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Knicks' Starks promises not to change his tune


CHICAGO -- With nine minutes left in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, the deafening sound system at Chicago Stadium blasted out "Hit the Road, Jack."

It was a parting tribute to New York Knicks guard John Starks, who just had been ejected for taking one too many swipes at Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

The song has become a familiar road melody for Starks, a hero in the Knicks' two victories in New York to open the best-of-seven series, but a symbol of his team's frustration in Saturday's

103-83 rout by the defending champions.

"Seeing Starks lose his cool that way was good," said Bulls reserve center Scott Williams. "He was riding cloud nine in New York, getting all that praise for defending Michael, then, all of a sudden, he comes in here and embarrasses himself. It gives us satisfaction that every dog has his day."

But Starks expressed no misgivings about his run-in with Jordan.

"You let Jordan back you up or you stand your ground," he said. "I've got to stand my ground. There is a point you let a player get to, a line, so to speak. You let him get there, and you're his patsy. You can't let him back you down.

"If a guy puts his hand in my face, I'm going to slap it down. I'm not a kid. Would I do it again [today]? I don't know. But I don't see myself out of control.

"The intensity and high level of emotion I have I think of as a positive. My confidence is always there. I'll come out and play a much stronger game [today]."

It is that thin line between confidence and cockiness that Knicks coach Pat Riley must weigh carefully in his handling of Starks.

"John should have let it go [his shoving match with Jordan], but he is easily riled as a player," Riley said. "I can't condone it, but John does it, and then feels bad about it. But he'll bounce back and be fine. Like I said before, I'd still want him in my foxhole."

With Game 4 here this afternoon, no one is certain where Starks' emotional roller coaster will carry him. The Knicks' most potent -- backcourt weapon is as unpredictable as a Midwest weather pattern.

His temper got him into trouble in the opening round of the playoffs, when he responded to Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller's taunts with a head butt. It drew an ejection and a severe reprimand from Riley and Knicks captain Patrick Ewing.

But don't expect Starks, 27, to become a choir boy overnight.

"It comes with growing up in Tulsa," he said of his feisty image. "My older brothers used to beat me up all the time and try to make me tough. I couldn't go outside and cry every time someone hit me with an elbow.

So I just held it in and started fighting back a bit."

This belligerent attitude is admired by his Knicks teammates.

"John is an emotional player, and that's how he plays," said Doc Rivers, Starks' backcourt partner. "He lost it for a moment Saturday, but we didn't lose the game because he got ejected. We were already down 23 points.

"He plays with his heart and intensity. We depend a lot on him, and he's almost always there for us."

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