There are many kids all around the USA and the world who come from broken or less privileged families and homes. John Starks, a retired NBA basketball player, came from one of those homes growing up. His book John Starks My Life is a look at his life growing up as a youngster in a big family in the middle of jealousy, drugs, violence, trying to get control of your life, and many other things.
Listen to the John Starks CYInterview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
John Starks: “I am doing fine.”
CY: The first thing I can say about your book John Starks: My Life is that you hold nothing back. Give me a short summary of the book before we cover some topics in the book.
JS: “Well, it just pretty much talks about my life. My struggles as a young man around my family. What we had to endure growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some bad situations I put myself into. It’s been tough to go back and rehash some of those memories because it was tough memories that I had to kind of remember and put down on paper. I think for most people it’s kind of harsh.”
CY: You write a quote in your book that states, “Whenever I strayed away from basketball, I would start doing some things like drinking and smoking weed that I would’ve been better off staying away from.” This was after you quit the basketball team in ninth grade because the coach favored other players who weren’t as good as you and your other teammates. You also say in another chapter besides all that you stole cars with friends. I am sure you have learned some valuable lessons since, but what was the main reason you think you did drugs and stole cars back then in your teenage years?
JS: “Well, for me it was because of where I grew up at. A lot of kids were involved in such things as smoking weed and doing things illegal. I kind of fell into the crowd so to speak. Guys got tangled in some of those activities, and like I said I should have stayed away from it. I don’t want to blame it on not having a father figure in my life, but that has a lot to do with it too. As a young man, you get to a point in your life where you feel like you have grown up and have to make decisions and not having that father figure in your life to guide you to making those decisions. You don’t make a lot of foolish decisions then and I made a lot of foolish decisions just because of that I believe.”
CY: By the time you were 19 years old you had served jail time and got kicked out of Northern Oklahoma University for smoking marijuana. What did you learn at that time in jail and why do you think you continued to make some of the bad choices you did that got you kicked out of school?
JS: “Maturity has a lot to do with it. I was still young from a mental standpoint. I was still acting like a child instead of like a man. Not having a father helping you grow into manhood and teaching you those things about how to be a man hurts. It hurt my brothers because their fathers weren’t involved in their lives. There were mistakes that I made that I did learn from. When you don’t have responsibilities, the only responsibility is for yourself, but when you have someone there to mentor you, then you don’t make stupid mistakes.”
CY: I think of the story about how you were considering selling hard drugs like your brother Monty, but after seeing what he went through each day selling drugs you chose not to do what he did and you went back to school. Do you think after seeing what your brother did is when you got back on the right track?
JS: “Yeah it was. It’s just about growing up. I had a lot of maturing I had to go through. I consider myself a smart individual in seeing that this is not the road I want to take. Spending time in jail really helped me stay away from what my brother did because I got a taste of jail time. I realized this isn’t the life I want to live being locked up 24 hours a day. Also to have someone tell you when you can come and go. When I was faced with that decision, I just drew back on all my past decisions and especially my time in jail that this isn’t the road I want to go down. That’s why I really made a commitment towards school.”
CY: You ended up at Oklahoma State University for a year under coach Leonard Hamilton. What do you remember most from your college experience at Oklahoma State University?
JS: “That was always a dream of mine to play division one basketball. Not knowing that I wasn’t going to get the opportunity because of my past and previous couple of years in college. The opportunity to play with only one year of eligibility was great. Coach Hamilton was a second year coach at Oklahoma State who took a chance with me at the division one level. I only had one year of eligibility and I wasn’t getting many offers from other schools. I jumped on it to make a mark. That was the most wise decision I made coming out of Oklahoma junior college and going to a division program like Oklahoma State instead of a division two program where I probably wouldn’t have got looked at by scouts. It paid off for me.”
CY: Your rookie season in the NBA you played in 30 games for the Golden State Warriors the 1988-1989 season, but head coach Don Nelson didn’t see eye to eye with you about getting more playing time. Tell me about that and thoughts on the organization and playing for the Golden State Warriors overall.
JS: “Well, it was a good opportunity for me to wear a NBA jersey. The Golden State Warriors gave me an opportunity to come in and play for them. I was very appreciative of that. Two years before that I was playing street basketball and now I was able to make an NBA team. I am the type of person that when I get in there I want to do my best and do as much as I can. I just felt I wasn’t given a proper chance to really get a lot of playing time. I felt I was one of the better players out there on the court and unfortunately Don Nelson didn’t see it that way. He taught me a lot about the NBA and that it is a business. It is something you have to deal with.”
CY: On December 7th, 1990 you were activated and became part of the New York Knicks roster and there you were in your first game guarding Michael Jordan playing against the Chicago Bulls. Tell me what it was like to match up against Michael Jordan for all those playoff games and other important games.
JS: “Well, it was a lot of fun playing against one of the best players to ever play this game in Michael Jordan. For me it was a dream to play against him night in and night out in the NBA with the New York Knicks. We played them four times a year and as well the playoffs. As a competitor you want to play against the best. He makes you bring your game to another level. That’s why I loved competing against him. He was a great individual and a great player. You can’t say enough about what he brought to the game. He took the NBA to another level.”
CY: You seem to have really had a close bond and relationship with Pat Riley when he was your coach with the New York Knicks. Tell me about that and your thoughts on Pat Riley as a coach overall.
JS: “Well, Coach Riley’s record speaks for itself. What makes him so special is he is a coach clearly concerned about winning. His whole thinking when he wakes up every day is how can I make this team more focused and going through 82 games during the regular season and the playoffs. His teams show that he is very competitive towards his success of his team and the organization. As players you respect that and look up to a guy like that. You look at the assistant coaches under him that played and they have become prosperous within this game. It triples all the way down from the assistant players to the coaches. Patrick Ewing went into coaching as well as myself. You look at guys like Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy who have done very well. Coach Riley can look back at the fruit of his labors he has done over the course of his career.”
CY: You say in the book that Patrick Ewing was like a brother to you, but never said much to you overall. What are your thoughts on Patrick Ewing as a player, person, and teammate?
JS: “He was a great individual. People that don’t know Patrick and only see what they read in the paper don’t know this is a man of great integrity, love for his teammates, and love for this organization. He kind of breathed life back into this organization and what he had to go through up here. New York is a different breed than any other city there is. Media can be very hard on you at times, but he did handle it like a man. He was able to prosper in that whole atmosphere.”
CY: Losing to the Houston Rockets in the 1994 NBA Finals was a time when you expressed your emotions and tears for getting so close, but still a little far away from winning it all. What do you remember about the 1994 NBA finals and the emotions felt in game seven?
JS: “It was an exciting time for us as a basketball team because we worked so hard to get that point. We were able to cross over that threshold and get to the NBA Finals. To me coming up short as a team and for me not having a great particular game was tough to swallow, but your life doesn’t end there. You must put your life into perspective and keep moving on.”
CY: How hard was it for you after Pit Riley left and was coached again by Don Nelson and later Jeff Van Gundy?
JS: “We hated to see Coach Riley go. Coach Riley is a very smart individual and he knows his coaching style. He also knows how long to stay with it and move on. He is a very demanding individual. When you coach at that level like that it tends to whirl the players. At that time we didn’t have much movement within our team. He pushed us as much as he could from a mental stand point. He knew it was time to leave and for us as players we knew it was time to part ways. He had a lasting effect on us as players and the coaching staff. Especially Jeff Van Gundy after Don Nelson who kept it going.”
CY: It must have felt good to have a Hollywood director Spike Lee wearing your NBA jersey to the New York Knicks games overall, but tell me about your friendship with him.
JS: “Me and Spike Lee are good friends. I got a lot of respect for Spike just because of who he is, what he stands for, and the support for that organization. Even when it was bad he was there. He went to a game six playoff game at Indiana which was a hostile environment believing we could bring it back to New York for a game seven. That’s just the kind of person he is. Also his commitment to the team and our friendship.”
CY: In 1998 you were traded to the Golden State Warriors the team you started with. How hard was it for you the day you got traded away from the New York Knicks?
JS: “It was tough because of my success level in New York. To leave this city and go out west and move my family was tough, but this is part of the business. Something as a player that might happen to you.”
CY: In 2001 you ended your NBA career with the Utah Jazz. What did you think of Jerry Sloan and Karl Malone who was the leader of that team?
JS: “Playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone was great. It was obviously a thrill to play with two of the greatest players to play this game. Those two were committed to winning and were a stable of their organization for so long. You can’t say enough about how they approached the game night in and night out.”
CY: Finally, today you are coaching Westchester Wildfire in the United States Basketball League and you say you want to coach in the NBA one day. What is it like being a coach now?
JS: “Well, it’s different because you have to look at it on a whole different level than a player. As a player you can have a bad game and come back for the next game. As a coach you really can’t do that. You have to dissect games night in and night out and figure what you did wrong. If your team won how can you improve or if your team lost how can you improve the mistakes you made. It’s totally different, but I have a new level of respect for coaching that I didn’t as a player. So much is expected of you and from your team. Everything falls on your shoulders.”
You can purchase a copy of John Starks: My Life and find more information at the link below