John Starks on bowling, education, Spike Lee, James Dolan and hecklers

John StarksNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

The Knick legend does not brag about his bowling game.

Tuesday evening, at Lucky Strike on the West Side of Manhattan, John Starks is hosting his first annual John Starks Celebrity Bowling Tournament. It's not open to the public, but it is open to celebrities and supermodels and the like, many of whom are expected to show up to help raise money for the scholarship program Starks has been running since 1994. In advance of the event, Starks talks about his current work, his memories of the Knicks' heyday, hecklers, education and more.

This is one of those swanky high-end Manhattan bowling alleys, right?

Yes, it's pretty nice. I've been in there. It's a beautiful layout. There's pool also. And a nice little private area where you can have your own bowling party with like three or four lanes.

Are you a good bowler?

No, I'm not going to make that claim, that I'm a good bowler. I go out there and just kind have fun at it, basically.

What score do you expect?

I probably can roll ... hoo ... my high score is probably between 140 and 160. Somewhere in there.

Recreational bowler, I guess.

Yeah, yeah.

You've been doing a lot of things. I know you were coaching. What else have you been up to?

I work for the Knicks in their front office, in the alumni relations department. And then I have a clothing company called Zipway. You can go to ZipwayUSA.com and see the new technology we have to be able to transition in and out of your pants using zippers instead of buttons.


It's a pretty hot item. We have the NBA license, producing NBA products.

I'll check it out. And what does the alumni relations job involve?

I deal with all the former players.

So you have to get Charles Oakley to show up to stuff?

Yeah, exactly. Try to. He's like a toughie.

He's dodging your calls?

No, he don't dodge them. [Laughs]

You were in that documentary "Winning Time." Have you seen it yet?

No, I haven't seen it.

Oh, you've got to see it, it's tremendous. There's a part in there where your mom is mentioned. Do you know this story?


After that head-butt incident with Reggie Miller, there was a moment when your teammates, including Patrick Ewing, were visibly mad at you on the court. And your mom said to Patrick, I guess, "look, you shouldn't talk to my son like that."


And then Patrick said something like "Mrs. Starks, if he does that again, I'll kill him myself."


Did that really happen? Did your mom really say that?

Yes. Yeah. It did really happen.

That documentary makes it out like it was intense then, but funny now. Is it funny to you now?

You think about it, it was, you know, we had a good time with it. We had a real good time with it.

All that Spike Lee/Reggie Miller stuff ... is that good for basketball? Is that good for the team? Or do you wish they would settle down a little?

It was cool. We didn't pay no mind to that. It's part of it. It's part of the game. Fans. The interaction. That's the beauty of basketball. Moreso than any other sport. Fans have that close relationship with the players. So you get a lot of back-and-forth conversations. Some fans take it to the extreme, and some players take it to the extreme. I can remember the fan in Washington D.C. he'd always sit behind the bench. He was a lawyer. He always gave us grief. He looked forward to getting on players. He knew your whole background ... everything. It was just a lot of fun.

Sometimes I hear those guys screaming, and I wonder: Why is that fun? I really don't understand.

For players, sometimes it can be motivating. It can get a particular guy going. For some other players, it can take them out of the game because they're so focused on what that fan is doing on the court.

Did you ever have a fan really get under your skin?

Not really. You have fans who may say something derogatory. You know what I mean. In that way, it may get under your skin. As long as they mean it in fun, you know what I mean, battling back and forth ... but when they say something derogatory, then that's when it gets over the line. It crosses the line.

Sure, of course. ... So with you working for the Knicks now, I imagine you're asked 100 times a day: When are the Knicks going to be good again, like when you played?

Yeah. That question is always presented to me.

How do you answer that one?

It's a process. You know what I mean? It took so many years to build this organization up to prominence in the 1990s. Over the last eight years or so it seems like everything has been going downhill, so to speak. What Jim, Mr. Dolan, is trying to do, is he's trying to bring a winner back to New York. And he's doing everything in his powers. You know, obviously changing management and changing coaches to try to spur that movement back to that success we had in the 1990s.

With Donnie Walsh you see a veteran in management who understands what it takes to build a very competitive team. You know, he had his work cut out for him coming in here. They were way over the cap. To make some moves to get us underneath the cap to get us in a position to -- hopefully -- attract some of these free agents coming up in 2010.

As always, you have to be able to make an assessment on who stays and who goes. He's put together a competitive team so far. You see bright signs of guys who are willing to step up and bring back that winning attitude. And bringing in Coach D'Antoni with his system, hopefully it'll be a lot of fun, and help bring in some good players.

I can't help but notice you call Knicks owner James Dolan "Jim." Are you guys pretty close?

Yeah. That's just normal for me to call him that. He's somebody I have always called by his first name.

Have you seen him play live music?

Yeah, he's pretty good actually. When I first saw him at B.B. King's I was wondering ... is this guy going to be good or not? And, actually he turned out to be pretty good. And that's a love of his, playing music.

Is he going to be at your event tonight?

I'm not sure if he's coming or not.

Tell him to bring his checkbook! I noticed you have a lot of people coming, including Jayson Williams. How'd that come about?

I've been friends with Jayson for some time, you know what I mean? And it's nice that he offered to come out even though the things that he's going through and the problems that he's dealing with, you know, he still wanted to come out and support the event and be a part of it. So I thank him for that.

We also have on tap Allan Houston. Herb Williams will be there. Anthony Anderson -- the actor and comedian. Matthew Modine possibly will be there. Then I have a couple of the Knicks players who probably will be there in Al Harrington and Nate Robinson.

Not bad! And where does the money go?

It goes to my John Starks Foundation's 3 Point Scholarship program.

And how does that work? How do the scholarships work?

We have a scholarship that we give out to about 15 students in the tri-state area, as well as in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have to have a 3.0 grade point average. The community service they do is very important to us. As well as financial need, as always. It's for high school students, on their way to college. We give the money directly to their respective institutions.

And how long have you been doing that?

We've been doing that since 1994.

So there are a bunch of young people out there in this world that you helped go to college, huh?


Are you in touch with any of them?

Yeah, we keep in touch with them. We want to make sure they're doing OK. And you'd be surprised how many kids show up for our events to help volunteer. So that's always a great feeling.

That's got to be amazing, to see young people whose lives you were part of in this way.

It is. It really is.

By any chance did you see the recent comments of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan? He says that he thinks the current NCAA set up lets down a lot of athletes, who don't really get an education, nor get prepared for jobs outside of basketball. And now, with the one-and-done rules, some of them only go to classes for a few months.

They get to the second semester, then they don't show up for class. Even though, it should be set in stone where these kids have to go to school throughout their entire season. They should be graded at least through the whole basketball season. Especially the ones who know they're going to be out after that year ... they don't even go to class at all.

If you could wave a magic wand and do anything to help more young people get good college educations, what would you do?

For most of them, the money is the big obstacle. But really, the job is to inspire kids to believe in education -- that this is the best future for them. To go out and get your education and give themselves a fighting chance at college. That doesn't guarantee you anything, but it's going to give you the opportunity. A lot of kids sometimes see things as hopeless, and they don't even pursue it. This is really about trying to encourage them that this is the best route to their future.

Hey so you're still a young guy in the big picture. So what do you expect from your future?

From a business standpoint, you know, I plan on continuing to do what I do with the Knicks' organization. As well as what I'm doing with my clothing company. We see that as the wave of the future, to be able to integrate it into all areas of sport. Not just basketball, but tennis, soccer, track and field, whatever you have to do to be able to transition in and out of your pants, we want to be leaders in that space.