5-25-1993: The Night Starks Soared


The night John Starks soared into Knicks lore, and fans? hearts
By Mike Vaccaro

May 24, 2018 | 6:46pm

Maybe you have to be of a certain age to understand why that moment resonates so. Maybe you have to remember what it was like in New York City on the evening of Tuesday, May 25, 1993, what the Knicks meant to the city at that moment, how Madison Square Garden really did feel like the center of the sporting cosmos.

The Mets lost that night to the Phillies, falling to 14-29 in a season in which they would lose 103 games. The Yankees won, but they?d drawn only 15,062 fans to the Stadium in a borough they desperately wanted to abandon, early in a 12th straight season that would end outside the playoffs.

The Giants had fired Ray Handley a few months earlier. The Jets had gone 4-12. The Rangers, who?d entered their season as Stanley Cup favorites, were a fiasco, a mutinous Mark Messier all but forcing Roger Neilson to walk the gangplank and hearing boos at the Garden after they missed the playoffs entirely

?We were the best show in the city,? John Starks says. ?And every night was better than the one before.?

And this was the best Knicks team in 20 years, winners of 60 games, owning a 1-0 lead over the two-time defending champion Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, clinging to the last strands of what had been 14-point fourth-quarter lead as the clock bled under one minute in Game 2. They led, 91-88, and Bill Cartwright had just missed two free throws. The ball was in Starks? hands.

Here?s Marv Albert, on MSG TV: ?Crucial free throws missed by Cartwright, and the Knicks? lead remains at three ? we are down to 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter ? Starks ? YEEEESSSSS!?

What happened in that moment that drove Albert from the seat of his lower press-level perch and ignited 19,763 gleeful acolytes to detonate their larynxes became an eternal snapshot: literally, yes, because within weeks a poster would be printed and it would disappear from shelves across the city as quickly as it could be stocked. But also in the minds and memories of anyone who saw it.

Starks did a half-spin move to shake free from B.J. Armstrong (maybe with a little boost from Patrick Ewing?s open hand strategically placed on the small of Armstrong?s back), he roared around the corner, saw a slice of space, leaped right at Bulls forward Horace Grant (with Michael Jordan a few steps away, leaping but helpless to help), and he flushed the ball with his left hand.

On TV, John Andariese crowed, ?That?s as Jordan-like, Marv, as any other player in the NBA can get!? In the locker room later on, Doc Rivers marveled, ?That?s something I couldn?t do on a six-foot hoop. It was Michael Jordan, except in a New York uniform.?

Twenty-five years later, Ewing says in an e-mail: ?John?s dunk was one of the most iconic plays at the Garden. I remember the crowd going crazy. He always played with such a passion and it?s why Knicks fans love him so much. People still bring up ?The Dunk? when we?re together all these years later.?

Starks himself says, ?The noise was deafening. People were going crazy, absolutely crazy, and my teammates were ecstatic, Patrick beating on my chest and [Charles Oakley] beating on my chest. If one of those plays happens in Chicago, it?s just another play. The fact that it happened at the Garden made it very special.?

Then, after a pause, he said: ?In that moment, we thought we had them. We thought we were going to beat Michael Jordan. We thought we were on our way.?

That?s part of what makes The Dunk ? within hours it was branded with capital letters, and later copyrighted that way ? so poignant, in addition to so unforgettable. The Knicks finished off that game, 96-91, but they never won again in the series and the Bulls went on to take out the Phoenix Suns to win a third straight title. Indeed, on June 2 there will be another silver-anniversary date, this one far less joyous, 25 years from the night Charles Smith went up for a layup once, twice, three times ?

?Remembering this,? Starks says laughing, ?is better.?

In its way The Dunk serves as a bookend to the Mets? Endy Chavez? catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, an impossible-to-forget moment that by rights should have foretold glory and fostered a parade but instead became footnotes to larger, less magnificent realities.

The Knicks actually made the Finals twice in the next six years, and even though they came agonizingly close in 1994 ? with Starks providing an equally forgettable chapter to that tale with his shooting miseries in Game 7 ? the 1992-93 team remains the one that destroys Knicks fans old enough to remember. Ewing was at his very best. The others ? Starks, Smith, Anthony Mason, Doc Rivers ? were folk heroes who couldn?t go two blocks in Manhattan without being mobbed like the ?64 Beatles. That was their best team since ?73. That was their shot.

And The Dunk was both their finest moment and their final one. Rivers was hurt early the next year, and Jordan had already retired. Many fans never forgave Smith for Game 5. Nothing was ever quite the same, quite as good, as they were with 47.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 2 on May 25, 1993.
Twenty-five years that feel like 25 seconds.

?[Knicks president] Dave Checketts later told me they measured it somehow, and I jumped 42 or 43 inches off the ground on that play,? Starks says. ?I couldn?t jump that high. But in that moment, I did.?

MSG Network listed it as one of the 50 greatest moments in Garden history; the Garden itself recognizes it as one of the building?s 21 Defining Moments in its Lexus Concourse. Fans older than 35 simply call it ?The Dunk? without need for further explanation.

?I didn?t realize the impact until after I retired,? Starks says. ?During my playing days I was still just focusing on my game, but when I first started working for the Knicks in 2004, the first thing anyone who saw me wanted to talk about was The Dunk. And every single day somebody asks me about that play. I literally can?t go a day without talking about it.?

He laughs.

?And why would I want to??


Three plays stick out in my mind as a Knicks fan. Starks soaring to the basket from the right corner for that thunderous dunk. Funny now when Starks talks about it that he couldn't jump that high is just what I thought when I saw it. Charles Smith missing those 4 layups against the Bulls broke my heart. The 3rd shot was Lins game winner in Toronto. Etched in my memory, tie score, Shump misses a bank shot the Knicks get the OR and the ball goes out to Lin and Lin looks over to D'Antoni to see if he wants to call TO, D'Ants waves him off and Lin burns clock dribbling at the top. Calderon is guarding him and gives him a big cushion to take away a driving layup, Lin takes the 3 from the top, he makes it and the crowd goes crazy like it's a home game in MSG. Knicks win and the Knicks swarm Lin.


Ewing finger roll miss vs Indy; LJ 4-point shot; Reggie shoving Knick in back and getting the steal; Bird missed dunk as NYK come back to win in Game 5. Alan Houston beating MIA... Amare hitting that 3, just after time expired...


Ewing finger roll miss vs Indy; LJ 4-point shot; Reggie shoving Knick in back and getting the steal; Bird missed dunk as NYK come back to win in Game 5. Alan Houston beating MIA... Amare hitting that 3, just after time expired...
Greg Anthony?? Reggie and Greg still talk about that play. ☺