The New York Knicks have broken our hearts for long enough, thanks in part to James Dolan and his egregious ineptitude.
Growing up in Nesconset on Long Island, my father habitually told me the story of the Knicks’ winning the lottery pick that landed them the top pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.
My dad was driving to our house on Locksley Lane, likely in our Dodge Aries, the car that several times delivered us on vacation to Lakeland, Florida, where my Nana currently lives, with my grandfather, an Islandia resident, cruising out in front of him.
The radio, to which both were listening intently, broadcast the spellbinding news: commissioner David Stern held up the envelope that would usher in a new era at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had the number one overall pick. Every expert pegged Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, a polished product from Kingston, Jamaica and widely lauded collegian, as the Knicks’ top selection.
David DeBusschere, then the Knicks’ director of basketball operations, burst with elation, understanding the full gravity of the moment: the Knicks, who that year lost scoring savant Bernard King to a devastating knee injury, would again be relevant, a year removed from mustering a 24-58 record, second only to the Indiana Pacers for the worst record in the Eastern Conference during the 1984-85 campaign.
Upon hearing the news, my grandfather rolled down his window and brandished a closed fist, holding up his left thumb. My father knew precisely what the signal meant: the Knicks, a team he cherished from his youth, would get their man in Ewing. He returned the gesture with an outstretched forefinger of his own—a makeshift number one—blazoned proudly out of his driver’s side window.
My father always managed a penchant for storytelling. His rich and illustrative tales captured the scenes for a multitude of time frames and moments in sports, from Mickey Mantle’s heyday in pinstripes to Willis Reid’s heroics in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. This uncanny ability had much to do with the medium, a transistor radio, he was forced to utilize, seeing as how, when he was in high school, many NBA games, including the Finals, were broadcast late at night on tape delay. Because of this knack for spinning tales and meticulous attention to detail, I developed my initial love for professional sports in the form of the once proud New York Knickerbockers.
Where my Uncle Chuck, my dad’s brother, failed in corrupting my sensibilities with his love for the Mets and Jets, my father succeeded in grooming me as a diehard Yankee, Giant, and Knick fan (the Rangers were not that far in pursuit), dressing me in my first NBA jersey (Mark Jackson) before I was nine, gifting me Ewing jerseys (one in Knicks’ blue and orange, the other, his Dream Team uniform) by the time I turned eleven.
My formative years were rife with tales of the hardwood, from the accolades of Walter Berry, Chris Mullin and Bill Wennington at St. John’s (to my dad, they will always be the Redmen) to the Knicks of the ’70s, the early portion of which was dominated by Reed, DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Jerry Lucas, all of whom I knew by name by the time the Knicks consumed my subconscious in the mid-to-late ’90s, my own personal era in Knick fandom that was subsequently domineered by the remarkable talents and collective grit of Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Derek Harper, Charlie Ward, Charles Smith, Anthony Bonner, Chris Childs, Marcus Camby, and Allan Houston, a period that amounted to two disappointing losses in the NBA Finals (in ’94 and ’99, the summer before my freshman year at Kutztown University). When I ultimately read Harvey Araton’s When the Garden was Eden in my thirties, I already knew more than half the stories because of my father.
My father, at 6-foot-7, was a star forward in the ’70s for the Musketeers of Central Islip High School. Despite his converting my mother into a massive Yankee fan by 1978, the year in which they wed, my dad always favored basketball. In the season Michael Jordan “retired” from the NBA to capriciously try his hand at minor league baseball, three years after moving from the Island to northeast Pennsylvania, my father and Uncle Chuck scalped tickets outside of the Garden to attend a nationally televised, Sunday afternoon game against the Chicago Bulls (February 20, 1994, to be exact), my first live NBA experience—an enthralling one, to say the least—an 86-68 Knicks victory that demonstrated just how lost Scottie Pippen was without Michael.
My father and I would later attend at least two more games together at the Garden: a Saturday evening game against the New Jersey Nets one year later and a Martin Luther King, Jr. matinee against the Seattle Supersonics a year after that. Similar to now, in an era that long predated Ticketmaster (at least its online marketplace) and StubHub, Knicks games were outrageously priced. The treat of a game with my father on a yearly basis was enough to satisfy me, especially given the opportunity to watch games on the MSG Network.
We spent many nights watching games together. We tuned into WFAN, just as my father always had when we lived on Long Island, to hear Mike Francesa and Chris Russo’s take on the Knicks and Rangers, both of whom consumed headlines in ’94. While away on business, my dad called me when the Knicks won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers, defeating the easy-to-loathe Reggie Miller, to clinch a berth in the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets.
He told me, “I didn’t think they had it in them, but lo and behold you did: you believed, and here they are.”
Had it not been for my father, no such belief could have even existed. I only believed because he always had.
I was at my friend Danny’s house when Game 5 of those Finals was interrupted by the infamous pursuit of O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco, his friend Al Cowlings behind the wheel. My dad and I were elated, then subsequently deflated, when John Starks‘s last-second three-point attempt in Game 6 was blocked by Hakeem Olajuwon, a shot that would have given the Knicks their first title in twenty-one years. Starks, who amassed 27 points that night on 5-of-9 shooting from behind the arc, was on fire. My father and I truly believed he would carry the hot hand over to Game 7.
Alas, Starks would go 2-for-18 from the field in Game 7, effectively shooting the Knicks out of contention, his fingerprints all over a demoralizing 90-84 loss. My dad had no idea I went to my room that evening and laid waste to my alarm clock. I still cut Starks’s picture from that Game 7 loss out of the New York Post and placed it in my locker in eighth grade the following fall. While the Rangers’ winning the Cup for the first time in 54 years somewhat lessened the blow of the Knicks’ defeat, I felt empty knowing the Knicks had wasted another year of Patrick Ewing‘s prime. I had no idea that desolation would last for another 23 years and counting.
While MSG Network remained an option for residents of Matamoras, a town a mere twenty-five minutes from us, it would not be an option in the year or two that closed out my time in high school with Blue Ridge, the cable provider at my parents’ house, just outside of Milford. Even when I purchased a house of my own after college, I bought NBA League Pass in Carmelo Anthony‘s first season with New York, then switched three years later to DirecTV, only to discover that while the network carried MSG, the Knicks were blacked out because of “our proximity to Philadelphia,” a city three hours from the Pike County area, as opposed to the hour-and-a-half distance we are from New York.
In high school, I was unaware of the cable service in Matamoras: Cablevision, an outfit owned by billionaire founder Charles Dolan, who owned Madison Square Garden, both the network and the arena, before subsidizing all of his properties to the current owner of the Knicks, his son James. This is James Dolan, the deplorable, despicable man responsible for the mess of a franchise into which New York has now manifested, the culmination of which arrived with the lifetime ban that now meets Charles Oakley, two nights after his removal from the Garden, only five minutes into a nationally televised game on ESPN against the Los Angeles Clippers.
First, there was the historic loss to the Sixers in January, days after Derrick Rose went absent without leave, a time when the former MVP teetered on claiming a maximum contract or never returning to the game again. Then came the Carmelo Anthony smear campaign, which, in his defense, the Knick star has handled with class and relative aplomb. But how the Knicks have handled Charles Oakley borders on unconscionable.
Despite the 119-115 loss on Wednesday, their third in a row, to the Clips, through which New York lead by as much as ten points in the fourth quarter, the Knicks lost more than a game that night: they relinquished whatever integrity and legitimacy they mustered as a franchise, one that was plagued by a decade of losing in an era mismanaged by Isaiah Thomas, the vice president of basketball operations (a man who would almost be preferable to the laughingstock current president of operations, Phil Jackson, has made of the organization), during a time that ran general manager Donnie Walsh out of town in 2011 after explicit orders not to trade for Melo, who could have been claimed that summer in free agency.
The decision to bring Phil and Isaiah to New York? Dolan’s.
The vehement behest that went against Walsh’s express orders not to land Carmelo? Dolan’s.
The refusal to extend legendary broadcaster Marv Albert’s contract to continue calling games for MSG Network because Albert was prone to criticizing the organization? Dolan’s.
The choice of bringing in coach after coach (from Mike D’Antoni to Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, and Kurt Rambis) despite a conglomeration of dreadful draft picks (from Frederic Weis to Michael Sweetney and everyone else in between), failed trades (Eddy Curry for a bevy of first round draft picks or Antonio McDyess for Nene Hilario, along with the deals that landed Stephon Marbury, Glen Rice, Steve Francis, etc.) and piss-poor free agent signings (Amare Stoudemire and now Joakim Noah) to form rosters that were never at any point championship caliber? Dolan’s.
I can forgive passing over Patrick Ewing for countless head and assistant coaching gigs.
I forgave the Knicks despite a lackluster pitch to sign LeBron James as a free agent in the summer of 2010, then foolishly convinced myself that Stoudemire would help us contend alongside Danilo Gallinari.
I forgave the Knicks’ trading a batch of picks and nearly half the roster to land Carmelo Anthony.
I could forgive Phil’s selection of Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft despite the Knicks’ innumerable missteps with international players, especially with knowledge of KP’s star potential.
After the Knicks’ noxious treatment of Carmelo Anthony and their dismissing Charles Oakley, claiming “they hope Charles gets the help he needs” and that every word out of his mouth since Wednesday’s incident is “pure fiction,” I can no longer support the franchise with every fiber of my being for as long as Dolan and Phil are aboard to destroy the franchise and its loyal-to-a-fault fanbase, of which I have been a part for as long as my father ingrained in me an undying love for the Knicks that wanes with each passing moment of this sordid, unfulfilling regime.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) February 9, 2017
Let us get this straight: Charles Oakley is by no means completely in the right for his behavior on Wednesday night.
But consider what would drive a man to that point.
He is a Knick legend who had to pay for his own ticket to Madison Square Garden. While on SportsCenter the day after the Oakley incident, Antonio Davis claimed he has never once paid for admission to a Pacers game. This is Indiana we are talking about.
The Knicks have not been consistently relevant for a two or three year period since head coach Jeff Van Gundy left in 2001. Only the Timberwolves and Hornets have won fewer playoff games than the Knicks (seven) in that span. Quite frankly, Melo’s scoring title, Tyson Chandler‘s Defensive Player of the Year campaign, J.R. Smith winning the Sixth Man of the Year, and the Atlantic Division title to go with a 50-win season (the organization’s first since the championship run in ’94), all compiled in two consecutive seasons in the midst of Linsanity, was but a mirage, the accolades surfacing in spite of what the Knicks are: the most tragic and poorly run organization not only in New York, but across professional sports, even in a state that includes the Islanders, Bills and Jets.
Furthermore, Oakley is legitimately a fan who still purchases tickets to witness this disaster of a franchise. He is disgusted, and rightfully so, over what this organization has become: a team that refuses to interview, let alone hire, Patrick Ewing for an assistant coach position, a franchise that raked Carmelo Anthony over the coals, mostly via Phil Jackson‘s Twitter account (never mind his being a non-entity before the media), despite extending him to this pesky, binding document we call a contract.
To place this all in perspective, a vocal majority have come to Oakley’s aid without having any singular involvement with the franchise: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul took to Instagram to offer their support and condolences, while arch nemesis Reggie Miller strode to Oakley’s defense, simultaneously lambasting the Knicks in the process, tweeting, “If you are a [free agent] to be, why would you play for an owner who treats the past greats like this or a president who stabs [a] star player in the back?”
You know you have breached a twisted, parallel dimension when a Knick fan is siding with a long-standing enemy.
To make matters worse, Dolan took to the radio waves on Friday, interviewing with Michael Kay and Don LaGreca on ESPN Radio’s The Michael Kay Show, morbidly embarrassing himself in the process, alluding to Oakley’s “alcoholism” and outing himself as the hackneyed owner by default we have known him to be all along. The most telling quote of Dolan’s during the sit down unveiled perhaps the largest understatement of the century: “Running a basketball operation is not my skill set.” And this man expects a rabid fanbase in a city whose heart bleeds for basketball to regard him with any level of sincerity? With that attitude, he fully expects fans to fill the Garden to capacity despite the putrid product that manifests on the floor each night? This is the lowest I have felt as a Knicks fan, and this is after enduring Isaiah Thomas‘s scandal-ridden tenure with the team.
The only way we can triumph is by hitting Dolan where it hurts most: his bottom line. Boycott the team. Refuse to pay top dollar for a garbage product. Resist in purchasing a single stitch of team merchandise. Travel to neighboring cities to see the Knicks on the road (for what it is worth, the experience will come at a much cheaper cost).
For as long as Dolan is at the helm, the New York Knicks will not compete. Watch from afar and pray Phil Jackson has some sense enough to hit the reset button, trade away assets, build through the draft, embrace a rebuild, and construct a contender around Kristaps Porzingis.
Just don’t expect much in the way of hardware while Dolan has this team in his grasp to control and pollute with reckless abandon.