If the Knicks want to attract elite free agents in the offseason, they’ll have to overcome a dismal reputation born of nearly 20 years of losing, as well as at least some players’ potential worries about dealing with the New York media. But as James Dolan reminded everyone over the weekend, perhaps the Knicks’ biggest obstacle to luring top talent — and to overall success — remains their owner.
Dolan was caught on video reacting to a heckler while leaving the Madison Square Garden floor following yet another loss for his squad, this one on Saturday to the Kings. “Sell the team!” an unseen fan exclaimed in his direction.
“You think I should sell the team?” Dolan said. “You want to not come to any more games?”
When the fan asked why, Dolan replied, “That’s rude.”
The fan then claimed that he was just offering an opinion, to which Dolan said, “No, it’s not an opinion, and, you know what? Enjoy watching them on TV.”
The 63-year-old owner, who also oversees the Rangers and Liberty as part of his MSG-based holdings, could then be seen pointing out the heckler to staffers, who appeared tobriefly detain him. According to TMZ Sports, which first posted the video, witnesses said the fan was asked to present identification to police and arena security, who also asked him some questions.
It’s unclear if the fan has been banned from the Garden, but that would be in keeping with previous such incidents. “Our policy is and will continue to be that if you are disrespectful to anyone in our venues, we will ask you not to return,” said a Garden spokesperson.
Writer and marketing consultant Chris Matyszczyk opined at Inc.com that the Knicks’ owner provided “a deep lesson in how (not) to treat a disgruntled customer,” saying, “Dolan could have — even politely — told the fan he’s working every day to try and make things better. He could have said he understands the fan’s frustration. He could have entirely ignored the fan.
“But to come over all big and powerful made him look a touch small and sad.”
The scene offered an immediate reminder of a similar episode in April 2017, when a fan heading into the Garden for a Knicks game spotted Dolan and said to him, “Sell the team, Jim.” According to that fan, Mike Hamersky, Dolan “got two inches from my face and started screaming.”
Dolan subsequently acknowledged calling Hamersky by a well-known expletive that starts with an ‘A,’ and telling the man that he would not be able to go to the game. Hamersky told the New York Post on Sunday that he hasn’t been able to renew his partial season-ticket plans since then.
“My situation remains unchanged,” Hamersky said, “though I remain hopeful that a benevolent billionaire swoops in and buys the team to rescue us from our misery.”
That’s the hope of plenty of Knicks fans who view Dolan as the common thread that runs through a seemingly endless series of futile moves made by umpteen general managers and coaches. The son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan, who acquired MSG and its sports properties in the mid-1990s, Dolan took control of the operations of the Knicks and the Garden in 1999, just in time for the team to make an unexpected run to the NBA Finals.
Since 2002, though, the Knicks have made just four playoff appearances with but one series win and have the NBA’s worst record over the past 18 years, as well its worst mark this season. More damning in the eyes of some Knicks fans is the paranoid and vindictive approach the team has taken at times under Dolan, never more so than when he had beloved ex-forward Charles Oakley forcibly ejected and banned from the Garden in February 2017.
Two years before that low point, Dolan responded to an unhappy email from an elderly Knicks fan by telling the man to “start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don’t want you.” Dolan also suggested that the man was an alcoholic, a tactic he also later tried with Oakley.
That 2015 episode led to an effort by some fans to put up a billboard near MSG calling on Dolan to sell the team. They had no such luck, and a few years later, the team’s management can only cross its fingers that the latest owner-inflicted lowlight doesn’t come back to haunt the Knicks when free agency begins. The New York Post reported Sunday that, per an NBA source, “a concern exists” at the Garden that “Dolan’s reputation doesn’t help the Knicks’ free agent mission.”
Two superstar players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, can opt out of their contracts and hit the market this summer and both have been linked to the Knicks not just by the rumor mill, but by speculation that the team had an informed reason to trade its centerpiece, Kristaps Porzingis, essentially for salary-cap space before the February deadline.
However, Chris Broussard of Fox Sports reported earlier this week that Durant and Irving “have some apprehensions” about coming to New York “because of the media.” The two players have made it clear that they don’t always appreciate the work of journalists who cover their teams, but they might also pause to consider whether they want to work for a man who seems to regularly show up in the media for all the wrong reasons.
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