Oakley had been sitting mere feet from Dolan, whom the team later said Oakley was insulting.
“I was there for four minutes,” Oakley told the New York Daily News late Wednesday night. “I didn’t say anything to him. I swear on my mother. They came over and wanted to know why I was sitting there. I bought the ticket. I said, why do you guys keep staring at me? Then they asked me to leave. And I said, I’m not leaving.”
Oakley, who played for the Knicks from 1988 to 1998, shoved a guard and appeared to strike another before being taken out in a scene that played out with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver present. It quickly devolved into one of those “only in New York” moments, with an NYPD officer chanting, “Free Charles Oakley! Free Charles Oakley!” and John “You cannot be serious” McEnroe standing just feet from Oakley as he was removed from the scene.
The Knicks issued a blunt statement late Wednesday that seemed to close the door on his legacy: “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.”
Then on Thursday afternoon, after Oakley told his side of the story to more outlets, the Knicks doubled down in a second release: “There are dozens of security staff, employees and NYPD that witnessed Oakley’s abusive behavior. It started when he entered the building and continued until he was arrested and left the building. Every single statement we have received is consistent in describing his actions. Everything he said since the incident is pure fiction.”
That latest statement, which is somehow harsher than the first, came after Oakley explained what he believes happened to ESPN:
“What happened is me and four friends went to the game tonight to watch the Knicks and the Clippers. [We] get there, sit down, try to have a good time. Then [inaudible] asked to leave the building and I asked why. “You have to leave because someone ordered you to leave.” And I’m like, I’ve been here four and a half minutes, I’m a Knicks fan, played here for 10 years, I love the Knicks, I love New York, this is my heart. I wish them all the luck and success on the basketball court. I wondered why I’m not welcome into the Garden. They said no. Some big guys … more and more kept coming at me and I’m like, why do I have to leave?They said I had to leave. They got ordered. And I was on my back, totally disrespected, but you know, things happen in life. You know, I’m lucky I went down, I got booked and I got out. When somebody walking up on you, you’ve got to protect yourself in all matters. And I’ve been in situations like that before. I’ve been jumped before. So in my mind, I’m automatically thinking if you see seven, eight, nine, 10 guys walking up on you, you have to brace yourself and be ready for the challenge. That’s how I’m thinking.”
Oakley said he wasn’t sure about whether he would be allowed to go back to the Garden, adding, “as long as the fans care about me — I love the fans and I’m always going to love the fans. I’m a Knicks fan for life no matter if I go back to the Garden or not.”
On Thursday morning, Oakley told The Undefeated’s Mike Wise that he “shouldn’t have put my hands on anyone, but how [the Knicks] are saying it happened isn’t how it happened.”
The team said that Oakley was insulting Dolan, with whom he had feuded for years. Oakley says he was doing nothing confrontational when he said security asked why he was sitting so close to Dolan and told him to leave. Oakley says he told him that he had purchased his ticket.
“I was sitting right there by John McEnroe and doing nothing,” Oakley said. “I only got mad when they told me I couldn’t stay and they start surrounding me.”
Oakley, talking to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, repeated that he had said nothing until security approached him and he saw Dolan look in his direction.
Sports writers on the scene reported that Oakley said, “Dolan did this,” among other shouted comments about the owner after being led away by security. Knicks President Phil Jackson tried to play the role of peacemaker, attempting to soothe Oakley, who was yelling, “This is bull—-,” and, “[Expletive] that, let me go.”
Oakley was charged with three counts of assault and, because this was the only way the experience could end, his car nearly ran over Frank Isola of the Daily News as it sped away from the Midtown Precinct South on 35th Street. From Isola:
After a failed attempt to get his attention by flagging down the car, I called Oakley’s cellphone. He immediately answered and sounded like the same old Oak.“How was I supposed to see you,” he yelled. “It’s been a long night. I’m not looking out the damn window.”
And you thought the escalating feud between Carmelo Anthony and Jackson was the most interesting thing about these Knicks.
Shock quickly settled in. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who played with Oakley on Knicks teams in the early ’90s, considered helping his 53-year-old friend.
“It’s sad. That was tough for me to watch,” Rivers said. “Honest to God, you can see I actually took three steps. I swear I was going to run down there, and then I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ But I didn’t like that. That’s my guy. So that was tough to watch from where I was standing.”
It was tough to watch everywhere — and the video was everywhere.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what the hell I was going to do. But I could see him standing there, and I could see all the guards around him,” Rivers said. “I’ve been around long enough to know that’s not a good look. So that’s what I saw. For me, that was tough to watch, especially the end part when I saw them in the tunnel. That was not fun to watch.”
Adding to the odd scene was the sight of comedian Chris Rock walking through a hallway and, according to the Daily News, asking, “What the hell happened?”
LeBron James posted a vintage photo of Oakley to Instagram and wrote: “Mood! #Legend.”
The Chicago Bulls’ Dwyane Wade chimed in, writing on Instagram: “10 years!!! 10 years Oak gave everything he had for this organization and the image everyone will be left with won’t be this picture. It will be the imagine of him being taken down to the ground last night in the same arena he gave his all 2 as a player by the guards! This Could happen to any of us!!! #StayWoke We are not above this treatment!”
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10years!!! 10 years Oak gave everything he had for this organization and the image everyone will be left with won't be this picture. It will be the imagine of him being taken down to the ground last night in the same arena he gave his all 2 as a player by the guards! This Could happen to any of us!!! #StayWoke We are not above this treatment!
And former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller, who had some of his biggest career moments in the Garden, asked the question on pretty much everyone’s mind.
If you're a FA to be, why would you play for an Owner who treats the past greats like this or a President who stabs star player in the back?— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) February 9, 2017
Even Oakley’s former teammate Chris Childs came out of the woodwork to stick up for his fellow Knick.
“He’s never once lied to me. Whatever way he says it happened, I have to believe him,” Childs told TMZ Sports on Thursday. “It’s the teammate in me. If I was there, I’d be in jail too. … We used to be known for Willis Reed running out of the tunnel, now it’s about dragging Oak into it. Our franchise is so broken down, it’s sad to see.”
Meanwhile, former Knicks president Dave Checketts, for whom Oakley played, told the Daily News he had reached out to offer Oakley legal assistance and said he couldn’t bail him out because he was in Boston. “For many years at the Garden, he was heart and soul, blood and guts, he gave it his all, all the time,” Checketts told The News. “So I wanted to see if I can help.”
There are conflicting reports about exactly how Oakley, who has been critical of the organization and is persona non grata at Madison Square Garden, came to be seated so close to Dolan. What is obvious is that he’s a legendary Knicks player, one who played alongside Patrick Ewing for Pat Riley’s teams and has been passed over during the franchise’s 70th anniversary celebration. However it shakes out as more details emerge, this ugliness never should have happened.
I was there when Jeff Van Gundy held Alonzo's leg & when Latrell screamed at Dolan. But this tops them all. Oak arrested? Come on now.— Frank Isola (@TheFrankIsola) February 9, 2017
I still can't get over the Knicks saying Charles needs help. They think someone needs help! I hope they can at least appreciate the irony.— Frank Isola (@TheFrankIsola) February 9, 2017
Staff writer Marissa Payne contributed to this report.