John Starks never stopped hustling on the basketball court, so it's not a surprise that he has brought that same tenacity to his life after playing. Of course, you can find him at Knicks home games as the team's alumni and fan development advisor. But beyond that, he is a busy man, always on the cutting edge of something new. He is the co-founder of Zipway warm-up pants featuring patented zipper technology; the celebrity spokesman for Ektio basketball sneakers featuring built-in ankle braces; and, what is most dear to his heart, the founder and president of The John Starks Foundation, which continues to grow in its 17th year.
Last night, Starks was lacing up a different kind of shoes: bowling shoes. At New York City's Lucky Strike Lanes, he was hosting his second annual celebrity bowling tournament with all proceeds benefiting his foundation, which provides college scholarships to disadvantaged high school students. Those in attendence included Ronny Turiaf, Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams, ex-Knicks Allan Houston and Charles Smith, New York Giant Justin Tuck, Atlanta Hawks Maurice Evans and Etan Thomas, and former NBA player Cliff Robinson.
After Starks was done bowling and handing out his autographed memorabilia to several lucky winners, we took a seat by one of the bowling lanes and chatted about the event, Black History Month, the Knicks and, of course, Carmelo Anthony.
How did you enjoy tonight?
It's been fabulous. The first year was a very successful one and everybody couldn't stop talking about it, so I decided to bring it back here. Obviously the atmosphere is great and it's a grown-up atmosphere, so it’s great.
I know you're a golfer and also host a celebrity golf tournament. How's your bowler side?
[laughs] The bowler … so-so. I'm a little bit better out there on the golf course, but you know what? It's just about having fun, raising a lot of money for a lot of needy kids and, as you can see, everybody had a great time.
What was your high game today, by the way?
I saw you had a strike in the first frame of your first game.
Yeah. It's like golf, you know. When you get a birdie on the first hole, they always, "You’re going straight downhill." Same thing in bowling.
But the good thing is you can't lose your ball out here.
That's true, that's true.
Since you started the foundation in 1994, what's impressed you about its growth and where do you see it going from here?
Well, what's been so beautiful is that everything has been progressing year after year since we started the foundation in '94. The events have gotten bigger; we've added more events. Jennifer Alpert came on board and has been the executive of the foundation, and it just kind of skyrocketed after that. We're excited about what the future holds for the foundation. We'll get more and more people interested in what we're doing, and I think that's how we'll continue to grow it.
Recognizing Black History Month, what messages are important to send to kids in the African-American community?
Well, the most important thing is really education, especially within the African-American community, as well as the minority community in general. You can't give up on it. I think so many kids get discouraged about what goes on, especially within the school system. They don't see it as a future for them, but that is the future and they have to really, truly understand that without a good education, there's nowhere you're going to go in life. So we try to continue to instill that and continue to push that message through.
How many scholarships have you awarded?
Oh, man. Since the inception of the foundation, I think we've given over 200 scholarships, which is good. We want to do more. We want to do a lot more. We want to give a lot more money to these kids.
Thinking about the African-American athletes who were pioneers in making it possible for others to be successful, who were some of the guys you idolized growing up?
Well, Dr. J was a guy who I looked up to growing up. Michael Jordan, obviously, when I was in college was another one of the guys. But Dr. J really was a guy who really inspired me to continue to play basketball.
So let's talk about the Knicks. What are your thoughts on the season so far?
I love it. Obviously the year could be a lot better, but right now they're sitting in sixth place, which is great considering where we've been over the last five or six years. The team is really accepting to what's going on in the city, and the city really has grabbed a hold of the excitement that's building over at the Garden. These are all new faces here, and you've got some guys, like Wilson Chandler, who are really having a breakout season this year. You look at Landry Fields who came in here out of nowhere and who possibly would have been the Rookie of the Year this year [if not for] Blake Griffin. Then you're talking about Amare Stoudemire who's a superstar and who really took a big step to be a part of something that's moving in the right direction. And then you bring in Raymond Felton, a very solid point guard. So I think we've got a making of a great team. Obviously they have to continue to play forward, as they say, in this league. You can't think about what's going on behind you. You just have to look towards the future, and right now this team is sitting in sixth place going into the All-Star break. Hopefully they'll get a win tonight against the Hawks, and come out of here with a fresh new start in the second half of the season.
Do you see a little bit of your '90s Knicks teams in this year's group?
Yeah, I see the excitement, I really do. I see the excitement building and the fans are really behind them right now. You hear the chants of defense now going, and they wanted to do that for the longest time.
You also hear "Go NY Go NY Go!" That's from your days.
Exactly. It's a lot fun, man. I'm really enjoying it and watching this thing continue to build.
As far as Carmelo Anthony goes, how did you deal with any trade rumors when you were a player? Were they ever on your mind?
Nah, nah, you don't think about it. Maybe when you're sitting at home and you hear about it. But once you take the floor, you don't think about it. You just go out there and you play your game, and really focus on what you need to do in order to get a win. If you go out there thinking about it, you're letting your teammates down, so you can't do that.
Do you think something might happen before the February 24th trade deadline?
I'm not sure. It's really up to what goes down. You've got a couple of teams that are involved in that whole process, and you just have to wait and see the situation.
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