Legendary Knicks shooting guard John Starks visited the Queens Library at LeFrak City on Tuesday as part of the 9th annual “Knicks Read to Achieve” summer reading program, sponsored by Optimum Community and Madison Square Garden.
Joining the venerable NBA superstar, who turned 50 the day before, was Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
Targeted to children ages 6 to 12, “Knicks Read to Achieve” consists of a series of reading events at libraries, camps and community centers throughout the New York/New Jersey metro areas. The initiative encourages reading through the use of incentives and is highlighted by read-aloud events with Knicks alumni and elected officials at select locations.
Despite the morning’s torrential downpour, parents and children of all ages filled the community room of the library to meet the Knicks all-time leader in three point field goals; read with him and the councilwoman; pick up some free goodies, such as a children’s book, book bag and T-shirt; participate in an interactive quiz and try to their luck at winning a pair of tickets to an upcoming New York Liberty basketball game.
Starks proved he was as adept at playing solo as he was with a team, when Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland was delayed. He spoke with the kids and engaged in some friendly banter, which helped prevent the youngsters from getting fidgety and disruptive. He asked the children what sports they liked, what books they’ve read and what they enjoyed doing in the summer.
Basketball was a clear favorite to the former question. To the second, a child spoke of a story she’d read, about a little girl, like herself, who started baking cupcakes as a means of combatting the bullying she was getting at school, to which Starks admitted, he too was bullied as a kid. When one of the young audience members mentioned swimming as a favorite summer pastime, the Knicks alumnus asked if anyone had seen “Jaws.” “It kept me out of the water,” he revealed.
Starks also introduced “Salt in His Shoes,” the book he would to read with the kids, of which every child received a free copy when they arrived. Written by Deloris Jordan, mother of NBA superstar Michael Jordan, the picture book tells the story of young Michael’s early hardship at playing neighborhood basketball against kids much taller than himself, and how fierce determination and hard work, along with a little motherly advice, led him to overcome the odds and succeed.
“We’re here to talk about the greatest basketball player ever,” Starks said. “Who do you think that is?” Upon hearing his own name yelled out, Starks gave a hearty laugh. “Yeah, it was me,” he teasingly said, before humbling admitting it wasn’t he.
No mention was made by the Knicks great of the famous “dunk” play on Michael Jordan during the 1993 Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, although one can’t help but wonder if the moment, one of the most famous plays in Knicks history and one of the rare few wherein Jordan was bested by another, was in the back of Starks’ mind during the above exchange.
“Everyone in this room is important,” Ferreras-Copeland said upon her arrival, before telling parents and children alike that New York City spends 78 billion dollars a year on education and kids should “use the library to get smart. We believe in you.” The councilwoman touted the importance and wonder of reading. “You can travel anywhere in the world; meet anyone from another country in a single day just by reading a book.”
Starks began reading “Salt in His Shoes,” quickly ceding the duties to Ferreras-Copeland, who soon turned the reading over to volunteers from the audience.
“My mother pushed me to go to the library and read,” Starks revealed. “And my grandmother read the Bible to us.” The former NBA superstar named “Peter Pan” as his favorite book growing up. “I like fantasy,” he said. “I like the idea of being able to fly!”