By Assisting Children In Need, John Starks Builds A Legacy Beyond Basketball

Joyful memories can be hard to come by for children and families facing life-altering health challenges.

For 30 years, the enCourage Kids Foundation has partnered with hospitals across the tri-state area to create as many of those positive experiences as possible through various programs both inside and outside of hospital walls.

Executive director Michele Hall-Duncan initially volunteered for the organization 20 years ago and was so enthralled by its mission that she never left.

“Entertainment and diversion for the kids and murals on the walls to distract them, that stuff is secondary, tertiary sometimes. They just don’t have the money for it and that’s where we come in. We come in and we supplement where the hospital can’t and I think that’s what makes me extremely unique.”

Fortunately, enCourage Kids isn’t in this fight alone. Partnerships with organizations like the Garden of Dreams Foundation, an extension of Madison Square Garden’s charitable arm, allow enCourage Kids to reach more families than ever before.

“A lot of times we pay a lot of attention of course, as we should, to people who give us money and fund us but this partnership really, really helps. It’s like gold, it helps us expand our reach to our kids,” Hall-Duncan said.

On March 10, Garden of Dreams became the first non-profit partner to be recognized by enCourage Kids at its annual gala, which raised over $1 million to assist 275,000 of the sickest children in the region. Graciously accepting the Community Parter Award on behalf of Garden of Dreams was Knicks legend John Starks.

“It means a lot. It means that the foundation was created for the community and all the work that we have done in the last 10 years has been recognized on this platform right here, so we’re extremely grateful that we’re receiving this award.”

Giving back to the community has always been important to Starks and he’s certainly not the only athlete that feels that way. While programs like NBA Cares receive a lot of attention, athletes have paved their own charitable paths for years.

“Athletes have always been involved in programs during our playing career and whoever respective team you’re with we’re always reaching to the community because the community supports us in many ways and so we just want to give back.”

While players may not have changed much off the court, Starks was quick to admit that it’s an entirely different story on the hardwood, making it tough to compare the 2015–16 Warriors to the 1995–96 Bulls.

“It’s a totally different style of basketball so you can’t really compare the two teams because it was a lot more physical back then. You’d get away with a lot of things that you can’t get away with today. In today’s style of basketball they’re playing it the best.”

However, even the greatest athletes can’t do it all by themselves. To assist Starks, Hall-Duncan and the rest of the team at enCourage Kids click here.

A version of this story was originally published on March 11, 2016 on Slant.