Editor's Note: This essay written and originally posted in 2012.
By Kate Fagan
My history with John Starks is much longer than his history with me.
If the two of us were to meet on the street, I'd need a U-Haul to carry my memories, while Starks would walk unburdened, pockets empty. Of course, chances are slim that I'd bump into Starks on an actual, concrete street, but the universe is shrinking, and over the weekend I thought the two of us were now walking the same cyber road: Twitter.
Starks, the streakest shooter ever to play for the New York Knicks, created a Twitter account on Friday of last week: @johnstarksNBA. Or so I thought. I know this because I follow dozens of NBA-centric Tweeters, and also because I routinely Google "John Starks" just to be sure he hasn't done something spectacular while I wasn't looking. I immediately followed Starks. I also immediately sent out a Tweet requesting (OK, begging) him to follow me.
The great thing about Twitter is that it's a two-way street. I believe we all get one free pass, one chance on Twitter to reach out and -- with dignity and respectfully -- pursue a follow request. If John Starks followed me, his Twitter feed would include whatever messages I sent out. (At this thought, my 11-year-old heart began thudding in my chest.) In chasing this one-time hall pass, which should be reserved for someone whose story is intertwined with your own -- and not just every movie star who checks onto the medium -- the same social rules apply as in face-to-face interaction. I wouldn't go running down the street screaming out Starks' name. (Or would I?) But on Twitter, I could send out one simple, urgent message.
And that's exactly what I did, three minutes after discovering Starks had supposedly logged onto Twitter. "Trying to be as cool as I can about this," I wrote on Friday, "but I'm really gonna need @johnstarksNBA to follow me."
The whole thing -- how small Twitter makes our world – both excites and concerns me.
John Starks was imperfect. He went 2-for-18 from the field (and 0-for-11 from three) in the most important game of his career: Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. He also had a nasty habit of making entry passes to center Patrick Ewing by wrapping the ball with his right hand around the left side of his defender. I'm sure Starks had other flaws, but I'm unaware of them. Liking Starks wasn't easy, but loving him was: He never left me wondering if I cared more about the game than he did (A feeling I get all too often when watching today's NBA games.) I had friends who adored Michael Jordan, one of Starks' nemeses, but that seemed boring, the equivalent of rooting for the Yankees. I preferred my restless underdog.
Getting to know the 46-year old Starks, even in 140-character snippets, excited me. Starks existed in my childhood like a real-life instruction video: I'd watch him effortlessly whip the ball from right to left, rising for a jumper, and then I'd dart outside and spend an hour attempting to dribble behind my back, the ball knocking off my heel every single time. Starks bookmarked a place in my heart, just as Sue Bird or Abby Wambach or Serena Williams might have done, or might be doing, in yours.
One of @johnstarksNBA's first Tweets was, "Good morning y'all! So what's good should I eat bacon or sausage with my eggs?"
This concerned me. And not because I thought Starks was a vegetarian.
In my mind, Starks is practicing three-pointers in a darkened gymnasium, sweat pooling onto the court. He exists on grainy game tape, aired once a year on ESPN Classics, diving onto the floor and standing forehead-to-forehead with Scottie Pippen. On my Twitter feed, Starks was waking up on a Sunday morning and wondering what part of the pig would go best with his eggs.
This presented a bit of a dilemma for me, one that didn't exist twenty years ago. Suddenly, the trivial thoughts of my childhood hero were showing up hourly on Twitter. Some of the Tweets failed to match the excitement of "The Dunk," when Starks threw it down, left-handed, over Chicago's Horace Grant in the 1993 NBA Playoffs. But some were decent enough, like on Saturday night when @johnstarksNBA wrote, "All in all 2012 gonna be a great year. Much love."
I could lament the loss of mystique, or I could just be super psyched to know that "Starks" was watching the AFC divisional game on Sunday night and that he couldn't believe the Broncos "just went up and go did that!"
I couldn't believe it either!
All I wanted was the John Starks on my Twitter feed to become half as awesome as the one I imitated in my driveway. So I sent out my simple follow request and waited. I'd never imagined us as Tweeps, so patience came easily. Then, late on Sunday night, as I swam through my virtual stream, I saw that @johnstarksNBA had morphed into @notjohnstarks. NBA aficianados immediately issued warnings against the fake John Starks, who had amassed almost 1,000 followers in two days. It had all been a sham. My John Starks had never joined Twitter, had never Tweeted about bacon and eggs and the Broncos’ overtime victory. My John Starks had never recklessly abandoned the comma or proper verb tense.
I leaned back into my couch and released a deep breath, disappointment mixed with relief. The real John Starks is probably unaware of this cyber mix-up. The real John Starks remains preserved in my 11-year-old mind, hi-fiving Spike Lee after back-to-back three pointers.