Just because it’s the offseason in the National Basketball Association and league news is slow these days, it doesn’t mean the New York Knicks still can’t take over the local tabloid’s back pages. Charles Oakley, a former franchise great and arguably its most beloved player, has filed a lawsuit against the team’s owner, James Dolan.
It’s still a jarring image for basketball fans, especially those who love the Knicks, who recall that fateful night on February 8 when The Oak Man was in the middle of a scuffle with a couple of Madison Square Garden employees, escalating to a larger incident involving six or seven MSG security workers tackling and restraining the Knicks legend – all within a few feet of Dolan and mortified tennis Hall of Fame legend John McEnroe.
The forced removal of Oakley, during a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, led to the former Knicks enforcer being dragged out and arrested. Charges were later dropped, but Oakley hasn’t let it go – perhaps it has something to do with the public humiliation he endured, as well as the infamous words by Dolan, who is a recovering alcoholic, suggesting Oakley had a drinking problem.
Two days after the incident, Dolan went on The Michael Kay Show and claimed Oakley had anger management problems and is “both physically and verbally abusive,” adding Oakley “may have a problem with alcohol … anybody drinking too much alcohol, looking for a fight, they’re going to be ejected, and they’re going to be banned.” The team’s Twitter account also tweeted disparaging thoughts, saying, “Charles Oakley came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner. He has been ejected and is currently being arrested by the New York City Police Department. He was a great Knick and we hope he gets some help soon.”
Regarding Dolan’s radio appearance, Oakley said the owner was “way out of line.”
A source who is dialed in on all things NBA, noted that Dolan’s assertion “did not sit well” with Oakley, who also demanded a public apology for the insinuation.
Oakley, however, was the lone person involved in that melee and faced criminal charges – a misdemeanor assault and trespassing. Last month, Oakley and Manhattan prosecutors struck a plea deal in which Oakley pledged to stay away from the Garden for at least a year and avoid criminal conduct for six months. If he honors this agreement, a judge has agreed to dismiss the charges. It won’t be hard for Oakley to want to stay away from the Garden, though, considering all the public embarrassment and pain and suffering he’s endured since that night. Knicks’ fans who never had the pleasure of seeing him grind and battle for their team and represent New York with his blue-collar appeal, only know him as that old guy who was dragged out by security. It’s a shame and a stigma that’ll stick for a while.
So, today, the former power forward filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Dolan and MSG. Oakley’s complaint suggests 10 claims, including defamation, battery, false imprisonment, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint also describes Dolan as an owner motivated by “petty insecurities” and one who has repeatedly tried to degrade Oakley. According to the former player, Dolan’s refusal to “make eye contact or shake hands during meetings” and by “denying him [Oakley] the type of Fan Appreciation nights given to far less popular and successful members of the Knicks” has always ruffled his feathers.
The source painted a picture as to why Oakley has been so dismayed by Dolan’s treatment.
“I mean, when a guy like David Lee is afforded such an honor, but not Oak, then it’s a valid point,” the source noted. “No disrespect [to Lee], but c’mon … I know Oak was tight [upset] about all these lesser guys getting that [special] treatment but not him. And how they treated Patrick [Ewing] since he retired doesn’t sit well with any of those guys who played together back in the day.”
Ewing, a Hall of Fame center, and arguably the franchise’s greatest player, was never really considered a legitimate candidate to coach his beloved team, despite his assistant coaching credentials and respect around the league. Ewing had successful stints as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, but never got a sniff of an interview with his Knicks – even while it’s been a revolving door over the last 15 seasons. He’s now the head coach at his alma mater, Georgetown University.
Dolan gained control of the team in 1999, a year after Oakley’s career with the Knicks came to an end, and for only one season with Ewing still on the roster, so he’s never felt the need to be beholden to the two legends.
While Ewing has been a success as a coach, Oakley never pined for a coaching gig with the Knicks. All he’s ever wanted from the franchise – specifically Dolan – was respect and appreciation. He didn’t get that back in February, so now the two may get a chance to meet in a New York courtroom to settle their differences.
Oakley will be represented by New York attorney Alex Spiro, who has successfully represented many high-profile athletes. Spiro was representation for then-Atlanta Hawks forward and current Utah Jazz Thabo Sefolosha in his case against five members of the New York Police Department. Sefolosha sued over injuries sustained while being arrested for obstruction, charges that he later defeated in court.
Oakley hopes Spiro’s streak continues, and as importantly, regains the dignity and respect that he yearned for and deserved.