By Luis Vazquez
You had to hand it to Charles Oakley this past Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The former power forward/enforcer of the New York Knicks in the early 90’s accomplished three things that evening. He showed that at 53, he still quite a physical presence. He exposed the Knicks owner James Dolan as a petty man who is quick to cast unsubstantiated aspersions and Oakley displayed the kind of fire through one scuffle that the current Knicks can only talk about.
The question remains unanswered though. What precipitated this? By was Oakley singled out and escorted out of the game? Why is he banned from the Garden? Why is Charles Oakley not involved with an organization that was feared when he walked the court here?
All excellent questions with only heresay and Dolan’s intimation that Oakley’s outburst was fueled by drink. “He has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive,” Dolan said, “He may have a problem with alcohol. We don’t know.”
This is something you do when you want to sweep problems under the rug. An attempt to demean a person. Discount them. Many NBA players including Dwayne Wade spoke out and even former teammate Larry Johnson, who calls both friends, was not pleased with the situation
“It’s hard to work at the Garden when Oak is not a part of the family,” Johnson said, “I love the Knicks and Mr. Dolan is my guy but I feel as if I’d be disrespecting Oak if I go to the Garden.”
The Garden crowd was energized watching the proceedings which made the game secondary. They booed when he was surrounded and asked to leave. They roared in approval when Oakley took offense at something said to him pointing a warning finger in one of the security men’s face, then shoving a hand in his face.
He followed by chopping away an arm that attempted to grab him. Two hard pushes later and the fans were totally engaged. Knicks players could learn a thing or two about holding your ground, making points and clarifying things with a quick response. “Dolan might think because I go to volunteer at Rebound Institute treatment centers with Jayson (Williams) that I’m a client,” Oakley responded to Dolan’s comments.
The firing of the security chief of Madison Square Garden Frank Bendetto raises eyebrows. The Oakley press conference announcement next week should provide more ammunition to the issue at hand and promise that it won’t be going away any time soon.
The words “no comment” could have served Dolan so well here. But his comments and his public handling of Oakley at the Garden and subsequent banning has opened the floodgates of indignation from Knicks fans. They have been frustrated with his regime and could not believe that a beloved player from their relevant days would be treated like a criminal and charged as such.
In reality it’s Dolan who charges criminal prices for a product that wishes once it could excite Madison Square Garden like Oakley just did. A meeting of the minds is necessary here.
Luis Vazquez is a freelance contributor to The Bronx Chronicle.