In the summer of 1986, Starks enrolled at Tulsa Junior College. While he was playing intramural basketball, the former coach of Oral Roberts University, Ken Trickey, saw Starks, and he immediately wanted him for his basketball program at Oklahoma Junior College.

This led to Starks earning a scholarship at Oklahoma State University the next year, where he played his final year at college, averaging 15.4 points per game.

NBA Career

The 1988-89 NBA Draft came and went without Starks being drafted. He'd eventually sign with the Golden State Warriors, but he'd find only limited playing time behind fellow rookie, Mitch Richmond.

The Warriors would cut Starks a year later, and he'd end up going the minor league route.

Starks played for the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets of the Continental Basketball Association and the Memphis Rockers of the World Basketball League before finding his big break in 1990.

Starks tried out for the New York Knicks and during the tryout, he attempted a dunk on Patrick Ewing, which resulted in Starks being slammed to the ground.

The outcome of this fall was Starks twisting his knee. The Knicks planned on cutting Starks after the practice, but since he injured himself, he had to go on the injury list.

So, Starks hung around and when he finally got healthy, the Knicks gave him a chance to play.

Starks would play in 61 games during the 1990-91 season. He only played 19.2 minutes per game and scored 7.6 points per game.

But he was back in the NBA, on the biggest stage, in New York City. Soon, people would know his name.

By the time the 1992-93 NBA playoffs arrived, Starks' name hit the national media.

The Knicks played the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs that year. In Game 3, Pacers' guard Reggie Miller was getting under Starks' skin.

Miller kept repeatedly elbowing Starks, and when Starks reached out to a referee for help, this is the response he received:

“I remember, he kept hitting me with ‘bows. He hit me with a ‘bow, and I told the referee, and the referee said, ‘Starks, shut up and play.’ I was like, ‘OK, I can handle this.‘ I scored on him and ran up the court, and I was so mad; I wanted to take my fist and put it through his face.”

Starks did not put his fist through Miller's face. Instead, he headbutted him.

“We just got close, and just, BAM just tapped him like that, and he knows, he dramatic, Hollywood,” Starks said about the headbutt.

After the headbutt, Starks was still steaming mad. His teammates, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley rushed to “scold” him.

Ewing and Oakley began hitting Starks, yelling at him, trying to get him to calm down.

They knew how much they needed Starks to win, and they didn't want him to get suspended.

“My mother called Patrick and told him, ‘If you ever put your hands on my son again…’” Starks said. “He said, ‘Ms. Starks, if he does that again, I’m going to do the same thing.’”

Starks wouldn't have to worry about his mother fighting his teammates. He controlled his emotions to help the Knicks beat the Pacers, in the next game, and the Charlotte Hornets in the second round.

The Knicks now found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. What stood in their way? Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

The Knicks held home-court advantage in the series, and they would jump out to a 1-0 series lead behind Starks' 25 points. Then, Game 2 happened.

The Knicks were blowing out the two-time defending champion Bulls, and it appeared the Knicks would actually take the unthinkable 2-0 series lead.

If there's one thing about Michael Jordan, it's that he doesn't quit. He took over and brought the Bulls right back into the game.

Less than a minute to play in the game, the Knicks held a 91-88 lead and the ball wound up in Starks' hands.

He dribbled down the right side of the court. After driving past B.J. Armstrong, Starks stormed toward the rim, unleashing a thunderous left-handed jam in the face of Horace Grant, whose goggles flew off his eyes, while Michael Jordan leaped to no avail.

Starks finished the game with only 12 points, but he helped the Knicks win the game 96-91 and more importantly, take that 2-0 series lead.

Things were looking great for Starks and the Knicks, but things would change in the series.

The Bulls took over, hitting from every angle, and the Knicks would not win another game in the series. The Bulls won the series 4-2 and the eventual NBA title.

The next season, Starks helped lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals to face the Houston Rockets.

The series was tied, 3-3, Game 7, one game left to become a champion or the first loser. How did Starks respond to this pressure? He had the worst game of his career.

Starks scored 8 points on a dismal 2-18 shooting, including 0-11 from three-point land.

The Knicks lost Game 7, 90-84, and this essentially would be the start of the downfall of Starks' career.

In two years, Starks' role changed from being a starter to a role player, and at first, things went great.

Starks won the 1996-97 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, yet only two years later, he'd be traded out of New York and back to Golden State.

After a decent one and a half years in Golden State, Starks was traded to his former arch-nemesis, the Chicago Bulls.

Starks would last four games in Chicago before they traded him to the Utah Jazz, and this is where he ended his career.

After the 2001-02 NBA season, at the age of 36, Starks decided to hang up the shoes.

Starks' career scoring average is a modest 12.5, but his hard work and never-give-up attitude invoked what New York City life is about, and for that, he'll always be a Knicks fan favorite.


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