As a member of the New York Knicks, John Starks had his share of battles with Michael Jordan, and the Bulls in the 90’s when these two teams were the leading championship contenders. For the most part, the Bulls had the majority of success against the Knicks, and it was mostly because of Jordan, who had numerous great games against their squad. The Knicks guard John Starks was predominantly in charge of guarding Jordan during those times, and stopping prime Jordan was pretty much an impossible mission.
In an interview for The Players Tribune, John Starks talked about the toughest players he had to go up against in his career, and he said Jordan was the easiest to guard. Even though it sounds like a surprising answer, Starks argues that he knew what to expect from Jordan in every game, and there were no surprises there. He mentioned some other players, like Reggie Miller, Clyde Drexler, and Steve Smith, who often gave him problems, but Starks still admits Jordan was probably the only player who hadn’t had any major weakness in his game.
This might sound crazy — and every time I explain it to someone, they’re shocked — but Michael was the easiest to guard on this list.John Starks, via The Players Tribune
The thing about Michael is that he wasn’t going to run you around a bunch of picks. He was just gonna get the ball and line you up. He was probably one of the only guys in the league who had no weaknesses in his game. You’d get the scouting report, and it would basically say, “Good luck.”
The only downside to Jordan’s game was the three-point shot, at least early in his career. He worked on it and eventually became a reliable shooter, but that aspect of his game is the only one Starks saw he could potentially use to his advantage.
The only weakness I observed was that he wasn’t a great three-point shooter. He could make them when he needed, though, and over the years he got even better at it.John Starks, via The Players Tribune
Frequently going up against Jordan made Starks analyze every aspect of Jordan’s game and what made him so unstoppable in the first place. According to Starks, Jordan had the perfect balance of pure physical talent on top of his mental toughness and demeanor that is essential if you want to succeed in any sport. Despite being the best player in the league, Jordan’s desire to improve and be an even better version of himself is something Starks appreciates the most about his rival.
I’m not exaggerating that much when I say that MJ could jump out of the gym. And he had those big hands that could palm the ball. He could create space for himself. He was special in that way. When Mike was out there, he was trying to kill your spirit. He took everything personally, and when he stepped out on the court, he felt that he had something to prove every single time. That was just him, whether it was me or whoever else guarding him. His mentality wasn’t just to score a lot of points. He wanted to crush your soul. After guarding Jordan, I can say that I played against the greatest. Even if I failed a lot of the time, I can live with thatJohn Starks, via The Players Tribune
The New York Knicks are probably Jordan’s toughest opponent during his first three-peat. They had a great group of players led by the legendary coach Pat Riley, and there were times when Starks and other players on that squad made Jordan’s life a lot harder than other teams. However, despite their efforts to stop Jordan and the Bulls, they came shorthanded, and the only time they made the NBA finals was after Jordan retired for the first time in the NBA, where they lost to the Houston Rockets.