It’s May 25, 1993, in New York City.
Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” is the No. 1 song and Jurassic Park (no relation to the Toronto Raptors) will roar into box offices in just a few short weeks. A crowd has gathered at Madison Square Garden on this early summer day. They’ve gathered to witness NBA history.
It’s Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The New York Knicks are facing the familiar Chicago Bulls. Led by Michael Jordan, the Bulls have won the last two NBA championships. They’ve defeated the Knicks along the way for both crowns.
But today, on May 25, 1993, nobody knows that the Bulls are about to win their third NBA title in a row. Nobody knows Jordan will retire after this season. Nobody knows Jordan and the Bulls will win three more titles after his brief hiatus.
There is no GOAT; there is no The Last Dance.
It’s May 25, 1993, and all that anyone knows is that the Knicks are tired of losing to the reigning NBA champs. Patrick Ewing and coach Pat Riley know it. Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks fans know it. Everybody crammed into MSG knows it.
John Starks knows it. And he’s about to do something about it.
The Knicks knocked Jordan down a peg in Game 1. With a three-point lead and less than a minute left in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Starks knows this is his best opportunity to put MJ and the Bulls in a two-game hole — one they just might not charge their way out of.
Starks breaks for the baseline and elevates toward the monstrous and waiting Horace Grant. Starks is in the air. Jordan rises behind Grant, aiming for a block.
For a moment, time stands still.
It’s May 25, 1993. NBA history is about to be made. But before we talk about “The Dunk“, let’s talk about the Man Who Slammed It.
John Starks: The Man John-T
You might say that John Starks’ NBA career came down to two dunks. The first one saved his career and the second one defined it.
(A side note likely only of interest to the author: I Got You Babe is the song that repeats on the radio in Bill Murray’s masterpiece Groundhog Day, which was released three months before the events of this article took place. If you think that’s interesting, too, I can give you the number of a cheap therapist.)
John Starks was born in Oklahoma, where he would play high school and college ball. Undrafted out of Oklahoma State University, Starks spent time in Golden State and then other pro leagues before landing with the New York Knicks in 1990. A twist of fate and his knee kept Starks in The Big Apple for eight seasons.
In a move that I can only call Pure Starks, the somewhat undersized shooting guard tried to dunk on the Jurassic Patrick Ewing during one of Starks’s first practices with the Knickerbockers. Ewing blocked the shot (duh) and Starks twisted his knee. Meanwhile, behind the scenes…
The Knicks were about to get rid of Starks because, so far, he was just another guy who couldn’t dunk on Ewing. But NBA teams aren’t like those cronies in the NFL: they can’t just twist a man’s knee and then dump them on the streets.
The Knicks kept Starks on the payroll until he could heal and planned to cut him after. But by the time Starks healed, New York was low on depth. With New York in need of health and availability, the once sure-to-be-cut Starks was saved.
As if Knicks fans needed another reason to thank Ewing.
Two seasons later in 1992, John Starks was a regular Knicks starter. He participated in the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest that year but lost in the semifinals. His best effort in 1992 was far from The Dunk that would define him.
Later in 1992, Starks and co. fell to Team Jordan and the Bulls during the Eastern Conference Semifinals. John Starks took the weight of the loss and added it to the chip on his shoulder. He was determined to beat the Bull in ’93.
John Starks: The Dunk
The 1992-1993 New York Knicks went on a regular-season blitz.
Charles Oakley, Doc Rivers, Patrick Ewing, Charles Smith, and John Starks formed a formidable starting five. Their 60-win tear of a season warranted the number one playoff spot in the East.
After easily outpacing Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in Round 1, they gave the Hornets of Charlotte a sting in the Eastern Conference semis. New York never once worried about Indiana or Charlotte. They had their eyes on the Eastern Conference prize in Chicago.
Chicago traveled to New York for Game 1. New York welcomed their guests with a loss. Then came Game 2 and a chance to bury the Bulls in a hole so deep that not even His Airness could leap out of it.
It’s May 25, 1993. Michael Jordan, B.J. Armstrong, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant are all playing NBA Finals-level basketball, but Bill Cartwright has just missed two free throws. With less than a minute left, the Knicks hold on to a three-point lead.
Starks dribbles down the court. The right-hander blows past his man, making a beeline for the baseline. Starks gets to the corner. A towering Horace Grant and a hovering Air Jordan stand between John-T and history.
“Fuck it,” says Starks.
Leading with his left hand, the shooting guard finishes what he started with Ewing two years earlier. With some stank on it, John Starks slams the ball through the iron. The Dunk is complete.
MSG erupts like a long-dormant Mount Vesuvius. For the first time in two seasons, New York Knicks fans truly believe they can defeat Air Jordan and the Bulls.
May 25, 1993: the most hopeful day at a New York Knicks game in Knickerbocker history.
Jordan and the Bulls would go on to win the next four games. After kicking the Knicks, they turned around to whip Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. It would be as close as the Knicks ever got to taming the Bulls.
John Starks won’t be remembered as a Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant type of baller. He may not make the NBA Hall of Fame, but the legacy of “The Dunk” continues to define him.
NBA history rolls on, but it will never roll over John Starks and The Dunk.