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Library lay-up: Knicks great reads with Coney kids

Read and React: John Starks reads along with 10-year-old Christopher Silva of PS 90 at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
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This former Knick is shooting for a new kind of field goal: getting Coney Island kids excited about reading.

Starks, the fiery, fan-favorite Knicks shooting guard from the 1990s, read aloud to children at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Aug. 7.

Starks grew up impoverished in Oklahoma, and said he felt a responsibility to encourage young people from similar backgrounds to value education.

“When you’ve been there, you understand the obstacles that you have to get over,” said Starks. “If I can encourage these kids to make sure that they understand how important reading is to their future, then I’m doing my job.“

One Coney Island girl said she was thrilled to meet Starks, and glad that he shared her own love of reading.

“I finally got to meet a basketball player,” said 13-year-old Emani Hayward, who said favorite book is Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief.”

Kids of all ages filled the library to hear the beloved former All-Star read from “Salt in His Shoes,” a children’s book written by Deloris Jordan, about her son, Michael, the legendary great Starks went up against many times.

“You guys ever hear of Michael Jordan?” Starks asked his audience in jest. “He was just okay, right?”

Starks alternated reading aloud from the book with young volunteers from the audience and a representative from state Sen. Diane Savino’s office.

After the reading, kids had a quiz testing how closely they paid attention. Starks then read off raffle numbers, awarding several aspiring hoopsters with free tickets to a New York Liberty game at Madison Square Garden. Plenty of other youngsters received T-shirts, a Knicks bag, and a copy of the Jordan book at the event, part of Optimum Community’s “Knicks Read to Achieve” program.

The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year participated in a similar event at a Bensonhurst summer camp last year.

Parents who brought their kids to the reading said they wished such events would happen more often.

“It’s good for kids,” said Scott Winslow, who brought his 5-year-old son Zeke to the reading. “They should get more athletes to do this. Get Lebron James down here.”

Starks, who published his autobiography, “John Starks: My Life,” in 2004, tried his hand at coaching in the minor leagues in 2003 and 2008, but these days he’s hitting the links when he’s not making appearances for his former team.

“Coaching is just too stressful,” said Starks, who turned 50 on Aug. 10. “You carry every loss with you for days. I’m just playing golf and trying to enjoy life.”

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at efaynberg@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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