JOHN STARKS, A FAN favorite in his hometown of Tulsa, is viewed as a

villain in many NBA arenas.

But even folks who think the New York Knicks guard should be

fitted for a black hat seem to be on his side in regards to a recent

incident.

Thomas Hill, a beat writer from the New York Post, recently contacted

Starks' sister, mother and grandmother (age 74) for a story about the

player's relationship with coach Don Nelson.

Hill did it without permission, using family phone numbers given

to him by Starks for a story earlier in the season.

Starks got hot when he picked up the paper and saw

his family's critical comments in print.

The result was a post-practice confrontation Tuesday. Starks did

not use physical force, but gave Hill a piece of his mind and

warned him never to call his mother and grandmother again.

Starks said the majority of other Knicks beat writers didn't

blame him for being angry. National media seem to agree that Hill,

not Starks, crossed the line.

"Most people weren't aware of what was going on at that particular time,"

said Starks. "But once they found out the facts, they were on my side."

Being a professional sports figure in New York is difficult

because of intense media scrutiny. Athletes are put through the

wringer by tabloid journalism and because of competition among

swarms of media members for fresh information.

Starks understands it is part of the business and that both he

and reporters have a job to do.

He understands that, as a public figure, he is going to be a

target of criticism, whether it is justified or unjustified.

He understands people would rather read about dirt than positives.

But he thinks there should be ground rules.

Said Starks, "Like I explained to the people up there, if people

want to know something or find out what I'm thinking, don't go to

that person's family members or to their kids or parents or whatever.

"You go to that person and ask him `What's your feelings on this

subject right here?' If you have an opinion, you give it. If you

don't, then you have no comment."

The Knicks considered firing a retaliatory strike against the New

York Post by boycotting the media, said Starks. They decided that

wouldn't be fair to other writers.

Instead, they have decided to give interviews to everyone but Hill.

Starks thinks an apology is necessary to "put everything back on

an even keel."

The Knicks often are viewed as team turmoil, but Starks likes

where his team is positioned.

"People want to talk about all the things we're going through,

but basically we're in the hunt," he said. "Chicago is way out in

front with that incredible lead, but Indiana and Orlando are right

there in our grasp. We're tied with Indiana right now for third

place in the East."

Starks thinks the Knicks might be primed for a run because they

don't practice as much under Nelson as they did under former coach

Pat Riley. Energy-wise, he thinks they will be in great shape down

the stretch.

This will not be the most statistically productive season of

Starks' career. He averaged 19.0 points per game and was chosen to

the All-Star Game two seasons ago. He is averaging 12.2 this season.

"Right now I'm not able to do the things I was able to do under

coach Riley when he had things set up for the two guard and the

center and the three man to excel," he said.

"Under coach Nelson, it's the center and the small forward

(Anthony Mason leads the league in minutes played) and everybody

else has to get their shots when they can."

Starks said he gets zero plays run his direction.

"People want to talk about my numbers, but it's not so much my

numbers," he said. "Out of all the league's two guards, I get less

shots than everybody else. The last 15 ballgames, I probably had

six or seven shots. Most two guards average 16 or 17 or 18."

Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan or Mitch Richmond might get that

many shots in a half.

Starks said he won't complain. He can deal with sacrifice as long

as the team remains on the right course.

"Once we go astray," he said, "something might have to be done."

The All-Star Game is not a showcase for big men. No center has

won MVP since Houston's Ralph Sampson in 1985. Figure the little

guys don't like to give up the rock and throw it inside?

Unknown Darrell Armstrong, who participated in the slam dunk

contest on Saturday night, has played in only seven games for the

Orlando Magic this season. He once was a placekicker for the

Fayetteville (N.C.) State football team.

Joe Smith, first overall pick in the 1995 draft, lives with his

mother, Letha. One reason: home cooking.

Former Fab Five member Jimmy King is virtually an invisible man

(2.2 points and 7.0 minutes per game) in Toronto, but ex-teammate

Juwan Howard predicts stardom.

"The NBA style of play really fits Jimmy's game," said Howard,

who thinks King was restricted by collegiate defenses.

"In time Jimmy will get a chance to play and get the minutes to

show what he can really do on the floor. He can be one of the best

guards in the league."

No players with area ties will participate in the All-Star Game,

but former Cameron player Avery Johnson will supply the opening

prayer at the All-Star chapel service Sunday morning.

Nike took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today on Friday to

draw attention to Dennis Rodman's All-Star Game snub. The ad was

blank except for a small "Where's Dennis?" blurb in the middle of

the page.