The Breaks Of The Game

What are the Knicks doing on their extended summer vacation?

Although he seems to have plenty to occupy him, it is still a challenge to keep his mind off basketball. "You do get anxious at this time [of year], but I understand the purpose of what we're doing." Starks is keeping fit with a regular workout regimen at the gym conveniently located inside his Connecticut home, but he hasn't had many opportunities to run the court with other players.

On the domestic front, Starks has found himself factored into the household chore rotation more often. And he hasn't had much luck pawning off his least favorite job— feeding the dog— on his 11-year-old son, John Jr. The lockout has given Starks Sr. time to try his hand at coaching, too. He is volunteering as an assistant for his son's football team this fall. He has been dabbling in the arts as well, attending his six-year-old daughter Chelsea's piano recitals.

Point guard Charlie Ward hasn't seen his domestic responsibilities increase since he has been idled by the lockout. "I'm used to cleaning up," Ward said in a phone interview from his Stamford, Connecticut, home that was accompanied by the occasional clamor of pots and pans in the background.

Ward says he has kept in shape working out and running the court with friends in recent months. But, echoing the sentiments of many of his teammates, he says "nothing's going to be the same" as NBA competition. Ward, who is 28 years old, has spent much of his newfound free time involved in the charitable activities he plans to devote himself to more fully after his retirement. Last Friday, he appeared at a public school in the Bronx, where he gave a motivational speech to a group of youths. Ward says that the lockout has allowed him to oblige many more of the requests to make these kinds of appearances.

Although Ward did not expect the NBA's labor troubles to come to this, he says he makes it his business in life to be prepared for anything. To that end, he is philosophical about the disruption of his livelihood. "It's giving me an opportunity to do other things, look at new avenues, and explore innovative ways of doing things. This situation should be a lesson to prepare yourself for hard times."

Despite Ward's optimistic determination, the conversation turns quickly to talk of the lockout. Although he sympathizes with hoops fans whose needs aren't being met at the moment, he supports the union's hard-line negotiations stance. "We can't pay for their [NBA owners] bad choices, they have to live with the consequences," Ward says, referring to the league's claims of financial difficulties.

All the Knicks who spoke with the Voicesaid they were keeping close tabs on developments in negotiations. Williams, the former union president, says he even speaks frequently with his successor, Patrick Ewing, but has not taken an active role in the talks.

For the moment, members of the Knicks are still hoping that they will get back to the business of basketball before the end of the year. When asked about a return to the court, Starks slips into locker-room mode: "It's going to be my best season for the New York Knicks, mentally and physically," Starks promises. "It will be the old John Starks, going aggressively to the basket." Was there ever any other John Starks?

Houston, meanwhile, isn't making any prophecies about a bright Knicks future. Although he is excited to pick up where the team left off last spring, he isn't looking to settle any old scores.

"I think it's time for everybody to start worrying about us instead of us worrying about them."

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