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Marion incident still lingers

Jazz host Suns 2 weeks after forward's injury

John Starks played long enough in the Big Apple to realize a dash of controversy, like a spread of cream cheese on a warm bagel from your favorite corner deli, is just part of the morning routine.

So when his involvement in Shawn Marion's fall heard 'round the NBA spun wildly out of control, the Jazz guard took the psycho-babble in stride — and took solace in knowing what his true intentions happened to be.

And, no, they were not, as some have suggested, to undercut the high-flying Phoenix Suns forward on a play that resulted in Marion sustaining only a severe concussion and a sprained right wrist.

And, yes, 'only' is appropriate in front of 'severe concussion,' because it could have been worse. Much worse. Like shattered-vertebrae worse.

"It really doesn't pay me no mind about what people think," Starks said Thursday morning, as the Jazz prepared to play Phoenix tonight at the Delta Center in the first game between the two since Marion was hurt. "You know, it's what you think, and what was your purpose out there, and what was you thinking about . . . out there on the court.

"Like I say, I know I wasn't trying to hurt him. And that's the main point," added Starks, who spent eight seasons with the New York Knicks before brief stops with Golden State, Chicago and, now, Utah. "People are going to speculate. They're going to come up with their own opinion about what I was trying to do, or what have you. And, so, I can't get into a 'what they think,' or 'what they say.'

"I know what was my intention when I made the play."

Yes, Starks has seen 'the play' in replay. But before getting to the videotape, let's rewind.

The Jazz were losing at Phoenix on Feb. 25, when Marion skied after the rebound of John Stockton's failed late-game 3-point attempt. Starks, guarding Marion, backed in to block out his man, who by then was hanging in the same stratosphere as the rim.

Contact was made. Marion hit the hard, cold floor of AmericaWest Arena head and shoulder first, and his head would bounce up and hit the floor one more time before he came to a rest, out cold.

Marion was unconscious for more than a minute and, after he came to, was removed from the arena on a backboard, wearing a neck brace.

Afterward, no one involved in the game pointed at Starks. Suns point guard Jason Kidd immediately absolved him of any wrongdoing. Even fiery Phoenix coach Scott Skiles was reserved in his initial comments.

But those covering the NBC-televised Sunday game from a TV studio a couple of thousand miles away, including noted Jazz antagonist Pete Vecsey, felt compelled to comment. Sports talk-radio hosts with coast-to-coast audiences and way too much time on their hands chimed in with their two cents. Between reaches into the popcorn bowl, Internet journalists sorted fact from fiction from the comfort of their couches.

And after a limited number of national and local Phoenix-area media members voiced their opinions, and after it became apparent Marion would miss at least a couple of games, and after Skiles replayed 'the play' himself, the matter had taken on a life of its own.

Never mind that Marion himself has cleared Starks of any intentional wrongdoing ("I don't think that he did it on purpose").

It was the words of Skiles — "I've looked at it so many times now, I know I don't like it. I feel it could have been prevented" — that seems to have stung Starks most.

"I think that was pretty much spawned on by Coach Skiles," Starks said of the controversy. "He said after he reviewed the tape that I tried to undercut him. And that wasn't the case. But the (Suns) players, to their credit, you know, stood up for me, and knew that I wasn't trying to hurt him or anything like that. And that, really, is all that matters. . . . I can't concern myself with what a coach thinks."

Equally important is what Starks insists was in his own mind.

"I know I wasn't intentionally trying to hurt Shawn, and I know he felt that way, too," he said. "Like I (said), if I was trying to hurt somebody, I would have walked away from the scene, and not even paid attention to it."

But Starks did make an effort to break Marion's fall and was at his side as soon as he hit the floor.

Starks said Thursday he hoped to speak to Marion, who after missing three games in eight days returned with a 22-point, nine-rebound effort at Denver last Tuesday night. If the two talk, Starks might share thoughts such as those formulated after his own videotape review of 'the play':

"I would try to still go in there to block him out," Starks said. "You know, he's just a very quick leaper. And when you're that quick, you're gonna get yourself 'caught up' in certain situations, you know?

"He got off the floor quicker than what I can get there, you know? . . . He just got caught up underneath me, and it's just an unfortunate situation that happened."


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com