‘Hated’ Starks Now With the Bulls
CHICAGO (AP) _ After so many years of loathing John Starks, it’s going to take Chicago Bulls fans awhile to warm up to him.
Starks, hated from his days with the New York Knicks, was greeted with a mixture of boos and cheers Saturday night when he took the floor for the first time as a Bull.
``It was good,″ Starks said, smiling, after the game. ``They wouldn’t be doing their jobs (if they didn’t boo).″
There was a loud chorus of boos whenever he touched the ball at first, but the jeers were replaced by cheers the longer he was on the floor. When he made two free throws in the third quarter _ his first points as a Bull _ he cheers actually drowned out the boos.
``I told him I thought the fans would appreciate him,″ coach Tim Floyd said. ``Bottom line, we’re 1-0 with John Starks. They’ve got to like that.″
Maybe, but it’s still a little hard for Bulls fans to see Starks wearing the red and black. In the early 1990s, when the Bulls and Knicks had their old-fashioned, take-it-to-the-floor rivalry, the fans couldn’t hate Starks enough.
He was a thug, tripping Scottie Pippen and jawing with Michael Jordan almost to the point of blows. He was a taunter, giving Bulls fans grief whenever he got the chance. Worst of all, he had the game to back up his mouth, dunking over Horace Grant in the playoffs and hitting killer 3s.
So it must be some sort of cosmic payback for him to now be wearing a Bulls uniform.
``Being in New York and the rivalries we had here against Chicago made this city well-hated, in a sense, team-wise,″ he said earlier Saturday after his first practice with the Bulls.
``It’s funny how this league works. You can’t never say never.″
Starks came to Chicago from the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday as part of the three-team, Toni Kukoc trade. At first, it seemed like it had to be a mistake. This, after all, was Starks, one of the biggest sources of bad blood between the Knicks and Bulls.
He and Jordan once got into an argument so intense their teammates had to separate them. He tripped a fast-breaking Pippen once, and took him down with a hard foul another time.
``Chicago was the team to beat,″ Starks said. ``You knew you had to go through them in order to get to what you wanted to get to and that was a championship. You had to come in here with a focus like no other.″
That never made Bulls’ fans feel any better, though. To many of them, the only thing worse than acquiring Starks would be if the Bulls took down Jordan’s banner and gave Starks his number.
``Starks!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our mortal enemy!!!!!″ one fan wrote in a message board on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site. ``Starks ... is the last player in the world I would ever have wear a Bulls uniform.″
During the game, one fan yelled, ``Hey Starks! Go back to New York!″
But Chicago can be a forgiving town for the players who wear its uniforms. Dennis Rodman’s antics in his days on the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys crew make Starks look like a choir boy. Yet when Rodman came to Chicago before the 1995-96 season, he quickly became a fan favorite.
Of course, helping Chicago win its last three titles didn’t hurt.
``Our fans have always appreciated hard-playing guys,″ Floyd said. ``That was clear when Dennis Rodman joined the Bulls. John Starks is a hard-playing guy. It might be a little unusual to see him with `Bulls’ on the jersey early on, but I think the first time he dives on the floor or does something defensively, he’ll be a Bull.″
Starks hustled for the 14 minutes he was in the game, harassing the Clippers defensively. He went 0-for-6 from the floor, but he made his two free throws, grabbed three rebounds and had two assists.
And one of these days, maybe he won’t hear any boos.
``Winning solves all that,″ he said. ``It’s good to come out and get a win tonight. I know what it’s like to get a win in Chicago now.″