2005_04_johnstarks_big.jpgA fourteen year veteran of the NBA, John Starks was the point guard for the New York Knicks during the 1990-1998 seasons, giving sports fans many unforgettable moments, especially in Eastern Conference playoffs with the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in the middle of his New York career. Gothamist got to ask him a few questions as he has returned to Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks' Alumni and Fan Development Adviser.

First things first, what does it mean to be an "Alumni and Fan Development Advisor"? Are you in charge of making sure that fans like Spike Lee and Woody Allen are kept in line?
{laughs} Hardly. My job is to keep the former players involved in what we’re doing; and to be a liaison between the Knicks and the fans. Do a lot of community outreach.

How are NYC fans different from other cities' fans?
Honesty. They are very honest about how they feel about you. They don't "put on no front," you know? If you're out there not doing your job, they're going to let you know you're not doing your job. Unlike in other arenas, where they might clap and try to pull you up, New York fans are very honest about how you're doing out there on the court.

What is your favorite memory of playing in the Garden?
When we beat Indiana in Game 7 to go the championship [in the 1993-94 season]. This place felt like the roof was going to explode.

Did you enjoy coaching the Westchester Wildfire? Was that a trip for you?
Yeah. I learned a lot about coaching. It’s different being on the sideline – down the bench; actually making decisions. I respect coaches even more than I did before. They go through some tough times, and once you’re on the other end of that bench, you start to understand the pressure of getting guys – your guys – ready to go out and play.

Would you do it at the NBA level?
Oh, yeah. I would love the opportunity. I think I’d be a good coach. I still have a lot to learn, though. Like anything – like basketball – you have to hone your craft, so to speak.

The media enjoys second-guessing Knicks personnel moves. To counter that, name a Knicks trade or draft choice you feel will pay big dividends in the coming year.
There are a couple guys and a couple moves Isiah [Thomas] made this year I’m really excited about. Getting Malik Rose was huge. As well as signing Jamal Crawford and trading for Stephon Marbury last year. This is a young team with some good young talent. It’s going to pay out in the near future.

As a guy who fought his way into the league, what's your impression of the new NBDL [National Basketball Development League, the NBA's new farm system]?
Some guys are just on the cutting edge to get in this league and the NBDL is a good way for those players to hone their skills and get better – and stay home. A lot of [young players] go overseas and even though there are scouts around the world, they don’t get an opportunity to get back over here until after the [European] season. If you’re in the NBDL, you get the opportunity to get looked at regularly by scouts and maybe get called up during the [NBA regular] season.

Given your rivalry with them over the years, does the Miami Heat's success this season bug you?
{laughs} Come on! They’re an organization that wants to win just like we want to win. They were fortunate enough to make a blockbuster trade and get Shaquille O’Neal and were very fortunate in getting a young talented player like Dwyane Wade. They have solid players surrounding those two guys. Things are looking bright for the Miami Heat in the near future.

Your defense, especially against Michael Jordan, was widely praised. Who deserves NBA Defensive Player of the Year for 2005?
Probably that guy down in Miami we just talked about, Dwyane Wade. He impressed me a lot. I didn’t realize he was such a good defensive player. When he wants to shut you down, he can shut you down. We’ve also got a young player here, Trevor Ariza, who is going to be a great defensive player as the years come. As he gets stronger, he will only get more confident about what he can do on the court.

Do you have an iPod?
No, I don’t have an iPod; I’m still in the '90s.

So what are you listening to these days with your CD player?
I listen to a lot of jazz and R&B. Marvin Gaye's in my player right now.

You live in Tulsa, OK, during the off-season. What's one thing from NYC that you wish was there?
You know, Tulsa’s got just about everything. But New York City’s just got a lot of everything. {laughs}

So if we found ourselves in Tulsa, where’s the first place we should eat?
Pete’s Barbecue. Nice little barbecue joint in the neighborhood I grew up in. Real, real good.

Finally, tell us a secret: is there a great post-game bar or restaurant near MSG you love that we don't know about?
Café 31.

John Starks has also written an autobiography, John Starks: My Life.

Photograph of John Starks by George Kalinsky for Madison Square Garden.