By Jason Keidel
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When you look at the litany of losing franchises across America, their fans are generally realistic about their place on their sport's totem pole. They love them in loss, and find some comfort in the shared, yearly resignation.
Until last year, Cubs fans spent a century in the solemn solace of the Friendly Confines. Before then, Red Sox fans bemoaned the Yankees' dominance at their expense. In New Orleans, fans stuffed brown bags over their faces at Saints games. But beyond the common thread of losing, none of them felt entitled or were delusional about their clubs.
Yet here, in New York City, the locals regard the Knicks in regal tones, talking about them as if they were either gazing upon a sunset or sunrise of a dynasty. No matter how wretched the Knicks are every year, despite the hardwood embarrassment they've become, New Yorkers always speak of them as if they're one play or player away from eminence.
But if New Yorkers have one properly shared animus, it's the one directed at Knicks owner James Dolan. And nothing brings this rancor to white heat more than the humiliation of Charles Oakley, inside the very building he helped make so essential in the 1990s.
To hear Dolan's take -- or tale -- over the incident, Oakley was a raging drunk who abused his privilege both as a patron, fan and icon of those hardscrabble teams led by Pat Riley, which came within four quarters of an NBA title in 1994. And no player was more emblematic of their blue-collar ethos than Oakley, who took his limited talent and galvanized a team and a town. Oakley's take is that he sat down and in 4½ minutes was accosted and assaulted by Madison Square Garden thugs, led by their misguided general, Dolan.
Whom will you believe? Dolan -- the born billionaire whose father handed him the MSG empire like a Cadillac upon high school graduation? Or Oakley -- self-made basketball star who didn't have the athletic splendor of his peers, like Jordan or Pippen? Despite his gravity-bound game, Oakley became a vital NBA player, simply by dint of his desire, sweat and intelligence.
Speaking of intelligence, this is far from the first time Dolan's intelligence, wit or wisdom has been called into question.
During an interview last year with Bryant Gumbel, Dolan admitted he could have settled the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit for about $250,000. Instead, he believed entirely in Isiah Thomas, rolled the dice in court and crapped out, to the tune of over $11 million. Though he said it was among the biggest mistakes of his life, Dolan also said that was the cost of believing in the truth.
Truth, of course, seems rather relative in Dolan's world.
What is Dolan's truth? That Thomas was not only innocent of the charges, but also a great GM? Despite all the evidence disputing both, Thomas still has a firm grip on Dolan's ear, if not his heart. Is Dolan's truth that Phil Jackson is also a great personnel man, despite the epic failures since he became team czar? Is Dolan's truth that Carmelo Anthony is still the returning, conquering son, despite the team's .444 winning percentage since he arrived? Despite the fact that he was really raised in Baltimore?
Is Dolan's truth that Oakley is a rampant, rampaging drunk who poses a threat to public safety?
If this really were a singular case of belligerence and public drunkenness, why was Oakley not the only person booted from the Garden that night? According to an article from the Sporting News, quoting MSG spokesman Barry Watkins, another dissatisfied fan directed his ire at Dolan, chanting obscenities at the Knicks owner, which (in Dolan's world) warranted his ejection. Then, of course, there's the abject irony of Dolan, who went to rehab for abusing booze and drugs, judging a former employee as an alcoholic without any personal proof to support it.
Also, why was Dolan's head of security fired shortly thereafter? If this were handled in pristine, textbook manner, why toss Senior Vice President for Security Frank Benedetto? And unlike other cases, where the Knicks do one thing while calling it another, they were explicit in asserting that Benedetto was canned precisely because of the way his minions handled Oakley.
Sure, some of us warned you about Melo. We also warned you that Jackson was a coach, not a GM. But that's not what this is about. This is about the man to whom they all report, the man who pays them, the man who makes you pay Porsche prices for a Prius and the man who will, hopefully, someday, pay for his biblical incompetence.
Maybe Dolan is spot-on about Oakley. But forgive us if we have Oakley's broad back, if we doubt a man whose relationship to the truth is tenuous, if not laughable.
And if Dolan is indeed right about Oakley, it would be the first time he's been right after nearly 20 years of being woefully wrong.
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