NEW YORK — A 24-person relay of NBA luminaries running the New York City Marathon started with a referee's whistle and ended with Dikembe Mutombo crossing the finish line in high-tops.

Commissioner Adam Silver handled the first three miles, crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. He passed a baton to Chris Mullin, the Brooklyn native who starred at St. John's in Queens before a Hall of Fame NBA career.

The group's total time was just over 4 hours, 48 minutes. The event was staged to try to encourage kids to exercise.

"Many people told me that I was going to walk after retiring five years ago, but I'm glad I pushed myself," Mutombo said. "It's great. After running on a basketball court for so long and so many years, it's good to be outside

there running."

Each celebrity was joined on his or her one-mile leg by a local student who takes part in marathon organizer New York Road Runners' youth programs.

Mutombo eschewed running shoes for some more familiar gear.

"I've been running all of my life with the high-top shoes," he said. "So I really don't know that much what it's like running with the low-cut shoes. So when I put these shoes on, it's a great brand; it's the Dikembe Mutombo brand. So I was happy to run in them."

Among the other participants were Bronx native and Hall of Famer Nate "Tiny" Archibald; Knicks greats Charles Oakley and Bernard King; former Nets Darryl Dawkins and Jason Collins; Brooklyn native Sam Perkins; and WNBA stars Swin Cash and Ruth Riley.

Another member of the relay, former referee Bob Delaney, started Silver off with a tweet of his whistle. Delaney is now the league's vice president of referee operations.

Silver is an avid runner who has twice completed the NYC Marathon, finishing in just under four hours in both 2002 and 2010. He competed in track and cross country — not basketball — in high school in Rye, N.Y., where he was a quarter- and half-miler.

Plans for the relay began in the early spring. New York is home to this season's NBA All-Star weekend, with events at the Nets' Brooklyn arena and the game at Madison Square Garden.

The league is seeking to reach a half-million youngsters in the five boroughs through fitness programs in conjunction with hosting the festivities.