Charles Oakley will never be allowed in Madison Square Garden again, even with a ticket, ESPN New York 98.7’s Michael Kay reported. Thirty minutes later, Kay welcomed Knicks owner James Dolan onto his radio show.
The interview was rare – Dolan doesn’t often do these but clearly felt a sudden need – and the first half was almost entirely about Oakley as a result. Kay was aggressive and made Dolan tell his side of the bizarre situation that went down Wednesday night, when Oakley was arrested and charged with assaulting three MSG security guards.
In the second half of the interview, Dolan copped to his weaknesses in running basketball operations and stuck by Phil Jackson’s power over those decisions – albeit with less-than-glowing reviews. “Whether I like the results or don’t like the results, I am going to honor that (contract) until the end,” Dolan said.
But here are our reorganized highlights – all quotes are Dolan speaking unless otherwise marked, but the bold emphasis is our own – from the Oakley portion of the interview, along with some outside commentary:
So about that ban …
“It’s not necessarily a lifetime ban. But I think the most important thing with that is we need to keep the Garden safe for anybody who goes there. … So anybody drinking too much alcohol, looking for a fight, they’re going to be ejected and they’re going to be banned. Everybody has a right to go to the games and enjoy them, and no one has a right to take that from them. So in this case we are going to put the ban in place. …
“Whether it’s Charles Oakley or Charles Lindbergh or Charles Dolan, you come and you behave that way, and you will be banned.”
Dolan later clarified in one word that Oakley would not be allowed into tonight’s game: “No.”
What did Dolan think about fans taking Oakley’s side?
“Certainly, Charles is a great Knick. We should probably get that off the table. I loved watching Charles Oakley play basketball for the New York Knicks, as I think other fans did too. I still admire the way he played. I think fans remember how he played; he was tough, he was gritty. And at times, our teams haven’t had what Charles had, and that makes him even more beloved.
“But am I concerned about (not being liked by fans)? Yes, but at the same time, the No. 1 concern has to be the safety and comfort of the fans. … Yes, I understand he was a big star, but that doesn’t excuse him for that type of behavior.”
“You’ve been hard-pressed to find a living New York team owner that the fans like.”
Kay: “Maybe John Mara.”
“Maybe, but only in a championship year. So you sort of come into it knowing you’re not going to be the most loved person. But I hear from plenty of fans that they appreciate the investment we put into it. … So I don’t believe that it’s everybody that feels that way, but I do believe there’s a malcontent group and they’ll always be there.”
So what happened, in your mind?
“It’s very clear to us that Charles Oakley came into the Garden with an agenda. From the moment he stepped into the Garden, he began with this behavior. Abusive behavior, stuff you wouldn’t want to say on the radio. … It just accelerated and accelerated and accelerated.
“I’m not inside of Charles Oakley’s mind. He did say a bunch of things along the way that looked like he was headed in my direction. I didn’t hear them myself but we heard from our employees that he was using my name a lot. But this isn’t because I’m nervous. This is because you can’t do what he did and stay.
“We clearly did not – we weren’t perfect here, and I think Charles never should have made it to his seats. And that’s on us, and we’re doing things to remedy that and make sure that never happens again. … I can’t say for sure. We know he said on TV that he was drinking beforehand. We heard statements from police that he appeared to be impaired. Our staff clearly could see that. …
“A, I didn’t realize it was on national television, not that it would have made a difference. B, I wasn’t aware that he was behind us. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that he was behind us that I started to open my ears. The security person came to me and said, ‘There’s a problem behind you; it’s Charles Oakley.’ I said, ‘Can you wait until between quarters?’ He said, ‘Yes.'”
Why fire your security director?
Dolan confirmed the firing of security chief Frank Benedetto.
“That was just a situation where the person didn’t work out, and this was probably the last straw. But we’re obviously looking at what we did, and he was one of the first casualties.”
Are you scared of Charles Oakley?
Dolan addressed Oakley’s charge that he’s always being followed by security when at the Garden.
“No, I don’t think so. Although he’s been quoted saying things like he would poison my food. I don’t think he’s serious about stuff like that. When anybody famous comes to the Garden, there’s always a heightened security presence. …
“To me, Charles has got a problem. We’ve said it before; he’s his own worst problem. People have to understand that. He has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol. But those problems with being physically and verbally abusive, those are problem.
“I do think Charles needs help. He can’t want the things that have happened to him since he retired. They aren’t good. He’s had many altercations. He’s been arrested. It all seems to come from his anger. Maybe he can’t remember it, but I think he’s somewhat in denial.”
Can the relationship be rebuilt?
“Oh absolutely. All he has to do. When you have issues like this, the first step for anybody is to ask for help. I think he has lots of people around him who would like to help him. …
“We have a great relationships with all of our alumni. This is an anomaly. You’re not going to find 10 guys out there saying the Knicks didn’t treat me well. There might be one, maybe two. … Go ask them about how they’ve been treated. …
“All we need is for Charles to change his behavior. He was a great Knick, and we would love to have him. He should be up there at center court, he should be up there being recognized. But this behavior, it just doesn’t work with that. And until he gets it under control, we won’t be able to do it. …
“Every time we have tried to patch things up with him, to mend things – every time, it ends up the same way. We eventually gave up. We stopped trying to reach out to him. And now this. It’s certainly not just about me. There were security people there who were abused. There were service people who were abused. The same people who help fans get to their seats, they were abused. With racial overtones, sexual overtones. How do you bring your kids to a game if you think that’s going to happen?”
What would you say to upset fans?
“I do think that those fans, for instance, tonight, we’ll probably hear chants tonight. But I would like for those people to look around and look at the people working at Madison Square Garden and realize that the guy they’re chanting for might have been a great Knick player, but he was terribly abusive to them. … Take them into account, please.”
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