By: Editorial Staff
ANEW YORK Post article quoting relatives of New York Knicks basketball player John Starks led to a verbal confrontation between the player and the writer, Thomas Hill.
Starks, who has been struggling this year and has seen his playing time reduced under new coach Don Nelson, did most of the talking.
Hill had contacted Starks’ family members in Oklahoma, quoting his grandmother, his mother and his sister in a Feb. 6 article headlined, “Starks’ family blames John’s decline on Nellie.” Nellie is coach Nelson’s nickname.
In the article, Hill quotes Starks’ sister as saying, “Basically, everyone here is kind of associating it with the coach, Don Nelson. I don’t think they ever got along from the beginning.”
She goes on to say, “I heard they’re not even practicing hard. It’s like they’re in high school. They just sit around and play.”
His mother was quoted as saying, “I wish he [Starks] would get out of New York. The whole family does. We don’t want him wasting his time there.”
Starks, embarrassed by the comments the family made about his coach and annoyed that his relatives were contacted, approached Hill the following day at a Knicks practice.
According to an account by Hill, Starks said to him, “Don’t be calling my family. Don’t be calling my mother. Don’t be calling my grandmother.”
Starks laced into him for about 20 seconds and then, according to Hill, said, “Do you understand what I’m talking about? Do you understand, boy?”
Starks did not touch Hill but pointed his finger in his face. As Starks walked away, Hill began smiling and the player turned around and said, “You better not be laughing at me, you ???-. I’m going to come and kick your ???- butt.” He took a few steps toward the reporter but was restrained by an assistant coach and some players.
According to Hill, he was harassed as soon as he entered the practice facility, as the Knicks’ assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy reportedly shouted to Hill, “Hey, do you want to talk to Chelsea Starks? She’s available for interviews.” Chelsea is Starks’ four-year-old daughter.
Hill said other Knicks approach him to complain about other stories he has written. He said the players didn’t want to discuss things, they just sounded off on him. “A cowardly ambush,” he called it.
The tabloid Post had a field day with coverage of the incidents the next day. The entire confrontation between Starks and Hill had been filmed by Fox-5, the local TV affiliate owned by Post owner Rupert Murdoch. The Post carried a front-page photo (taken from a frame of Fox-5 TV footage) of Starks pointing in Hill’s face. The headline on Post sports columnist Wallace Matthews’ piece read: “Johnny Rotten proves again he’s tough guy . . . off court.”
The day after the incident, Starks explained why he was so incensed. “You don’t call a 74-year-old woman about what’s happening with the Knicks,” he said. “You want to write me up bad in the newspapers, write me up as bad as you want. I’ve never tried to take anybody’s opinion away from them. I just don’t think you’re supposed to go running to my family for a quote. That’s off-limits as far as I’m concerned.”
Starks conceded he might have handled the situation differently, but said, “If my family ever entered into it again, I couldn’t say whether I’d react the same way or not.”
Not all reporters were labeling Starks the menace the Post was. New York Daily News and syndicated sports columnist Mike Lupica described Starks as a “good guy, who had a bad day, after a bad game, in the middle of a bad season.” Lupica said Starks “isn’t a menace to sports society, or just another sports punk. He isn’t a basketball Dillinger.”
Added Lupica, “It was inappropriate behavior, and it is too easy to say Starks should have known better because he does know better. He is allowed to get mad at the media, something he hardly ever does. He is allowed to blow off steam when silly quotes from his 74-year-old grandmother about Don Nelson are somehow presented as new. But there are better, more grown-up ways to handle things. Starks sometimes makes bad choices off the court, the same as he does on it.”
?(The Post carried a front-page photo (taken from a frame of Fox-5 TV footage) of Starks pointing in Hill’s face) [Photo & Caption]