Sitting on the floor of the Baldwin Public Library Tuesday wearing a Carmelo Anthony jersey, Oliver Membreno’s arm shot up as former New York Knick John Starks asked for volunteers.
Membreno, 8, of Baldwin, was the first child selected to sit in the “hot seat” next to Starks and read a few pages of the book “Hoop Genius” by John Coy aloud to the families gathered in the library.
“I loved it,” he later said of the experience, adding that Starks is now his new favorite Knick.
Although Oliver wasn’t alive when Starks was starting for the Knicks as a shooting guard throughout the 1990s, his mother, Kim Membreno, said she had shown him and his sister, Caitlyn, 6, photos and videos of Starks online. Both her kids, she said, have been looking forward to this day since she signed them up weeks ago for the “Knicks Read to Achieve @powertolearn.com 2013 Summer Reading Program.”
“They were up early this morning, ready to go,” said Membreno, 43.
More than 80 kids and their parents turned out for Tuesday morning’s event, and there was a waiting list of others who wanted to attend, according to Catherine Overton, director of the Baldwin Public Library. Each child received a Knicks T-shirt and a copy of Coy’s book, which Starks later signed.
After the story was complete, the kids participated in a pop quiz about the book they read, some won raffle prizes and everyone had a chance to pose for photos with Starks and get his autograph.
“This will be a memory that stays with them for a quite a while,” Overton said.
The library was among the six stops that the program, now in its 16th year, will be making this summer throughout the Tri-State area. Cablevision’s Power to Learn initiative and the New York Knicks partnered together to host the literacy events, which are sponsored by Kia Motors America.
Starks, a father of three who now works in alumni relations and fan development for the Knicks, said the goal of the program is “energize” kids to read, especially during the summer months, but to also show them the big picture.
“We want to make sure they really understand how important reading is to their growth and success later down the line,” Starks, 48, said.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who also read with the children, along with MSG Varsity sportscaster Carl Reuter, connected books and basketball while addressing the kids.
“Mr. Starks didn’t wake up one day, boys and girls, and say, ‘You know, I’m going to become one of the greatest basketball players today.’ He had to practice,’” Murray said to the children. “You have to practice, you have to keep reading even in these hot, hot days of summer.”
Starks also told the kids that his reading skills came in handy when signing his NBA contracts. “I had to understand what I was signing,” he said. “If I couldn’t read, they could’ve given me a dollar.”
Membreno said she hopes her son will be inspired by his encounter with the former NBA star.
She added, “Now, that he sees that Starks reads, I think he’ll read more.”