By Jordan Leibowitz
In the middle of an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers on February 8, 2017 at Madison Square Garden, Knick forward Kristaps Porzingis turned his head to the stands. As all of the viewers of the nationally televised game and those present at the arena followed Porzingis’s gaze, they saw a man involved in a heated physical confrontation with Madison Square Garden security personnel.
They soon discovered that this man was former Knick Charles Oakley. “Oak” was the heart and soul of several great Knicks teams from 1988, when he was acquired from the Chicago Bulls, until he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 1998.
Following the altercation, Oakley was arrested on three charges of assault but was released from police custody early the next morning. According to long-time ESPN reporter and avid Knicks fan Stephen A. Smith, the Knicks accused Oakley of “conducting himself in a belligerent fashion, so he ultimately had to be forcibly removed and ultimately arrested because he was spewing some stuff in the direction of [Knicks] chairman James Dolan.”
Smith, who claims to have known Oakley for twenty years, was told by Oakley, “I am guilty of [everything], but it was after they approached me to remove me from the game and ultimately forcibly removed me… I had arrived at the arena. I was in the seat area for approximately four to four and a half minutes. I never said a word to Mr. Dolan.” After a trial in August, Oakley was banned from Madison Square Garden for a year. However, this may be a recurring issue between both men, as Oakley has recently filed a civil suit.
Prior to this altercation, Oakley and Dolan were in the midst of an ongoing dispute stemming from a magazine article in which Oakley was highly critical of Dolan, especially in regards to his treatment of both himself and former teammate Patrick Ewing. On ESPN radio’s The Michael Kay Show, Dolan claimed that Oakley had “said something about poisoning my food.” Oakley has a reputation of being a tough-minded, volatile player who was involved in many famous on-court altercations. He is the Knicks franchise leader in both flagrant fouls (fouls that the referees find unnecessary to a game) and ejections. Oakley has also recorded the second-most personal fouls in the Knicks’ seventy-year history.
Oakley has also gotten into his share of trouble off the court. Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd highlighted these instanced on his radio show, saying, “in 2005 Vegas—sued, altercation—bit a police officer. Last year [he] tried to force himself into the NBA locker room of the champions— altercation. There’s a pattern here. He punched Jeff McInnis as a player over a woman. He punched another guy because of an unpaid bill. He has an obvious of violence. Yelling, pushing, pointing.”
On the same show, Cowherd described how Dolan as being, “the worst owner in American sports.” In an interview, Oakley claims to be a “Knicks fan,” and it is reasonable to believe that it is challenging for Oakley to watch as the Knicks have been the punchline of the NBA ever since Dolan has become the owner. In that span, there have only been two teams in the entire NBA that have worse records. In addition to the on-court irrelevance, the franchise as a whole has plagued their fans with several instances of embarrassing scandals involving team personnel, lucrative contracts being given to undeserving players, horrible trades, and countless instances of the Knicks passing up on future all stars during the draft, only to take players who go on to mostly subpar careers.
The altercation on the night of the Knicks-Clippers game overshadowed the otherwise exciting game that ended in a narrow victory for the Clippers, as Knick Kristaps Porzingis and Clipper Deandre Jordan showcased their individual talents for their respective teams. The following day, this altercation dominated sports media. Dolan, Oakley, and various Knicks fans spent the day discussing their views on what had transpired. Players such as Lebron James also came to Oakley’s immediate defense.
Dolan said: “Charles has got a problem. He’s his own worst problem. He may have a problem with alcohol, we don’t know. But those behaviors of being physically and verbally abusive and those are personality problems” during his appearance on The Michael Kay Show. This quote was taken by many affiliated with Oakley as a personal attack on his character, only escalating the already volcanic situation.
Oakley was interviewed and described his side of the story by saying: “I didn’t say nothing to [Dolan].” He also said, “I bought my own ticket, sat in my own seat. Whenever I go to the Garden, they have to let Dolan know I’m there.” ESPN’s Smith said on First Take, “I have known Oakley for twenty years; the man is not a liar.” The New York Knicks claimed to have “dozens” of witnesses who saw Oakley screaming at Dolan. However, the Knicks have more to lose than Oakley because Dolan, who is already disliked, has billions of dollars riding on the Knicks franchise, while Oakley already has the public siding with him because of the discontent among Knicks fans towards the owner.
Long time Knicks fan and actor Michael Rapaport said, “What happened last night was the tipping point for all the New York Knicks fans,” on Cowherd’s radio show. Rapaport displays how the average Knick fan views this scenario. They have an affinity for Oakley because of how hard he played for their team throughout his tenure in the 1980s and 1990s. Star of ESPN’s First Take and Knicks fan Max Kellerman said, “If you show up with a fighting spirit to Madison Square Garden, they immediately eject you and arrest you. I mean, that is the code of competition for the New York Knicks.”
Featured image credit: SPORTSDAYWIRE.