By: Chris Thatcher
I grew up a basketball fan. Although it wasn’t that long ago. The NBA of the late 80’s early 90’s Was a dramatically different game. But, like a lot of things I’ve written in the past. Nostalgia will be present in my thoughts. The Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association was a violent and, turbulent state to live in. With teams like the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons, The Boston Celtics and, yes… The New York Knickerbockers. Laying paths of physical and, mental destruction night in and, night out. The game was a lot like hockey. Every team had a “Guy”. That “Guy” clogged the paint and, made you think twice about occupying the same space as that man. Armed with only the frame God gave him and, six hard fouls. Charles Oakley was that “Guy” in New York.
Charles Oakley was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1985 as the number nine pick overall in the first round. A gritty power forward out of Virginia Union. He was part of a trade that put him in Chicago where he would team up with a pre-Pippen, pre-Phil Bulls team where he would become one of the game’s most ruthless competitors. I was fascinated by Oakley. He was a “live wire”. Every time the Knicks were on TV… I knew that there was a good chance that we would see a fight. He did not tolerate an inkling of disrespect for his teammates or, himself. You were forced to respect him. After a few productive years in Chicago. The Bulls traded Oakley (much to the dismay of Micheal Jordan. ) to the Knicks.
It didn’t take much time for Charles Oakley to virtually change the identity of the Knicks. His blue collar mentality to the game and, his ability to make everyone aware that if a shot went up… one or more players were responsible for putting a body on Charles Oakley. He was an all defensive player twice wearing Knick blue. He averaged a double, double in 727 games as a Knick, was an all-star and, retired from the NBA as the league’s 9th all-time leading offensive rebounder.
If you know me, you know I can talk stats all day. However, this story goes beyond the hardwood. This story takes us to the stands. Many fans, players, coaches and, owners have been critical of James Dolan. Just as I did for Oakley. I will mention that not only does Dolan have control over the Knicks but, also The Rangers of the NHL and, the Liberty of the WNBA. In fact… he runs Madison Square Garden. He hangs his hat on turning profit. He owns the NBA’s most valuable team (estimated 3 billion dollars). However, sadly in recent history, he has made a living selling his fans lemons while marketing the team as a Cadillac. The Knicks are the league’s most expensive ticket (an average of 125 dollars a ticket). And fans continue to pay the price.
It is the team’s lack of direction that has fans and, players alike grumbling. From the saga that has become Carmelo Anthony. To an outdated philosophy with Phil Jackson. The team has stunk so bad that it makes me wonder if the Knicks organization has had its head up its ass for so long… it can’t tell the team literally stinks. But, in recent days… the organization has hit an all time low. Enter Charles Oakley… sitting at a game he was accused of being “belligerent”. So, Dolan himself called in his head of security to escort him out of the building. Charles (being Charles) felt disrespected and, as I mentioned earlier… you don’t come at Charles Oakley with anything other than respect.
By now we have all seen the footage. Charles being escorted out of the building with force… rightfully so, as he put hands on multiple employees. And, maybe some law enforcement. He issued his side of the story in a video in which he claimed to be innocent. One thing that all ex-players can count as gospel. If you know Oakley. You know he’s one of the most honest people you’ll ever know. His entire career was built on the foundation of being an honest hard working man. But, above all else… a man…
Dolan did an interview stopping just shy of calling Oakley an alcoholic. He’s reached out to many former players such as Vin Baker. And, recently was joined in the audience by Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell. This is in my opinion… a blatant attempt to repair his image. He tries so hard to convince the fans that he cares. However, his in blinking disrespect of a man who truly cares for the organization is unforgivable. This is about ego. Oakley along with many former Knicks have been critical of Dolan in recent months. It’s truly sad that one the game’s most storied franchises in a city that has shown nothing but loyalty to the organization has to be subjected as subjects… not fans. Not even people.
To Dolan. The audience in attendance is lumped into demographics. Pushed to buy over priced food and, drinks time and time again. And expected to cheer for a team that is thrown together with no real plan not because he wants you to care but because it looks great on television. This is a business… I get that… but, I love sports. So, it does pain me to say. The Knicks are not good for the league right now. Players look like extras from “The Walking Dead” on defense. Putting the ball in the hoop at times has seemed like watching a hippo trying to fit into a supermodels clothing.
Charles Oakley has become a symbol… a voice of the voiceless. A face of a marginalized people. However, the marginalization has not just affected race or, class… Dolan devalued you as a fan of basketball. Dolan has victimized the fans of the Knicks team. And, finally… he’s showing other owners… it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as, long as you turn a profit. Maybe Oakley has shown us that if you don’t speak up now. The game that you love will be reduced to a pie graph. Whoever makes the most money. Buys the most trophies. Then and, only then may we call him… King Dolan.