John Starks, Mike Dunleavy Jr. hit NBA Nation
Starks talks about playing in a Game 7, Dunleavy Jr. on the World Cup
by Kyle Stack / @NYsportswriter
Before the NBA Draft hit New York City this week, another League event carried on in the city last weekend. NBA Nation, on its fifth stop in an eight-city tour that concludes in Dallas July 9-11, set up shop last Saturday and Sunday at South Street Seaport, located on the lower eastern portion of Manhattan.
The event is tailor-made for NBA fans and any passersby who want a little extra NBA exposure before summer officially kicks in. Among the events that are available for participation are the T-Mobile Halftime Court, in which fans compete in 2-ball-style games against their friends and family; a 3-point competition on the KIA court, a full court which offers a 3-point contest with three racks of four basketballs; and the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, which pits the city’s best dunkers to compete for a chance to win a $1,000 prize, a Flip MinoHD and an opportunity to compete at NBA All-Star 2011 in Los Angeles with the other Nation regional winners for a chance to win $10,000.
Despite a hot, sunny Saturday in the upper 80s, fan attendance was impressive given all the things for people to do in other parts of Manhattan. “A lot of tourists come in all day for both days,” said Travis Johnson, NBA Nation Tour Manager. “The crowd and the tours are here, you can see Brooklyn. It’s a nice setting.”
An added benefit to the Nation events is that current and former players show up to participate. Kevin Love, a former UCLA Bruin, showed up to the Los Angeles event May 22, LeBron James stopped by when the Nation was set up in Cleveland May 28-31 and one former Knick and a current Pacer were at the event when I attended on Saturday. Following are the interviews I got with John Starks and Mike Dunleavy Jr.:
SLAM: Did you watch the Finals?
John Starks: Yeah, I did.
SLAM: What did you think of the series?
JS: It was a great Finals, hard-fought. It came down to what the experts predicted — a Game 7. And Game 7 was good. Boston did their best to hang in there.
SLAM: How do you describe to people what a Game 7 feels like?
JS: It’s pressure-packed, one game, all-or-nothing. You don’t get a second chance at it. Both teams are going in a little apprehensive about how each other is going to play. Players are nervous on each side. I always say the advantage always goes to the home team because they have the crowd there to make them feel at ease. The road team just has the 12 guys on their bench and the coaching staff. The key to going in there if you’re a road team is you have to have a war-like mentality when you step in there. I thought Doc [Rivers] had his guys prepared to go in there and fight. It’s just unfortunate at the end of the game you see they tired out, especially the big guys because they had to play a lot of minutes with [Kendrick] Perkins out.
SLAM: You still relive the ’94 Finals in your mind, think about every game?
JS: I don’t think about every game — I think about two games in particular. Game 6 and Game 7. The shot that Olajuwan blocked [at the end of Game 6] and me going 2-for-18 in Game 7. I felt for Paul [Pierce] in Game 7 because I could see him going through what I was going through. I could see him doing the same thing I was doing.
SLAM: Where do you rank Kobe among the all-time greats?
JS: He’s up there. People want to compare him to Michael [Jordan] but you can’t compare anyone to Michael. He’s one of a kind. Kobe’s numbers at the end of his career will be close but they won’t be similar to what Michael had accomplished over his career. But he’s a great player, he’s definitely in the top 10 of the greatest players to ever play this game. My hat’s off to him to help his team pull off a great victory in Game 7.
SLAM: Your chief rival during many of your Knicks years were the Bulls but the Knicks and Celtics have a geographical rivalry. What were the team’s feelings about the Celtics during that time you were with the Knicks?
JS: Knicks-Celtics is always going to be a big rivalry. Even now, just because of the sports history in both cities. Throughout every sport, there is always a clash. Basketball is no different. There’s always going to be a rivalry there, just like New York and New Jersey.
SLAM: A lot of people think of New York as a baseball city because of the Yankees. But the turnout here today is impressive for an after-the-season event. Is New York a baseball or basketball city?
JS: It’s definitely a basketball city. Everybody loves the Knicks. Even though the Bronx Bombers are up there; this is a basketball town. You can go into the parks and go into the gyms and you can see everybody from young to old playing the game of basketball. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to bring another championship here and you’re going to see what kind of basketball town it is.
SLAM: So what’s your favorite event here at Nation?
JS: Well, I’m going to go over to the [KIA] court right now and get the chance to interact with some of the people who came out to support the event. NBA Nation does a great job every year of putting this on. It’s fun for both the fans as well as guys like myself.
SLAM: What’s your relationship like with Knicks fans?
JS: I stay involved with the community. I work for the Knicks in the front office, so my job is to be kind of like a face of the organization and do some events. I get a chance to interact with the fans all the time.
SLAM: What do you people say to you? Do they bring up the dunk over Horace and MJ?
JS: Yeah, that’s the first thing they talk about is the dunk. If I had a dollar for everybody that asked me that, I’d be an incredibly rich man. It’s always good. Obviously with the Internet and the beauty of cable television, you get to relive some of those games back in the ’90s. The young fans get a chance to watch how the game was played back then.
SLAM: Did you used to spend a lot of summers here when you were playing?
JS: No, I’d go back home to Oklahoma and spend about a month down there to get around my family. Then I’d come back up here at the start of year.
SLAM: Last time we talked, you said you were playing some golf. Still getting to the course?
JS: Yeah, I play a lot of golf. I enjoy it. I actually had a hip replacement about six weeks ago so I’m just now getting back around on the course.
SLAM: Do you watch golf, like the U.S. Open?
JS: Yeah, I watch the U.S. Open. Obviously having it at Pebble [Beach], one of the golf course icons, to have a U.S. Open is there [is great]. It’s playing a lot tougher than when I played it. The setup is a lot different. Guys got their work cut out for them. If the wind is up, it’s going to be an even tougher course. For Tiger, he hopes the wind is up right now to bring him back to the field [laughs]. Hopefully he can get his game on par. Phil Mickelson shot an incredible round yesterday and put himself right back in the tournament.
SLAM: What course do you want to play that you haven’t played already?
JS: Augusta [where The Masters is played]. That’s every golfer’s dream is to play Augusta. That’s on the list and I actually got a list of the greatest golf courses to play. David Levy, the president of TNT Sports, gave me a list of the Top 100 golf courses to play. So we’re in the pegging mode right now. ‘Go pegging’ is what he calls it. I’ve played about 30 of the top 100. So we’re gonna see how many courses we can play.
SLAM: What brings you to the Nation?
Mike Dunleavy Jr.: This is where I live in the summertime so they reached out to me and see if I could come down here today and hang out. It’s a nice day [so I'm here].
SLAM: What have you been doing this off-season?
MD: Just hanging out, doing some traveling, started working out, getting back in the swing of things and getting ready for next year.
SLAM: Did you watch the Finals?
MD: I did, I watched some of the games.
SLAM: What are your thoughts on the series?
MD: It was a great series. It’s fun to watch. I guess it came down to the last few minutes. It seemed like there were a lot of fouls called. Maybe they were warranted. But overall it was a great playoffs, fun to watch and the Lakers deserved to win.
SLAM: Do you ever go to any playoff games?
MD: I don’t. I mean, I like to be playing in them. I’ll watch some on TV but I don’t go to any.
SLAM: What are you doing this summer to work on your game?
MD: For me, having been injured the last couple years and now finally being healthy, I get a chance to play more and go into next season healthier. I’m looking forward to that. I think it’ll make a big difference. Not making the playoffs gives you a lot of time to do that so it should be good.
SLAM: What do you enjoy about living in New York City during the summer?
MD: Just everything. The energy and the vibe of New York is awesome. You get days like this that are great. It’s just a fun place to live. I have a lot of friends that live here. It’s a nice central location for me and my family.
SLAM: You ever hang out with any of the other NBA players here?
MD: I see a lot of guys around. Troy Murphy, my teammate, lives here. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is living around here. You always see a bunch of guys.
SLAM: Are you still carrying bragging rights from Duke’s championship in April?
MD: Oh yeah. We get bragging rights all the way ’till next April. It’s a good thing, especially after the last two years. People give you a hard time about early exits from the tournament and things like that, so I feel like we came from out of nowhere this year to surprise a bunch of people. It was great to see.
SLAM: You’ve been around coaches your whole life starting with your dad, playing for Coach K at Duke. What’s your take on college coaches making the jump to the NBA?
MD: I think it’s a big risk. There hasn’t been a whole lot of success in the past and it seems like teams still remain interested in it. That’s a little baffling to me. But I understand from a leadership standpoint you want a guy that knows how to run things. But if you’re looking for that, why not hire a CEO or something because it’s a much different game. It’s that different dealing with players, guys who get paid and all the things that come with the NBA. I think it’s a pretty risky move.
SLAM: You ever give advice to any of the rookies coming into the League?
MD: My biggest wisdom for guys is everybody has their path. Some guys are going to come in and knock it out of the park right away; some are going to struggle for a couple years. No matter what happens, you have to work to continue to get better. Eventually, you can get to where you want to be. If things don’t work out for you right away, you can’t get down.
SLAM: You watching the World Cup?
MD: Oh, tons of it, yeah.
SLAM: Did you watch the USA/Slovenia match?
MD: Yeah, I was just reading online about the referee and talking about knocking him out of the tournament. It’s been fun to watch. I love all the angles and the passing that goes on. I’m obviously pulling for the U.S.
SLAM: Do you have any favorite players on the U.S. side or on other squads?
MD: I like the U.S. team, in general. Obviously Landon Donovan has been around for awhile so he’s fun to watch. I really like the Argentinian team. They’re fun to watch.
SLAM: Did you pick a winner for the Cup?
MD: I’m not in any pools, I’ll stick to what I know with fantasy football and NCAA tournament pools. Soccer is out of my league.
SLAM: So you’re a big fantasy footballer?
MD: Yeah, I wait until August and start doing some studying. I’m in a league with my good friend Shane Battier and we got a bunch of buddies. We go away for a weekend for our draft and all that. It’s a fun time.
SLAM: Do you text each other during the season to talk trash?
MD: Oh yeah, there’s tons of smack talk. Trade proposals, he’ll text me “Nice game tonight” and I’ll text back “Forget my game, can I get Chad Johnson from you, for, whoever”, so it’s pretty fun.
SLAM: Any good bets you make?
MD: This year we had a bet. We can’t bet on basketball so we do fantasy football. This year, our teams played each other. We bet dinner…we always go to All-Star Break with each other with our wives so whoever lost the fantasy football bet was paying for the dinner.
SLAM: That’s a hefty bill.
MD: [Laughs] Yeah, you got that right. I won it so don’t think I didn’t order the most expensive wine on the menu.
SLAM: Two of them.
MD: [Laughs] Yeah.