John Starks was Zach LaVine before Zach LaVine.

The former All-Star played 14 years in the NBA, including an eight-year stint with the Knicks from 1990-1998, and was one of the more memorable dunkers during his heyday. Remember when he posterized Michael Jordan during the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals?

While Starks is no longer throwing it down at Madison Square Garden, he remains active with the Knicks as an Alumni Relations and Fan Development Advisor. He stopped by the NBA Store in New York City on 5th Ave. Friday to celebrate its Spring Jam event. And with New York City schools enjoying spring break this week, families and tourists alike flocked to the store with many anxiously waiting to meet-and-greet Starks.  

But before the former Knickerbocker met up with fans, he spoke to Complex Sports about the playoffs, Jordan and LeBron James comparisons, and how the Warriors would stack up against the 1996 Bulls.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

So what’s going on at the NBA Store today?
It’s Spring Jam. We have sales going on. We have kids out, parents out. It’s spring break time so we wanted to give them a good deal to buy some incredible NBA products.

Is this your first time at the store?
No. I had been here probably about a month ago. I did an interview here. It’s a beautiful store, I think it’s even  better than the one we had up on 52nd. So I’m excited that the NBA came back with a grand store such as this.

Changing course to the playoffs, how far do you think the Warriors can go without Stephen Curry?
I say it like this: They’re probably about the deepest team in the league. They’re probably the only team that can lose a superstar and still get by. Shaun Livingston is a big time point guard. He can score, he can defend, he can do a lot out there. He obviously doesn’t give the [outside] shooting Steph gives you, but he does all the other intangibles that make him very successful.

Now I know the Knicks in 1998 against the Heat had no Patrick Ewing, so you guys were without a superstar. So I guess you were in a similar situation to the Warriors. What’s the team’s mindset like in a situation like that?
Well everybody feels like they have to expand their roles and have to pick it up. You can’t go out there and press. You just have to go out there and play your game, but you have to do a little bit more. Guys that probably weren’t getting as much playing time are now getting more playing time, and so you just have to be prepared to go out there and play a hard-nosed basketball game.

Is that what you did when Ewing went down that year?
Yeah. It was tough because Patrick was down because of a suspension that playoff year [during the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat]. So I was out in Game 7 and Patrick was out in Game 6.

Hypothetical? Chicago would probably sweep them.

I know you played through the dynasty years against the Bulls. I know this year there’s kind of a feeling of inevitability in the Western Conference that it will be either the Spurs or the Warriors, and you kind of see that in the Eastern Conference too with LeBron James now making it to the Finals five years in a row. Did you ever feel as a player that there was a kind of inevitability that the Bulls were going to win, is that something a player feels?
No, not really. I think you have to have confidence in the team, knowing you can go out there and beat anybody on any given night, and so obviously I would throw Oklahoma City in there on the west. So there’s no given that the Spurs are gonna get there. There’s no given that the Warriors are gonna get there. And there’s no given in the east that the Cavs are gonna get there. But they do have arguably the best player in the league with LeBron. And that supporting cast with Kyrie [Irving] and Love, J.R. [Smith] and all those guys are healthy this year compared to last year going into the Finals. So I think it’s likely you will have to give them the edge. But like I said, it’s no given. 

Now going back to LeBron, you obviously played against Jordan. Everybody loves to talk about Jordan and LeBron. Where would you evaluate LeBron on the Jordan scale?
Well, LeBron is a different type of player. He’s more of a power player. He can obviously take you off the dribble. He’s not as good of a shooter as Michael, obviously. But LeBron learned that he’s an oversized power forward with a lot of speed and a lot of strength. I think he realized it the year they won the championship against Oklahoma City. When he started playing from the post and started making plays. But they’re two different players, people try to compare them, Michael was different animal more so than LeBron. 

So you don’t put one ahead of the other, you kind of just put them in two different categories then?
Well obviously if you compare them, you’d have to put Michael up there. He’s done the most and so you know, me personally I played against Michael, I didn’t have a chance to play against LeBron. But I’d put Michael up there.

Going back to your playing days, you played in 1996 against those Bulls. Where would you put the Warriors on the ‘96 Bulls scale? Who do you think would win in a hypothetical?
Hypothetical? Chicago would probably sweep them.

You think?
Yeah.

Sweep?
Yeah.

Not even one win?
Not one win.

Really? Why is that?
[The Bulls] were a great, dominant defensive team. The Warriors are really not a great dominant defensive team. They play good defense but they’re not dominant defensively. If Chicago wants to lock you down, they’ll lock you down. You know you’re talking about, you have Michael, Scottie [Pippen], you had Dennis Rodman, you had Ron Harper. Those four guys right there and then you talk about [Toni] Kukoc coming off the bench. Who’s gonna guard him? They don’t have anybody to guard him, they got nobody to guard him.

It’s really an unfair question. It’s really not doing the Warriors justice. They are the best in today’s game and that style of play. You have to give it to them. You go 73 games and stay focused that long, it’s just amazing what they accomplished. But I’m always going to go back to that era.

 

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