This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.
Last Wednesday, a fight broke out in the lower echelon of the historic Madison Square Garden in which Knicks legend Charles Oakley, a member of their 1994 NBA finals run, was not only forcefully removed from the building but subsequently arrested and detained in the same venue that once celebrated him.
For Knicks fans and NBA viewers, the messy incident almost carried a sense of finality as six MSG security guards restrained and carried Oakley’s 6-foot-4 body out of the stadium for vague reasons. Yet the multitude of videos depicting the former Knicks legend still can not display the disarray and embarrassing state of the New York franchise and the organization’s PR statement after, ending with an insulting and hurtful claim that Oakley needs “some help soon.”
The fight is rumored to have been created by Oakley’s heavy criticism of Knicks owner Jim Dolan and the ugly production that has been happening on the court for decades in New York under Dolan’s management. Although touting a surefire Hall of Famer in Carmelo Anthony and a basketball unicorn young superstar in Kristaps Porzingis, a series of bad financial and player decisions last offseason from the Knicks’ front office – including perhaps the worst contract ever to Joakim Noah– effectively halted any momentum the franchise had and returned the organization to a circus show on faulty tires once again.
In the packed Garden last Wednesday, Oakley effectively stood as a martyr for the tired and frustrated fan.
This entire incident serves as the last straw to break the camel’s back, yet, in the words of Mos Def, there are always a million other straws underneath that one. Amidst this chaos, New York also faces discord between today’s players, specifically superstar and 2012 scoring champion Carmelo Anthony, and general management within the organization.
Instead of being the cool zen master that dominated the game for two decades, President Phil Jackson looks more and more out of touch with the modern NBA with each passing day. With sub-Tweets and media manipulation, Jackson effectively iced the Knicks’ best player and trapped Anthony into a no-win scenario: Either wave the trade clause and give up his New York home to escape, or stand tall for the organization that he feels belongs to him over Jackson.
The disjointedness within the New York team on each and every layer of the franchise has increased to nearly unprecedented levels. Yet as I watch all of this unfold, I am most reminded of how glaring the front office forgets the uniqueness of the NBA as opposed to all other American professional leagues.
The National Basketball Association is inherently and increasingly a player-driven league in the modern game, as many players understand the power behind their contracts and position. Instead of a 55-man roster like the NFL in which money is largely not guaranteed, the NBA caps teams at a maximum 15 players on the team roster, forcing contracts to become likened to important assets which in turn skyrocket individual players’ value.
This phenomenon can be seen littered throughout the last free agency period in which the Lakers signed a backup center to a four-year, 64-million dollar contract, or when the Trail Blazers signed wing Allan Crabbe to a four-year, 74-million dollar contract. In addition to thinking about present value on the court, teams now think about controlling the contract and asset, and players are beginning to understand their increased value come negotiations.
Beyond just contracts, NBA free agency provides even more power to the players as veterans entering free agency not only understand their value but now utilize that free market demand from the general league. Thus, free agency now becomes about displaying cohesiveness and attentiveness to players within an organization in order to attract the impact players that can ultimately make the difference on the court.
When the fight at MSG hit the internet and spread like wildfire, NBA icon LeBron James posted a picture of young Charles Oakley with the simple caption “Legend.” Superstar veteran point guard Chris Paul, a close friend to James, Tweeted, “Hope that he gets some help soon? Not the right way to portray Oak … always had my back and the realest person our league has seen #UncleOak.” The Tweet was then re-Tweeted by Gabrielle Union, wife of Bulls veteran and NBA superstar Dwayne Wade.
While these icons will more than definitely never wear a Knicks jersey themselves in their career, these posts from superstars matter for New York, and NBA players around the association are paying close attention. In such a unique, player-dominant climate, an NBA franchise simply cannot reflect this disrespect towards both franchise greats AND current superstars and expect to still have high standing and high regard within the association.
The New York Knicks are in a mess bigger than just one level in the franchise, but the immensity of their problems stems from the their appearance and standing to players around the league. The Knicks will continue facing serious problems in attracting talent and keeping that talent committed to the organization. If I were Kristaps Porzingis at the free throw line during last Wednesday’s altercation, I would take a long pause to consider whether I want to play the rest of my career for a team that arrests and detains its greats.
The solution then becomes relatively clearer, though it wasn’t even ever that muddied. In this player’s league, the Knicks woes can only end with a change in management, but 20-year owner Dolan – who has brought only limited postseason success – already has defended the idiotic front office that continually sells any positive asset that comes their way, from shooter Steve Novak to big man Robin Lopez.
Ultimately, the problems in the downtrodden franchise can’t be better summarized than the image of the great Charles Oakley being carried out of his own stadium to fan chants of “Free Oak” all while owner Dolan sits rows away, sheltering himself from criticism for the damage he’s doing to a basketball city.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.