I was a huge fan of the New York Knicks during their successful run throughout the 1990’s. If you’ll recall, those teams were led by Patrick Ewing and an unlikely supporting cast which Pat Riley (and later Jeff Van Gundy) cobbled together and crafted into a cohesive unit. Today, those teams are usually remembered for never quite getting over the hump–Michael Jordan (or, during God’s brief retirement, some other circumstance) always got in the way. However, I personally remember those teams for their consistent tenacity, incredible toughness and unrelenting spirit. And I fondly remember how they gave their fans a long playoff run each and every year, without fail.
Although Ewing was the star of those Knick teams, no player was more emblematic of what those teams stood for than John Starks. His unlikely rise from obscurity to the NBA spotlight was partially orchestrated by Riley but was made possible only by his own fierce determination. That same determination was on display in every game he played. Starks had boundless energy on the court. Seemingly always matched up on defense with the opposing team’s leading scorer (frequently Jordan or Reggie Miller), he spent half the game imposing Riley’s defensive mantra: tirelssly chasing down and pestering the opposing team’s shooting guard. And on the offensive end, Starks was the Knicks’ unquestioned second option. A shooter who lacked a conscience, Starks was totally fearless. He took big shots: threes that he’d pop off the dribble, pull-up jumpers, kamikaze drives to the rack. Ask anyone about Starks’ game and you’ll always get one of two answers: “John Starks had a big heart,” or “John Starks had big balls.” Both are serious basketball compliments.
Today, Starks runs a charity for underprivileged inner city children. When, back in December, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the First Annual John Starks Charity Casino Night, I happily agreed. The event took place last night at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square and I had a blast. It was situated in a ballroom which had a casino setup, and the casino had a couple of Texas Hold’ Em tables. I gave a short beginner’s tutorial on how to play hold ’em to the assembled poker players, and when I finished up, it was time to play. Two one-table shootouts were contested. All the players seemed to have a great time, espeically John Starks, who loves poker. En route to winning it, John stacked a couple of players early in the second shootout and was quite pleased with himself!
I want to thank Jennifer Alpert for inviting me to last night’s event and for allowing my family to attend. I also want to thank my friend Lee Herman for making my participation possible. It was a lot of fun to share my passion for poker with some new faces.
For me personally, the experience was really positive beacuse it gave me a fresh perspective on my job. When I’m immersed in the daily grind, I completely lose sight of how different, how challenging and how exciting my life is. Last night allowed me to take a much-needed step back to take stock of who I am. At the charity event, fliers were distributed sharing my attorney-to-poker pro story and listing some of my accomplishments, both of which I recounted at the start of my tutorial. People seemed genuinely fascinated. And during my unscripted speech, I found that I was really connecting with those who were listening to me describe the ins-and-out of basic hold ’em. It reminded me of how much I love the game, and it reminded me of how lucky I am to be making a living playing it.
Here are a few good shots of me at the event (note the flowing locks). All three photos are courtesy of shelbychan.com.