John Starks was one of the most hated NBA players in history. Unless you’re a die-hard Knicks fan, and even then, there were times when he made you cringe. Sort of like the emotions JR Smith puts fans through. But one thing everyone respected about him was his heart and determination. Starks often had to guard the best player on the floor, that's a lot to ask of from an undrafted player. Most nights he stepped up to the challenge and was instrumental in the success the Knicks enjoyed throughout the ‘90s. We chopped it up with the Knicks legend about Michael Jordan, rivalries, and the Garden of Laughs that’s going down Saturday night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
So how do you feel about the Knicks so far?
I feel good about them. They’re in a good position at 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, leading their division. So you know they’re in a good position at the halfway point of the season right now.
How do they stack up to the Knicks teams you played on? Do you find any similarities? Any differences?
Yeah, they’re similar to our team. They’ve got a good mixture of veteran guys along with youth and that was the way we were set up during our run in the ‘90s. They’ve been hit by the injury bug lately with Felton, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace being out. But I’m looking forward to them when they get a complete healthy team back.
Your dunk in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals was recently named one of MSG’s 10 most “Defining Moments.” Tell us about the energy you felt in the Garden when you did “The Dunk?”
It was incredible. It was an incredible because we were fighting to get past Chicago finally. The game was still hanging in the balance when that play happened and when it happened the Garden erupted. It was a great feeling and being the one to do it, you know, was an incredible feeling for me.
Yea I had that poster on my wall man.
[Laughs] Okay, okay.
Do you consider that dunking on Mike though? Because that was on Horace, but Mike was in the picture and everybody always says, “He didn’t dunk on Mike.”
He’s in the picture trying to go for the block, so I’d have to say, yes. [Laughs]
Do you talk to Mike or Reggie now a days?
I talk to Mike a lot. I see Michael at various events and things like that. He’s a cool cat.
Do you guys still talk trash to each other?
Nah, not so much.
Only on the court?
We did a trash talkin’ list last week. Do you know anybody that talked trash that people might not really know about?
Oh man, that’s hard to say, I’m pretty sure you have Barkley and Reggie on there.
Yup, they’re on there.
I knew you had those two. Sprewell every now and again. When we used to play against each other we’d go at it pretty good, but more of a competitive talking trash.
So how do you feel about the rivalries in today’s game? Why aren't they as heated as they were back in the day?
Yeah, well I think just because the way the game is played now. It’s not as physical as when we played, you know? What I mean—and you know back when we played every game was highly contested from a defensive standpoint—so it brought out the best in each team and the fans really got into it because of all the physical play. It’s not that way so much because of the rules and a lot of these guys played AAU basketball together, so they’re friends more than rivals.
How do you think the Knicks are going to do in the playoffs this year?
They are going to be great. I think when you have a veteran squad like we do and guys that have been around for as long as they have such as Jason Kidd with the championship experience he brings to the Knicks, it’s going to make a big difference and, obviously, Carmelo they way he’s been playing at a high level. JR Smith too with the way he’s playing right now. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Tyson Chandler as well with what he brings to the table from a defensive standpoint. And don’t forget Coach Woodson. You can’t say enough about what he has done with this team this year by getting the best out of everybody. It’s going to be a lot of fun at the Garden and I know the city is going to be lit up during that particular time because we feel like we have a chance to get to the championship and win it all.
There’s some goons on this team like there were on those ‘90s teams. Guys that just go out there and aren’t afraid to give a hard foul.
Yeah, and you have to have that. Coach Woodson has really preached defense with this team and they are buying into it. That’s the most important thing because defense is going to hold you in games when your offense is not going well. So far, this season the defense has been keeping them in games until their offense gets going.
You have a lot of experience with the media and the fans. You had a love hate relationship with everybody. Have you given any of the stars like Carmelo and Amar’e advice on how to handle New York?
Not really. I think they’ve been doing a beautiful job with all the excitement that’s been going on, and these the two guys—the guys you mentioned—wanted to be here in New York and those guys have the mentality to deal with all the pressure that goes along with playing in New York and have been handling it very beautifully.
So tell us about the Garden of Laughs that’s coming up this weekend.
It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s happening this Saturday night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden and we have a lot of top headliners that will be coming out. Robert Klein, Whoopi Goldberg, and a few more. It’s going to be hosted by Bob Costas so it’s going to be an incredible high energy night for us. All the proceeds are going to go to the Garden of Dreams, so it’s going to be an incredible time. I am going to be one of the presenters, bringing one of the comedian acts out. I’m looking forward to it.
So what are some of the comedians you are looking forward to?
Whoopi Goldberg, that's my girl right there. She is off the chain, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she says. Ray Romano is going to be a blast too.
How many Whoopi Goldberg Eddie jokes do you hear on a day to day basis?
[Laughs] I don't hear them on a day to day basis, but I have always been a big fan of hers ever since she came on the scene and over the course of her career she has just been incredible. Her being on film as well as her stand up acts and her charitable contributions have just been incredible.