The New York Knicks hit rock bottom long ago. These days, they just slither from underneath one rock to another in the rubble of the NBA standings, occasionally peeking out to remind us of their lowly existence.
Wednesday marked one of those occasions, as Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton shoved Memphis Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder for attempting a three-pointer in the final minute of another blowout, nearly instigating a brawl. The Madison Square Garden crowd erupted into raucous “sell the team” chants. As the Grizzlies showered afterwards in a visitors locker room with no hot water and little water pressure, Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr. likened Crowder to a woman in a sexist attempt to portray his counterpart as “soft.”
Per the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Knicks owner James Dolan left his courtside seat as fed-up fans turned their ire on him, shouting at security and singling out the chanting fan closest to him, a teenage boy.
All of which begs a question that we ask on the regular: Why does Dolan still want to own the Knicks?
We know why the New York faithful want Dolan out. The Knicks are working on a third decade of futility since he assumed control of the team from his father in 1999, with only a single playoff series victory over the past 20 years. As the frontman for his band, JD and The Straight Shot, Dolan has turned his dereliction of duties into an art form, singing about his failures to “Fix the Knicks” and the “living hell” of owning them.
In 2007, when a jury found Dolan and MSG culpable of firing former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders for alerting the organization of ex-coach Isiah Thomas’ alleged sexual harassment, his company paid $11.6 million in punitive damages. A decade later, Dolan was a defendant named in a federal lawsuit brought by alleged sexual assault victims of his former friend and business partner, Harvey Weinstein. The suit claimed Dolan “knew of Weinstein’s pattern and practice of predatory sexual conduct toward women from his personal relationship with Weinstein and his position as a director of The Weinstein Company.”
Dolan wrote a song about that, too, entitled, “I Should’ve Known,” which he suggested was about the guilt he felt for failing to recognize a pattern of sexual abuse by Weinstein and other friends. Dolan hired Thomas as president of the WNBA’s New York Liberty in 2015 and kept him on until selling the team last February.
It is less clear why Dolan doesn’t want out.
Wednesday was not the first time the MSG crowd has turned on Dolan, merely the latest. It is more like a perpetual state of being for Knicks fans at this point. And it clearly bothers him. How could it not? He has a front-row seat. With MSG security doing his bidding, the Knicks seemingly banish anyone who crosses him.
A fan was ejected for starting a “Fire Dolan” chant in November, just as fans were banned for imploring him to “sell the team” each of the previous two seasons. Dolan cussed out a fan who screamed the same as he left MSG in a limo in 2017, and then cussed him out again in the media. In 2015, he responded to an email from a lifelong Knicks fan who asked he sell by calling the man an “alcoholic maybe” who “most likely [has] made your family miserable” and “should start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don’t want you.”
A recovering alcoholic and addict himself, Dolan also said Charles Oakley “may have a problem with alcohol” after having one of the most beloved Knicks players of the past quarter century dragged from MSG, arrested and banned for allegedly “going after” the owner in the midst of a nationally televised game. Oakley has since compared Dolan to Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the L.A. Clippers.
Former Knicks center Enes Kanter said this season that Dolan has scared off free agents who “don’t even want to deal with that.” This after Kevin Durant said “the cool thing right now is not the Knicks” upon spurning the Knicks in favor of the Nets in free agency this past summer. That after Dolan publicly suggested several free agents had informed the Knicks of their desire to play in New York. The Knicks, of course, issued a public apology when they failed to secure meetings with any big names in free agency.
It’s been a decade since David Stern said the Knicks were “not a model of intelligent management.” An MSG shareholder is currently suing Dolan for spending too much time with his band to justify his salary. Every few years, fans have planned a rally outside the Garden to protest ownership’s shortcomings. Meanwhile, one anonymous Craigslist poster offered to pay people to carry pro-Dolan signs outside MSG.
Dolan has restricted access to both the New York Daily News and WFAN for unfavorable coverage of the Knicks. The owner has also had reporters and heckling fans removed from his concerts, including one fan who wore a “Dolan sucks” shirt to his show in Los Angeles and another who held up a sign that read, “Quit your day job. Sell the Knicks,” in the middle of a sparsely attended Tennessee musical festival set.
To recap: Knicks fans, players, prospective free agents and media are all laying blame at Dolan’s feet for the organizational failure to make a winner out of a premier franchise in the NBA’s biggest media market. It is the mecca of basketball, for crying out loud, and nobody wants any part of it so long as Dolan is involved.
The only possible reasons I can think of that Dolan would still want to own the Knicks are the prestige of being one of 30 NBA governors and the revenue stream of owning the league’s most profitable franchise.
According to Forbes, the Knicks pulled in an NBA-best $443 million in revenue last season despite matching a franchise-worst win total, and their $4 billion valuation is also the league’s highest. Dolan adamantly denied a report from The Ringer’s Bill Simmons suggesting that the Knicks have courted offers for a potential sale, even as he conceded feelers approaching $5 billion have come across his desk.
What kind of person wants to repeatedly subject themselves to an entire arena demanding he sell the team, let alone fans across the country constantly reminding him of his futility as he tries to strum the guitar? Maybe the same kind of person who prioritizes the difference between two dollar figures well beyond anything anyone could ever possibly spend over their own dignity in the eyes of the nation’s largest city?
It seems almost masochistic at this point, at least if you listen to Dolan in his own words.
“You know I own a basketball team,” he sang three losing seasons ago, self-deprecating or not. “For most people that would be a dream. For a trust fund kid, it’s a living hell. Always some a--hole telling me to sell.”
“In New York, I really can’t go out in public without having a security person with me,” Dolan elaborated in a rare outside interview with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor a year later, “and I’m hearing stuff and it’s like, ‘Hey, I'm just shopping here.’ A lot of times people are nice. ‘Hi, how are you doing? Are we going to get this guy? Is this going to happen?’ I try to be nice to them, [but] usually people have negative things to say. ... They like to jump out, shout something horrible and run away. That happens all the time. Even at dinner. It’s not fun.”
What is owning an NBA team if not fun? This is James Dolan’s Knicks.
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