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.
While playing for Ken Trickey, Starks was discovered by then-OSU coach Leonard Hamilton. The next season, in his final year of eligibility, Starks played at OSU and averaged 15.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists during the 1987-88 season. His performance was good enough to garner a training camp invitation from the Warriors.
Though Golden State cut him a year later, Starks was determined to stick in the NBA. He went the minor league route, playing for the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets of the Continental Basketball Association and the Memphis Rockers of the World Basketball League.
Starks' big break came in 1990, during the final training camp practice with the Knicks. Starks attempted to dunk on New York's 7-foot franchise center Patrick Ewing. When Ewing challenged Starks at the rim, Starks landed awkwardly and twisted his knee. The Knicks, who were planning to cut him following practice, couldn't release Starks until he was healthy. Starks had to go on the injured list.
It opened the door for Starks to stick and set the stage for him becoming one of the most beloved players by Knicks fans in the franchise's history.
“He's one of my all-time favorites,” longtime Knicks fan and film director Spike Lee once told The New York Times. “You have to admire someone who was bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly and despite being cut and in the CBA saying to himself, ‘They're not going to hold me down. I'm going to make it.'”