A Plea to Retire 3
There have been 26 players to have worn the #3 for the Knicks since 1947. Let’s be honest though, #3 will forever be associated with John Starks. Looking at an image of another Knick wearing the number automatically forces thoughts of Starks. If you were to ask any Knicks fan who comes to mind when they think of which Knick wore #33, you’d hear Patrick Ewing’s name ten out of ten times. The same sentiment extends to any of the other retired Knicks jersey numbers. If we were to survey Knicks fans and ask them to name the first Knick that comes to mind when they see a Knicks #3 jersey, it’s safe to say that about 9 out of 10 would say Starks, except for some younger generations who might mention Stephon Marbury.
But here’s where it gets intriguing. There’s no denying that Tracy McGrady stands as one of the greatest basketball players ever to put on a Knicks uniform. If only he had put it on eight years earlier in his career. The Knicks typically don’t experiment with one-time superstars towards the end of their careers, but they tried the experiment when they acquired Tracy McGrady in 2009 to finish out the 2009 season, during which he appeared in 24 games. Does his superstar status elevate him to the top of the list? Does the Coney Island legend, who became the face of the Knicks for over four seasons, deserve that honor? Or, does it rightfully remain with Starks, now and forever?
Round 3 for #3 begins now:
If Patrick Ewing was the Knicks, then John Starks was New York. No player in Knicks history epitomized the spirit of the city of New York like Starks. His unwavering heart, unmatched passion, unyielding grit, and a playing style that mirrored the essence of a true New Yorker made him a beloved figure. Starks was the epitome of hard-nosed, tireless effort, and he brought an attitude to the court that reflected the very essence of being a New Yorker.
During an era when the three-pointer was not as prominent in a team’s game plan, Starks stood out as a lethal marksman from three. His proficiency from three-point range was so remarkable that even Knicks PA Announcer Mike Walczewski modified his signature call for threes made by Starks, a distinctive call that endures to this day. Starks was so deadly from three, the number on his jersey became known as a testament to his three-point shooting.
John Starks joined the New York Knicks in 1990. After going undrafted, Starks signed with the Golden State Warriors in 1988 but saw limited playing time over the span of 36 games. He was out of the league as quickly as he got in, and then found himself playing in the CBA for two seasons. Starks then signed with the Knicks prior to the 1990-91 season. One can call it luck, one might even call it fate. However, if it weren’t for a freak accident during a Knicks practice, and an NBA rule that prohibited teams from releasing injured players, then John Starks may have found himself back in Tulsa, OK, bagging groceries, rather than nursing an injury as a member of the New York Knicks before ultimately taking on the duties of starting shooting guard. Starks had a career year in 1993-94 earning his one and only All-Star nod along with fellow Knicks teammates Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. The three of them formed one of the best trios of the league of the early-mid 90’s and led the Knicks to the Finals that same 1993-94 season. In 1997, Starks earned the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
If there are Knicks fans who wish to argue that a hobbling Willis Reed walking out of the MSG locker room tunnel during Game 7 of the 1970 Finals is the most iconic moment in Knicks history, then that leaves no one else to argue that John Starks’ “The Dunk” is the second most iconic moment in franchise history. One of the greatest dunks and moments in NBA history was a dagger on Jordan and his Bulls during Game 2 of the 1993 NBA Playoffs. It wasn’t always fun and games, and there was plenty of heartbreak (2-of-18 in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals) and frustrations (headbutting Reggie Miller), but John Starks will always be remembered as one of the greatest figures in Knicks history. Without a doubt, his contributions were pivotal in establishing the Knicks of the ‘90s as one of the most iconic teams in NBA history, especially during what is arguably considered the greatest decade of NBA basketball.
To this day Starks continues to work for the Knicks as an alumnus and fan development official and is a published author of his autobiography My Life.
Stephon Marbury was drafted fourth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1996 NBA Draft, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest draft classes in basketball history. That same night, Milwaukee traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a draft night exchange for the rights to future Hall of Famer Ray Allen. Pairing Marbury up with Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves took the league by storm, forming one of the most exciting dynamic duos in the league. For the first time fans outside of Minnesota were tuning into Sportscenter on a regular basis to see Timberwolves highlights led by KG and “The Chef.” The two stars had become a modern-day Magic and Kareem with an attitude and style of play that more closely resembled the playgrounds where Marbury made a name for himself in Coney Island.
Marbury, however, grew unhappy after just two seasons in the league playing the role of Robin to Garnett’s Batman. He aspired to play for a big market team to further build his brand, gain more endorsements, and ultimately be the number one star of a team rather than playing sidekick. Marbury also wanted to be closer to home. Ultimately Steph was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 1999. The trade brought him closer to home, but it was not the homecoming Marbury envisioned. He quickly grew unhappy once again happy due to the Nets lackluster play night after night in front of a half empty arena referred to as “the swamp” better known as the Meadowlands. Steph even went as far as writing “ALL ALONE” one night on his game shoes. The Nets dealt Marbury to the Suns in 2001. Marbury spent three seasons in the desert where he made his second All-Star team in 2003 and helped lead the Suns to the NBA Playoffs that same year.
In 2004, the New York Knicks were on a mission to secure a superstar who could reignite the excitement at Madison Square Garden and lead the team back to its winning ways. Their aspirations and anticipations were set high as they finalized a blockbuster trade with the Phoenix Suns during the 2003-04 season, marking the arrival of a hometown hero with immense expectations. Unfortunately for both the organization and the Knicks fan base, those expectations were never met as Marbury and the organization struggled to find common ground, and the situation took a tumultuous turn.
To put things simple, the Knicks were bad. THEY WERE REALLY BAD, and really bad for a real long time. Marbury frequently clashed with coaches, and his public feud with Larry Brown ultimately led to Brown’s dismissal in 2006. Throughout Marbury’s four plus years with the Knicks, he averaged 17.7 points per game, and 6.7 assists per game. With the exception of 2004, the season in which the Knicks acquired Marbury mid-way through, the team failed to make the playoffs during any of the subsequent seasons with Marbury at the helm. From 2004 to 2008, the Knicks were unable to win more than 33 games in a single season. After an abysmal 6-25 start to the 2008 season, Mike D’Antoni sought to reduce Marbury’s role, which Marbury reportedly refused. By December 1, Marbury was banned from attending any team practices or games. He was eventually bought out on February 24, 2009, bringing his Knicks career to a close with the combined record of 118-207. Despite the tumultuous times, Stephon Marbury has retained his status as a beloved figure among New York fans and throughout the league. His #3 jersey remained a top seller during his Knicks career, and to this day, you can still spot numerous Marbury Knicks jerseys in the stands of Madison Square Garden on any given night.
Following a brief stint in Boston in 2008, Stephon Marbury’s NBA playing days ended. However, his remarkable basketball journey was far from over. In 2010, he made the groundbreaking decision to continue his career overseas in China, a move that rejuvenated his career.
His time In China was nothing short of extraordinary. Marbury not only found success on the court but also achieved legendary status in the country. His contributions as a player, combined with his efforts as an off-court ambassador in the city of Beijing, were so significant that he received the remarkable honor of having a statue unveiled in his honor in the Chinese capital. This cemented his legacy as an icon in the hearts of Chinese basketball fans and the larger community, further underscoring the global impact of his career.
Once a Knick, always a Knick. Even if it’s just for 24 games. For a short period of time in the early 2000’s there was a debate about who the best player in the league was. Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. They were the two of most exciting superstars to watch, and night after night stuffed the stat sheets. In 2002 as a member of the Orlando Magic, T-Mac averaged 32.1 points per game. From 2000, his first year in Orlando in 2000 through his last year in Houston in 2008 T-Mac averaged over 24 points per game. In 2003 he averaged a league high 32.1 points per game and captured the honor of league scoring champion for the second time the following year. T-Mac was a 7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA First team, 3x All NBA Second Team, and 2x All-NBA Third Team member. The only problem with all of this as it relates to this article is that none of those accomplishments by T-Mac happened as member of the New York Knicks.
After a season-ending injury with the Houston Rockets in 2008 that continued to hamper him at the beginning of the 2009 campaign, T-Mac was unable to ever return to his true superstar form. By mid-season, the Rockets were in transition, moving towards a rebuilding phase, while the New York Knicks were aiming to regain relevance and make a push for the 8th playoff spot. When McGrady arrived, his #1 that fans were accustomed to seeing him in after all these years was already taken by Chris Duhon. McGrady forced to pick another number, chose his old High School #3, which also had extra significance to him as it related to his “Three Points Darfur” mission and documentary.
T-Mac’s New York Knick debut, which took place in a nationally televised game against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, was must see tv that night. Madison Square Garden hadn’t been that electrified in nearly a decade. Although the Knicks fell short, McGrady, in just 32 minutes put up 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting, giving the Knicks a glimpse of hope of what could come down the stretch. Unfortunately, nothing ever did. The excitement of McGrady’s first game never repeated itself over the course of the last 23 games that McGrady played as a Knick. The Knicks finished the season with a 29-53 record. This would mark the beginning of the end of T-Mac’s remarkable NBA career. McGrady like many other former superstars became a journeyman over the course of his final years playing for the Pistons, Hawks, Qingdao Eagles, and San Antonio Spurs from 2010-2013 before ultimately hanging them up on his way to the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Honorable Mentions: Kenyon Martin, Brandon Jennings, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Hart
As this brings us to the end of this week’s segment of Who Wore it Best #3, now it’s your turn to chime in with your opinions in the comments section as well as placing your vote. There’s no right or wrong answer, which keeps us right where we started: the eternal question of who wore it best.
Who Wore It Best? #3
Tim Hardaway Jr.