The Charles Oakley vs. James Dolan Fight: Dolan Brings Negative Attention to Franchise Again

Former Knick Charles Oakley pushes an MSG security guard and is escorted out of the Garden. MSG fired its head of security following the incident.

Former Knick Charles Oakley pushes an MSG security guard and is escorted out of the Garden. MSG fired its head of security following the incident.

Jacob Magin

On February 8, Charles Oakley, a former Knicks player, got into a physical altercation with Madison Square Garden security guards and was subsequently dragged out of the arena and arrested. Now we need to ask, why did this happen, who was at fault and how could this have been avoided?

Knowing the history between Charles Oakley and Knicks ownership is crucial to understanding exactly what occurred in the first quarter of the Knicks-Clippers game. Oakley played for the New York Knicks from 1988 to 1998; his physical style of play along with his defending and rebounding ability made him the heart and soul of the Knicks, and helped the Knicks make the playoffs every season that he played for them. Despite being traded away, Oakley was on generally good terms with the Knicks organization when he left. However, since James Dolan became the owner in 1999, the Knicks have struggled. Over the last decade, Charles Oakley has been a vocal critic of the Knicks organization, and particularly of James Dolan. Oakley isn’t the only ex-Knick to have issues with Knicks upper management.  

This all came to head two weeks ago, on February 8, when Charles Oakley went to the Knicks-Clippers game and began to criticize and yell at James Dolan, who was sitting just a few yards in front of Oakley. As a result, Oakley was approached by about ten security guards and they got into a heated discussion. When Oakley began to push security away and get back to his seat, he was then dragged into one of the tunnels and arrested by the NYPD. Oakley defended his actions by saying that he was vastly outnumbered and had paid for his ticket. In general, I agree with Oakley; the purpose of sending so many guards was to intimidate him by posing the threat of violence and he had every right to sit in the seat he paid for and use his first amendment rights by vocalizing his concerns with the team. It would have been reasonable to send one security guard to talk to him and calm him down. Since the incident, Madison Square Garden has fired its security cheif.

After the incident, the Knicks released a statement saying that Oakley “should get some help,” James Dolan said that Oakley might have a drinking problem, and Oakley was banned from future Knick games. All this speculation from the Knicks upper management, without any evidence, is clearly an overstep and banning him won’t help mend the relationship.

Responses from across the NBA landscape have come in, regarding Charles Oakley’s actions and subsequent statements from James Dolan and the Knicks. Draymond Green’s response was one of the most interesting; saying that James Dolan has a “slave master mentality,” because he uses players when they can help him and tosses them aside when they have no more value to him. 

He argues that Dolan is manipulating his players and ex-players. For example, after years of feuding with Latrell Sprewell, Dolan invited him to watch a Spurs-Knicks game just a few days after Oakley’s arrest. However, I don’t completely agree with the “slave master” comparison. 

Dolan has professional relationships with these players and ex-players; he treats his players much better than a slave master would treat slaves, obviously.  But at the same time, he does seem to abuse, manipulate, or abandon his players once they stop playing for the Knicks. It’s important to recognize the racial overtones of this statement as well. 

The NBA is approximately ¾ African American, while there is only one African American owner in the NBA. So, across the NBA, black players are working for white owners and this is certainly an issue. While claiming that James Dolan has a “slave master mentality” is absolutely a stretch, it does highlight the mistreatment of former-Knick players by upper management as well as the racial inequality issues that are apparent in the NBA.