BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
WEST NYACK – About four dozen young basketballers were in for a special treat when they gathered at the Rockland JCC on Tuesday, March 25 to help Mackenzie Schnapper raise funds for diabetes research as part of her Bat Mitzvah project.
The youths gathered to play an informal tournament for a good cause, but were pleasantly surprised when 1990s Knicks All-Star and fan favorite John Starks paid an unannounced visit and gave an inspirational speech. Starks’ message for the youths: “Work together. A team that works together is usually the last one standing.”
Mackenzie Schnapper, 12, is studying for her Bat Mitzvah, which is the traditional “coming of age” ritual for Jewish girls. It occurs when they turn 13-years-old. (Males have a Bar Mitzvah).
A trend in recent years has been for Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to complete a project aimed at giving back to the community and developing leadership skills. Mackenzie, a star player on the JCC championship team, got together nearly 50 kids for the basketball tournament, raising donations to fight diabetes in the process.
Her inspiration: her grandfather Alan Rosenberg, a lifelong basketball lover who was a walk-on starter for NYU one season in the early 1960s, and who suffers from diabetes.
Rosenberg, a CPA with offices in Scarsdale and New York City, has also been a longtime New York Knicks season ticket holder, and is friends with Starks. The 1994 all-star showed up to help the cause and to participate in Mackenzie’s project.
Starks said to the youths, “I just want to make sure you understand why you’re here. So many people are struck with diabetes. This is a great cause.”
He continued, “You showing up means you care and that makes a big difference. It touches my heart when I see young people who understand what we are here for, to help others.”
Rosenberg said, “I’ve known John since his first year with the Knicks. John was known for his desire to win.”
He suggested the youths read Starks’ autobiography “John Starks: My Life.”
Starks entertained questions from attendees one-on-one and the conversation seemed to keep coming back to one famous moment: The Dunk. Yes, the immortal dunk, one of the greatest moments of the Knicks 1990s run, when Starks soared up and over both Horace Grant and Michael Jordan and emphatically dunked on both. To the naked eye it appeared Starks miraculously gained a second lift to his jump in mid-air, helping to etch the moment forever into Knicks lore.
Starks noted that most fans remember the immortal moment from the 1993 playoffs as a dunk over Jordan, forgetting that the main obstacle to the basket was actually Grant.
A poster of “The Dunk” hangs in a frame on Rosenberg’s wall in his Scarsdale and New York City offices. Rosenberg is well known and has been featured in major media for the decorations on the walls of both his offices.
Rosenberg’s walls are adorned with hundreds of autographed photos of famous basketball players such as Wilt Chamberlain, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Bill Russell and too many others to count. Rosenberg particularly admired Oscar Robertson in his prime, the only player in NBA history to ever average a triple double in a season.
Aside from his family and his CPA practice, basketball has been the love of Rosenberg’s life, he said, and his granddaughter Mackenzie seems to have inherited the gene.
Mackenzie said, “I share with my grandfather…a love and passion for playing basketball…I wanted to do something that would help fight this disease and also pay tribute to the man from whom I inherited my ability to play basketball.”
The charity event raised approximately $8,000 total to fight diabetes.
Starks is still involved with the Knicks organization and told the Rockland County Times he was optimistic about the hire of Phil Jackson as president of basketball operations. He said, “I think it’s a good pick-up to have someone of his quality.”
Starks continues to run the John Starks Foundation, offering college scholarships to Metro Area and Tulsa, Oklahoma-area (his home town) students. Visit his foundation at: http://www.johnstarks.org/.