First things first, let’s get one thing straight about the Charles Oakley incident that was merely the latest New York Knicks saga to unfold this week: James Dolan does deserve a stern talking to these days.
Maybe not in this fashion, of course, with the burly and brash Knicks legend allegedly berating the team’s owner throughout much of Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angles Clippers before being arrested (to be fair, Oakley told The New York Daily News that he said nothing to Dolan). But if ever there was a time for someone to hurl some truth Dolan’s way, to perhaps point out that there has never been more dysfunction between a star player (Carmelo Anthony) and a team executive (Phil Jackson) who cost this much ($184 million combined), it’s now.
Talk about impeccably-timed symbolism.
Failure of any kind is almost always a shared effort, and so it is here as well.
Only the basketball gods truly know how much of this falls at Dolan’s feet, but he was the one who renewed hope less than three years ago by signing Jackson to that five-year, $60 million contract that so many saw as a sea change for the flailing franchise. And now, with Jackson clearly unhinged in his aggressive approach, Dolan needs to step in and somehow calm these waters again.
Jackson has been the instigator of late, publicly ridiculing Anthony at every turn in an apparent attempt to shame him into dropping the no-trade clause on his contract and thereby allow the (latest) rebuild to commence before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. His latest missive was the kind of ill-advised decorum you simply never see from a team official, a tweet that — when properly translated — was Jackson shouting from the rooftops that he doesn’t respect Anthony as a competitor.
This list of transgressions is growing longer by the day, too, all while the Knicks (22-32) have lost 22 of their last 30 games. There was the infamous “posse” comment that insulted Anthony’s dear friend LeBron James in mid-November, all while sending the worst kind of message to the superstar community that has never demanded more respect. There was the public discourse about Anthony’s ball-stopping ways in early December, a topic that is fine on the sports talk airwaves in New York but altogether different when it’s the Knicks’ basketball boss calling in . And now, this.
The NBA’s annals are littered with parables of power, but few have been as poorly written as this. Lest anyone forget, Jackson was the one who — four months after taking the job — gave Anthony this five-year, $124 million deal that came with not only the no-trade clause but a 15% trade kicker to boot.
This is his handy work, with nary an ounce of pity in sight. Plenty of front-office heads have worked their way out of tricky roster situations like this before, and done so without resorting to these kinds of tactless moves. And even if Anthony succumbs and lets Jackson send him to the team of his choosing, there’s damage being done here that will last well beyond Anthony’s time in New York. The Knicks, thanks in part to James and the way he has used his peerless voice, are among the league’s laughingstocks again.
“Mood!!!” James wrote on Instagram late Wednesday night, with a hashtag of #Legend next to a picture of Oakley during his playing days.
Oakley was in a mood, alright, but who could blame him? From Dolan on down, his Knicks are a screaming mess.