NBA or bust: John Starks was determined to make it

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, dmayberry@opubco.com Modified: August 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm •  Published: August 14, 2011
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He had one of the most improbable career paths the game has ever seen.

John Starks went from bagging groceries to a 13-year NBA career.

Along the way, he stopped at three junior colleges and Oklahoma State for one season.

On Tuesday, the Tulsa native will be enshrined into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

It's a somewhat fitting conclusion to a career that began as unpredictable as can be before quickly becoming ultrasuccessful.

Known for his toughness and perimeter shooting, Starks clawed his way into the NBA as an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State in 1988. He played for Golden State, New York, Chicago and Utah, scoring 10,829 points and being named an All-Star in 1994.

It was with the Knicks that Starks made a name for himself. The 6-foot-3 guard, who turned 46 last Wednesday, scored 8,489 points in over eight seasons as a Knick and established himself as one of the game's most tenacious and emotional players.

His teammates said his fiery attitude stemmed from a strong desire to win.

“He was always a dude that no matter what happened, whatever people thought about him, what people didn't know about him, he ultimately wanted to win a game,” former teammate Allan Houston once told The New York Times. “He was one person I know, more than anybody I ever played with, that would do whatever it took to win a game.”

That same passion is what sparked Starks' career.

A product of Tulsa Central High, Starks didn't play basketball as a senior. He worked as a bagger at a local grocery store. Following high school, Starks attended Rogers State College in Claremore but was a replacement player on the basketball team. The next year, Starks enrolled at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, where he made the basketball team and averaged 11 points. A year later, Starks transferred to Tulsa Junior College.