May 25th, 1993. It was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. And in the final minute of a one-possession game, John Starks delivered an iconic moment that still brings a smile to the faces of long-disappointed Knicks fans.
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Starks wasn’t just a regular basketball player. In New York, he was beloved because he represented the struggle, a guy who clawed and fought and scraped his way toward a better life for himself.
As much as we loved Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Greg Anthony and the rest of that squad, Starks held a special place in the hearts of Knicks fans because every game, for him, was a fight to survive, a fight to matter, a fight for acceptance.
He’d eventually be named an All-Star, along with the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, but you could tell that the superstars that he guarded, like Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller, snubbed their noses and looked down on him.
He didn’t have the pedigree of North Carolina or UCLA and he wasn’t a top draft pick. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even drafted. But that didn’t stop him from ascending to the NBA’s biggest stage to prove that will, heart and determination can take one very far.
John Starks was the underdog that we all rallied around. And he played on the best Knicks team that people had seen in close to 20 years, since the ’73 championship squad. They were winners of 60 regular season games and legit contenders to Jordan’s throne.
New York was up 1-0 in those Eastern Conference Finals, but in the fourth quarter of Game 2, their 14-point lead quickly disappeared. Leading 91-88 after Bulls center Bill Cartwright missed two free throws, Starks had the ball in his hands with less than a minute to play.
Dribbling down the right side of the court, he shook loose from B.J. Armstrong and motored toward the rim, unleashing an improbable, thunderous left-handed jam in the face of Horace Grant that dislodged his goggles, with Michael Jordan soaring in nearby.
It was a spontaneous combustion of athletic energy and devastation that we’d long grown accustomed to seeing Jordan inflict on others. And now, it was being done to him. In Madison Square Garden.
It was one of those moments that, had you lived through it in real time, you’ll never forget how it made you feel, either as a Knicks fan or someone rooting against Jordan’s budding Chicago dynasty.
In the long and storied history of MSG, it remains one of the legendary building’s most iconic moments. The Knicks won the game, 96-91, and Starks cemented his legacy as one of the franchise’s most beloved role players ever.
The Bulls won the next four games and went on to beat Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns to win their third straight title. And Knicks fans are still searching for that elusive title, 45 years and counting since their last one.
But only one man in the history of the NBA can lay claim to what is simply and spectacularly known as “The Dunk”. And for that, John Starks will always be treasured.