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John Starks aims to protect players' feet

When former Knick John Starks played, his mission was to get in players' heads. Now, he wants to get on their feet. Starks is promoting the upcoming launch of Ektio basketball sneakers, which are clinically-tested to reduce the No. 1 orthopedic injury: sprained ankles. They are the brainchild of radiologist Dr. Barry Katz, who named them after two Greek words, "ektor" and "alexio," which mean to "defend" and "protect." Available starting two weeks from today (November 15) on Ektio.com for $199.99, the shoes feature a built-in brace and outside bumpers on the sole to help stabilize the ankles. While the Ektio sales team is focused on grassroots, high school and college marketing initiatives -- Centenary College is their first partner for the upcoming 2010-11 season -- Starks is working to push the product within NBA circles. Recently, Starks stopped by the ESPN offices to unveil the kicks and give us the inside scoop.

Courtesy of Ektio

The new shoe.

On his initial reaction to putting them on: "When Barry first showed me the shoe, I was like any other athlete. I had reservations if this thing was going to work or not. But when I looked at it, I could see where the benefits come in with the straps. You had shoes out there with straps before, but you’ve never had shoes out there with straps put in the shoes. Once I put it on, and had an understanding about the concept of the bumpers themselves on how they prevent you from rolling your ankle, it’s just an incredible device to stop you from turning your ankle. Also, you would think because of the straps it would be a heavy shoe, but it’s just as light as any other shoe. That’s very important from a player’s standpoint."

On the strengths of the shoes: "My main concern was, would it restrict you? Because as players you have to have that movement. Can you go out there and perform at a high level, and still have the comfort and the safety that this shoe provides? As soon as you put it on, you can feel it. You can feel the secureness in your foot and you can feel that it doesn’t restrict any movement at all, so that you can go out there and play at a high level. They really don't prohibit your ankle. It’s not like you’re in a ski boot where you have no movement. They give you that flexibility within the shoe itself where you can still move in different directions and your ankle still has that performance ability to go ahead and perform. For me, the more I get it on players, the more they'll understand how this can really benefit and help extend their career. Because a lot of guys ended their careers with ankle injuries. I feel that this product is going to change the game in the footwear industry, where a lot of companies are going to want to get in on what we’re doing over here."

On how the high-top Ektio may not interest guards, like Kobe Bryant types, who prefer low-tops for more mobility on the court: "In all honesty, if those guys weren’t wearing tape, they wouldn’t be playing in those low-tops at all. They just think that the tape is the reason why they can’t go ahead and roll their ankles. I’d probably wear low-tops too if I was playing in today’s game. I would probably try them because I’ve got the tape on. But if I didn’t have the tape on, I wouldn’t wear low-tops because psychologically I’d know that any minute I can roll my ankle. The tape protects you up to a certain point from breaking your ankle, even though you can go ahead and roll it severely. The tape does help a little bit once you feel your ankle hit the floor. But remember when Isiah [Thomas] went down? He was playing in low-tops at the end of his career."

On how he can compete with the NBA sneaker endorsement game: "Not every guy gets a contract nowadays -- not like back when I played when everybody from the players to the assistant coaches had contracts. Now only maybe the top three or four guys on the team get contracts. The rest of them just get products. So they’re not getting paid to wear the product; they’re just getting it. It’s easier now to grab a couple of players and get them to wear the shoe."

On the edge he thinks Ektio has in the marketplace: "You need something out there that’s going to be functional, as well as having style. We have both. Style definitely helps sell the shoe, but we’re selling safety first and foremost, and I think that’s the edge that we have over all the big companies."

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.